Advocating for the Use of Film in Worship

Our culture is media driven; there is no real dispute about that. In a Worship Arts class I recently attended at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we discussed the fact that we have shifted from a word-based culture to an image-based culture. As a parent of two “millennials,” I can attest to the fact that young people today are more comfortable communicating with emojis, acronyms and gifs than actual words. In a very real sense, our culture is reverting back to a form of hieroglyphics as a preferred form of communication. In this increasingly image-based culture, the use of the media of film can be an effective tool for worship and evangelism.

The ultimate goal of anyone involved in ministry is to effectively communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ. The key word here is “effective.” If I am speaking English to an audience that does not understand that language, I am not effectively communicating my message. More to the point, what if we all speak the same language, but I am speaking in such a way that my audience simply is not grasping what I am attempting to convey? Have you ever been in a classroom where the instructor is speaking at such a high technical or intellectual level that you simply cannot grasp what he or she is saying? The instructor may be giving a perfect exposition of the topic, but if the audience is not understanding, and is therefore not engaged in the message, the instructor has failed to actually teach the subject.

Jesus is the perfect communicator. Of course, as the one and only Son of God, He had the ability to know His audience at the molecular level. However, even if we do not have that ability, we can still learn from and adopt the example Jesus provides of using varied, creative ways to convey His message. He drew in the dirt while saving the woman who was about to be stoned to death, calmly teaching those holding the rocks that no one is without sin. He surprised a Samaritan woman at a well by first even speaking to her and then reaching her heart by telling her about her own life.

This is not the only way Jesus taught. He often used what could rightly be called the creative art form of the parable to convey a deeper spiritual message. So, if Jesus used the creative art form of story-telling, and if Christians are to follow the example of Christ, we should be open to the creative medium of film as a modern way to tell parables.

Some Christians or theologians might balk at this suggestion, arguing that movies, nor any type of creative artistic expression of the day, i.e. paintings, statues were not expressly discussed in scripture and therefore have no place in worship. This is called the Regulative Principle. Others believe that as long as something is not expressly prohibited in scripture, it may be used in worship (the idea here is that it can be used as long as it is consistent with the tenets of our faith). This school of thought is called the Normative Principle.

I ascribe to the Normative principle, mainly because I believe that art and creativity are gifts from God. I also believe that God created everything and that His creation, all of it, should point back to Him and glorify Him. Secondly, as I stated earlier, we see several examples of Jesus using specific and creative ways of communicating His message to the people. The message of Jesus Christ did not change, but sometimes the manner in which he communicated his message did adapt to the situation and the audience. Not only did He teach using parables, He dined with social outcasts, He drew in the dirt in order to save a woman who was about to be stoned to death, and He washed the feet of His disciples.

So, there are three reasons I believe using film in worship is a valid means of communicating the Gospel:

  1. The reality is that film can often reach an audience in a way that words alone cannot. With the ability of current CGI and other technologies, the filmmaker has endless creative options with which to engage the audience and convey the intended message. Think about it: how many of us can remember movies we saw years ago, but could not remember much about a book we read even one year ago? Film adds images to words in such as a way as to allow our brains to remember the message.
  2. Film can be planned out, perfected, and controlled. What I mean by this is that as compared to live performances or simply a live speaker, i.e. someone reading scripture or giving a testimony, we have the ability with film to correct mistakes, incorporate revisions or new ideas and ultimately provide the intended message in a concise and effective way. Again, if our objective here is to provide effective communication, the precision which film allows is an essential tool.
  3. Finally, the use of film in worship can help us do what Jesus would have us do, which is to effectively communicate the Gospel. If Jesus is all about reaching the heart, and if He too demonstrated creativity in His communication, so too can we use the creative, effective artistic expression of film in worship.

If you are thinking about using film as part of your worship services, here are a few suggestions. First, start with short, pre-packaged videos. They are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased and downloaded immediately. Worship House Media and Motion Worship are just two examples of website that have a variety of short “movies” you can start to use in worship.

Second, if you have a media director or similar, begin discussing the prospect of making your own short movies “in house.” This can be as simple as shooting videos on a cell phone or camcorder and using editing software like Adobe Pro, or if you already have television cameras for broadcasting your worship services, you are already set to film, edit and broadcast your own films. We do this in our church periodically as a way to introduce scripture or the theme of a sermon or sermon series. Make sure you plan ahead for projects like this. Even a two-minute film can involve hours of editing.

Third, introduce the concept of filming a concert or drama to your church members, especially those who are already involved in your music ministry or have participated in dramas for either your church or community theater. This type of event can also be used as an outreach tool to invite non-church members to participate. Again, you will need to begin several months or perhaps even an entire year before the anticipated release or broadcast of the film. You may also need to request additional funding from either the church budget or donations to cover productions costs such as wardrobe, rental expense for on-location filming, transportation/fuel costs and additional equipment such as sound, lighting and props.

Even if you start small and stay small, the addition of film in worship can bring a new dimension to your worship services. When combined with music, scripture and preaching, it can be an effective means of communication.