About 'picture sermons'


Picture sermons are ‘sermons’ I have given at St Matthew’s or St Luke’s churches in Oxford. Some of the picture sermons were given in ‘art zones’ during ‘zone services’ (explained here). Picture sermons work best, in my view, when the pictures are allowed to speak for themselves. Discussion during picture sermons is to be encouraged but the preacher should keep what they have to say to a minimum.


To find the pictures for a picture sermon I mainly use Google images. For the selected pictures I try to find the ones that are the biggest ones (in kilobytes). I then get my printer to print them on good quality A3 paper (price £1.90 each) and mount them on slightly larger than A3 card. For a good A3 printed image you need it to be at least an image of at least 40kb and preferably larger .

I create a separate list of the artists and when the paintings were painted as a handout. I try to find out as much about the paintings as I can.

There are some good general websites with biblical art that are useful for ideas. These include

http://www.bible-art.info/index.htm This gives you some information about the pictures but the pictures are mostly of women rather than men.

http://www.artbible.net/Pourquoi_en.html. This gives you lots of paintings for a large number of biblical texts ordered by date. Sometimes the website doesn't tell you enough about the painting to identify who painted it and when. It's maintained by a French guy called Maurice Lamouroux and so is a bit 'French'.

http://www.biblical-art.com/index.htm This is not as good (to my mind) as 'artbible.net' (particularly when it comes to more modern art) but is even more comprehensive.

Then there are sites dedicated to particular painters which have pictures you can't find elsewhere on the Web e.g. for biblical paintings by Salvador Dali which you can't seem to find anywhere else see http://www.dalionline.com/biblia.html

Legal issues

I try to ignore these. I think it is technically illegal to reproduce picture taken from the Web for a sermon or in a blog like this. The image belongs to the painter (or their estate) for x years, and the photograph of that painting belongs to the photographer for the same length of time. But this may all be wrong!

Some tips on delivering picture sermons

There are various possible bases to a picture sermon. Some things I have tried:

a. A passage in the Bible (e.g. Mathew 3: 1-2)

b. A person in the Bible and different parts of their story (e.g. John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness, John declaring Jesus to be the Lamb of God, John baptising Jesus, John in prison, and John’s head on a platter).

c. A biblical encounter (e.g. Jesus and the woman at the well at Samaria, the angel and Mary at the annunciation)

For me a and c work better than b

There are things I haven’t tried e.g.

d. A parable (cf Nouwen H (1992) The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, Double Day)

e. A biblical theme e.g. faith, hope or love

I usually try to find pictures from a range of different eras and styles.

If I have time I will expand on these issues later.

Books that I have found useful in sermon preparation:

Williams R (2002) Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin, Canterbury Press

Baxendall M (1988) Painting and experience in fifteenth century Italy (2nd Edition) Oxfors University Press