Using Video Sermon Illustrations

In 2 Samuel 12:1-4, the prophet Nathan was sent to David armed with a message from God, but that message was embedded in a story. The story drew David in, evoking great emotion as he interacted with the principal characters of the story. Then to David’s great surprise, the story threaded its way through his imagination and into his conscience, causing him to repent of killing Uriah and taking his wife Bathsheba.

Prophets and preachers have always used illustrations to comfort and confront their hearers. Ranging from dramatic demonstrations of the prophets to the enigmatic parables recounted by Jesus, illustrations of truth have pierced hearts and changed lives throughout biblical and Christian history.

Using a video illustration in a sermon is simply showing a story, instead of telling it.

Like any other form of illustration, the Holy Spirit can use a carefully selected video to capture the hearts and minds of a digital generation to hear and understand the Word of God. How can you use video illustrations with integrity and effectiveness?

Begin with the Scriptures, not the Silver Screen

Like Nathan, determine to come before the people with a message burning in your heart. Study hard and pray long, refining your thoughts and reaching a conclusion regarding the message God wants you to deliver.  Set a personal deadline for completing your sermon preparation well in advance, to allow adequate time to find the right video illustration.

 What is the “takeaway” message you want your hearers to remember days after you are finished preaching? Imagine a situation where you could only speak one sentence to the church, summing up your entire message. What would that single statement be? Arm yourself with the main idea before you search for a video illustration.

Never Trust the Ratings (or the Academy Awards®)

Movies can tell wonderful stories, but they can also contain graphic expressions of violence, profanity, sex, and drugs. Although the clip you choose may be morally acceptable, other parts of the film may deeply offend members of your audience—even if it was an Academy Award® winning film!

Ultimately, you want your audience to react to the truth, not your video clip.

Anticipate your audience response to the entire film. Why? Because they often will decide to go out and rent the video after viewing the clip you used in your sermon. Your use of a video illustration will be received as a tacit endorsement of the entire film. If you use a clip from an R-rated movie, you may be inadvertently leading members of your church to go out and view some deeply objectionable material.

Review and personally rate the movie before using any part of it. Since 1968 the Classification and Rating Administration has assigned ratings to films (G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17). Because the process can be highly subjective, you really need to become personally aware of the film’s content by viewing the movie for yourself. If you are short on time, consider an online evaluation resource like Focus on the Family’s Plugged In Online.

Observe the Copyright Requirements

Before showing a video to a public audience, like a church, you must ask yourself the question “who owns the copyright?” The Copyright Act of 1976 expressly forbids the public performance (viewing) of copyrighted media outside the home, even if the viewing is free and you have purchased the video for the church. For videos that you did not create, you must obtain permission from the copyright holder, or you will violate the law (U.S. Copyright Office

Purchase videos with “public performance rights”. Some videos, like the ones sold at, include “public performance rights” with any purchase of the video. This means that the copyright holder extends to you the right to show the video in a public setting.

Purchase an annual site license. Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI offers an annual site license for your church to show videos produced by most of the major studios in Hollywood. A site license, as the name implies, is good only at a single physical address. The purchase price is based on the average size of your viewing audience. The performance of the video must be in its original format (VHS, DVD etc.). In other words, the CVLI site license does not grant you the right to record or store a portion of the video on your computer.

Contact the copyright holder for permission to show the video. If the copyright owner does not participate in the CVLI consortium, contact them in writing to request permission to show the video. Offer as much information as you can, explaining the context (i.e., a worship service, a retreat setting, etc.), the approximate size of the audience, and the expected date of the viewing. Do not show the video until you have received written permission to do so.

Show It without Blowing It

Execution is as important as the process of video selection. The person running the video will need clear instructions from you. When will the video be shown during your message?  Will you give a verbal cue? Do the lights need to be dimmed? What are the start/stop times for the video segment being shown? Test everything to be sure it works.

When mistakes happen, laugh it off. However, it is a good idea to never depend on a video illustration to make your point. Ultimately, your message is a word from God that He will use—with or without the video!

To maximize the impact of video illustrations, try to use them occasionally, instead of weekly.  Frequent use will diminish their effectiveness. Use a variety different creative approaches (e.g., props or drama) to illustrate your messages, including video as only one tool among many in your communication toolbox.

Remember the Goal

Notice how David responded as the significance of Nathan’s story penetrated his heart:

So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man… Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” …David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12:5-13

For months, David carried a horrible, secret sin in his heart and did not repent. In minutes, God enabled a prophet’s insightful illustration to slip past his emotional defenses and intellectual excuses, reducing David to a broken, repentant state.

The artful use of a video sermon illustration can help transport God’s truth deep into the hearts of your audience. What is the ultimate goal? A changed life!

This blog was previously published as…

  • “How to Use Movie Clips in Your Sermon.” The Church Leader’s Answer Book. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers / Christianity Today International, 2006. 649-650; and as
  • “The Art of Video Sermon Illustrations.” Preaching Magazine, July-August 2006.

The Way

I cannot ascend spiritual mountains on man-made trails. I cannot achieve Holy Spirit objectives with plans conceived by a human heart. I cannot advance against a supernatural enemy while confined within the thick walls of science or superstition. I cannot live if only death waits for me at every exit. But there is a way to ascend, to achieve, to advance, and to live… that way is a person, and His name is Jesus. ~ DP

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit…” Zechariah 4:6

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” 1 Corinthians 1:20

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” John 14:6

When Praying Gets Hard

“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and NOT LOSE HEART…” ~ Luke 18:1

“For I want you to know what a great CONFLICT I have for you…” ~ Colossians 2:1

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always LABORING fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” ~ Colossians 4:12

“…who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement CRIES AND TEARS…” ~ Hebrews 5:7

Prayer is not the last resort of the weak-minded, it is the inner refuge of indefatigable men and women who know how to wait before their infinitely wise and mighty God.

