Illustrations are not just helpful in preaching, but they are also absolutely essential. As preachers in 2016, we are talking to a watching generation, not a reading one. Say something, and the congregation will hear it. Illustrate something, and they will see it. Charles Spurgeon once said, “The sermon is the house; the illustrations are the windows that let in the light.”
How do you find effective illustrations?
Set a goal of how many illustrations to document in a set time period.
My goal is to record 10 illustrations in one week. I will go over it sometimes, but I will not go under it. After 43 years of ministry, I have just over 20,000 illustrations on file. By having a goal, you will develop the discipline of looking for them wherever you go.
Never be without a recording device.
You could type out the illustration on your phone or even write it out on an index card. You must train yourself to note them exactly when you see them. You will not remember an illustration later even though you may tease yourself that you will. If you do remember them, though, you’ll certainly forget the details. The specifics make them come alive for your audience. When you tell me about a blonde woman walking into a five-story office building and taking the elevator to the fourth floor and she then unexpectedly sees a man who’s been like an adoptive father to her—I see the woman, the office building, the elevator, and the man.
Where do you find effective illustrations?
You will receive illustrations from conversations, watching television programs, or attending movies. Reading, however, will always be your single best source. I read an average of two books a month, the news each day, magazines as I wait for appointments, and a tourist brochure in my motel room. Sometimes illustrations even come from reading the bumper sticker on the car ahead of me or the t-shirt of the person behind me at the bank. Remember that an illustration might be a story, a quote, an analogy, a statistic, etc. They show up when you are least expecting them. With a recording device, you can capture them as quickly as possible for future reference.
I file each illustration under a particular heading such as “substitution”, “courage”, “availability”, etc. I then give each one a three- or four-word description. Altogether, my illustration titles look as follows: courage-need for, substitution-example of. I can then go immediately to the subject and category that will have the kind of illustration I need.
Effectively communicating requires that we help people not only hear the truth, but see it. Scriptures often record Jesus sharing a story to further His message: “Then He spoke a parable to them” (Luke 5:36). I challenge you to follow Christ’s example by using illustrations to help people see biblical truth.