I’m a firm believer that the best preaching exposits the Word of God clearly. The Word of God changes lives, and it’s our responsibility to teach that Word well. Part of that work, in my judgment, is also to illustrate the Word as we expound it. Here’s why:
- Illustrations allow us to “see” the Bible’s stories. An illustration is just that—a verbal picture that helps us understand and apply the Word. In Jesus’ word picture, for example, a farmer sowing seed guides us to think about our responsibility to sow the Word abundantly.
- They give us opportunity to teach the Word by using Word-based illustrations. I don’t believe every illustration must be from the Word, but it’s always good to find illustrations in the Word. People learn the stories because we use them to illustrate truths.
- They often engage the emotions. That’s not to say that the Word itself doesn’t do so; it’s simply to recognize that storiesoften engage us at a different level. They help us to think with our head and feel with our heart as we hear the Word.
- They help people to remember biblical truths. No matter how well you explain the Word, it’s likely that your listeners will remember your stories more than your explanations. Choose and use stories wisely, though, and your hearers will also remember the truths associated with the illustration.
- They require us to pay attention to life around us. I’m not suggesting that we pray, “Lord, give me a sermon for this cool illustration I’ve just seen” – but I am suggesting that preachers ought to learn to naturally see illustrations in life. From the historical event in a biography to the actions of 5-year old in the front yard, preachers “see” ways to help others understand the Word. That’s one reason why preachers need to get out of their office regularly.
- Stories draw listeners back in. None of us is so good in the pulpit that everybody always hangs on our every word. Everybody gets distracted at some point – but watch what happens when you begin a story. People sit up. Some lean forward. They lay their phone down. They re-tune in for a minute. Stories just do that for people.
- They “pepper” the sermon, not become the whole sermon. A proper use of an illustration is to drive home and apply the clear teaching of the Word of God—not to become the whole sermon. Rightly understanding that an illustration, by definition, must point to a truth helps keep us focused in the Word.
What are your thoughts about using illustrations? What resources have most helped you with this task?