The great struggle in prayer is not between God and you, as if you were straining to wrest some meager token from a stingy deity. Because of His unreserved love for you, your Father knows what you need before the thought is framed in your mind or any word leaves your lips.

No. Your battle is not with God.

But the moment you set out to go to God in prayer, all hell breaks loose. Distractions will come. Interruptions. Discouraging thoughts. Powerful emotions that posture as the truth but act as blinders to it. Instead of finding rest you seem to incur greater distress in your soul. Your path to Him lies submerged beneath a swirling eddy of anxiety. Your praying seems useless beneath the smothering effects of your circumstances.

And all the while, He is still there, He hears you, and He loves you.

It bears repeating: your battle is not with God.

Your battle lies in shutting out the mad noise of the outer world…

  • slipping into the secret place and sacred space of your inner world…
  • to lay down your worries and weights and terrors at His feet…
  • to move over and surrender the controls…
  • to let go of your fiercely-held “maps” to your happiness…
  • to enter the sanctuary of His Presence…
  • to simply be with Him…
  • and to discover He has been seeking you for this relationship all along!

The noise of battle ends in the loving Presence of the all-sufficient King and the infinitely satisfying Savior… Jesus!

Insight: Arthur Wallis on a Tender Heart

The Bible speaks often and profoundly of the human heart as the real “you.”

  • My heart pursues what I truly love, and is indifferent to the things that I don’t care about (Matthew 6:21).
  • My heart is susceptible to external influences — good and bad — and must be guarded (Proverbs 4:23).
  • My heart can be consumed with one thing, or it can be partitioned by affections for many things (Psalm 86:11, Mark 12:30).
  • My heart can be pure, or it can be morally unclean, clouding my perception of truth (Psalm 51:10).
  • My heart can erupt in joy, or it can be be shattered by sorrow (1 Peter 1:8, Psalm 147:3).
  • My heart is that immaterial part of me that exercises belief or unbelief (Romans 10:9-10).

And most significantly, my heart can be hard or tender towards God (2 Chronicles 24:37). Comparing the human heart to a field that must be prepared before there can be a harvest, the prophet Hosea writes,

…break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD… Hosea 10:12

Is my heart like a long-neglected field, hardened against the quiet winds of God’s Spirit blowing across my soul?

In his 1956 book In the Day of Thy Power, Arthur Wallis (1922 – 1988) penned a classic reflection on genuine spiritual revival. In the following quote, he explains the vital role of a tender heart in apprehending (or missing) who God is and what He is doing around me.

“Here then is the first great condition of revival, that brokenness of heart that is sensitive to the least touch of the Spirit, and that has only to know the will of God to do it. One may cross fallow ground and not see where the feet have trod – no impression has been made. But when the plough and the harrow have done their work, and the soil is soft and friable, then the print of the foot is clearly seen. When our hearts are sensitive, responsive, and impressionable to the movements of God across our lives, we may be sure that the fallow ground is broken.”

Source: Wallis, Arthur. In the Day of Thy Power. London: Christian Literature Crusade, 1956.

Insight: John Newton on Seeking God

Every Christian is on a journey to know God more fully (John 17:3)… but rarely does anyone explain that the path is not an easy one nor is it well-populated. It can be strange and disorienting, especially as you look around and it seems no one else is travelling with you, or that no one else has passed this way before (not true, but it can feel that way).

John Newton (1725-1807), best known as the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace,’ in another hymn describes the way our Father draws us near and refines our faith into the finest spiritual “steel”…

I ask’d the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answer’d prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favour’d hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seem’d
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried,
“Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith:”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.”

~ John Newton (1725-1807)

Source: Winchell, James M., ed. An Arrangement of the Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Rev. Isaac Watts. Boston: James Loring, and Lincoln & Edmands, 1832.

Wenceslas, Stephen, Boxing Day, and Gift Returns

What do a Czech duke from the 10th century, the first Christian martyr, a British public holiday, and a crazy rush to return unwanted gifts to the store… have in common?

They all happen on the day after Christmas!

  • Known for his unusual charitable lifestyle as a wealthy man, “Good King” Wenceslas went outside on an unbearably cold day to bless a poor man on December 26… at least that’s what the Christmas carol reports!
  • Stephen was the first Christ-follower to lose his life for preaching the gospel of salvation. Celebrated in many countries and church traditions with a variety of customs, the feast of St. Stephen falls on December 26.
  • Boxing Day in the United Kingdom is a public holiday with roots in the 17th century. Servants and tradesmen required to work on Christmas for nobility were given the day off on December 26, often with a “Christmas box” of cash and small gifts.
  • And then December 26 is that day when America heads to the stores (or the Post Office) to return or exchange gifts… unwanted or duplicated Christmas gifts! With thousands headed out to stand in long lines, the retail success of the day hinges on how early the store opens and how deeply the after-Christmas sales slash prices.

Four streams of tradition flowing on one day, together drawing attention to the capacity of the human heart to give and to receive… to sacrifice or to be self-absorbed. What makes the difference?

Or better, WHO makes the difference?

That man or woman who hears about Jesus, then meets Jesus, and then follows Jesus by faith… that one has a different heart… a heart that beats in union with His heart.

December 26 is no ordinary day… but it should be. There’s nothing wrong with returning a gift. But as you make contact with others today, thank God you have a gift to return… and gifts still to give.

  • The gift of a smile.
  • The gift of a kind word.
  • The gift of a patient manner.
  • The gift of encouragement to a harried worker, who has to serve you today.

It may be the day after Christmas, but His birth was not the end of His mission. It was just the beginning. He not only came to inhabit our world.

He came to inhabit you.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23, 25