When I became a follower of Jesus at age 7, I clearly remember one very bloody picture at Jesus’ crucifixion. The picture was in the Bible I kept by my bed. There were a number of biblically-accurate paintings that have stuck with me to this day.
Pictures convey powerful images that can trigger emotions that etch memories.
- Teaching pictures – four-color or black and white artfully-rendered scenes
- Flannelgraph – cardboard cutouts with felt glued on the back stuck to flannel-coverings
- Paintings – museum-quality, paint-by-number, and self-expression
- Sketches – line art, sometimes done live, but includes cartoons
- Chalk drawings – usually live
- Movies – staged re-enactments
- Photographs – sometimes re-enactments, but usually symbolic discussion-starters
- Murals – walls that depict a selection of scenes, usually touching
- Story cloths – usually containing panels of teaching pictures; a story set
Pictures are used throughout the world to illustrate Bible scenes. In the earliest Storying training sessions, pictures have been used, even going back to New Tribes Mission’s movie, “EE-Taow” from the late 1980s. Yet, the Renaissance Masters have presented various paintings of Bible heroes and scenes for centuries.
- Colors, left-right orientation, framing, and the illusion of depth require “visual literacy” skills. Who taught you that a light-bulb above someone’s means that someone gets an idea? What do “zzzz’s” coming out of a person’s ear mean? It could mean they’re either asleep or a bee has crawled inside!
- The selection of pictures is akin to choosing the right story to address key issues. J. O. Terry wrote about this in 2001 in a training manual used at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: “A single picture ‘freezes’ the story and whatever theme is depicted in that picture. What should a picture depict?”
- Are the characters depicted as Westerners or Middle Easterners? Angels in a Cambodian picture set wore small vests and the toe of their shoes curled up. In Nigerian teaching pictures, Jesus always wore red, the color of royalty. But because they used contextualized images associated traditionally with Buddhism, not everyone embraced the pictures. Many Bible Storyers insisted on using biblically-accurate, but obviously Middle Eastern-oriented pictures.
- Can everyone in this group you’re working with afford the tools being used? There is a truth in disciple-making that no matter what you say, those you disciple will want to do things exactly as you did them. If that means using a story cloth with 50 panels, then that’s what they will want to do. Or they likely won’t do it.
My daughter traveled to Mexico on a summer mission trip. On the first day, the church group left every one of their teaching aids at the place where they were staying. I was proud to hear that my daughter picked up a rock and scratched stick figures on an unpainted wall to depict that day’s Bible story. When the team was leaving the next day, they were packing up their teaching pictures, coloring pages, etc., when children approached my daughter. They asked, “Where is our picture?” They pointed to the unpainted wall and wouldn’t let me daughter leave until they had “their” picture.
The point is that testing is always appropriate. Does the image convey what you want to convey? Does the existence of multiple pictures from many stories distract the participants? Are there items in the picture that communicate a “highlight” that do not match the purpose for your story? In TruthSticks Training and sometimes in other training events, I rarely use visuals when introducing novices to the basics of Bible Storying.
Visual literacy is as important to master as the story itself. Do not use pictures until you understand what you’re doing – and why!