By Matthew Kim, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.
I once sat under the preaching ministry of a pastor who loved his people. He cared about them. Everyone knew it. Everyone felt it. But after years of listening to his sermons, it was overtly clear that his illustrations came primarily from one source: quotations.
He would share lengthy quotes from his favorite preachers, famous pastors, and other well-known people. Those quotations served as the source of his illustrative material. He seldom deviated from using quotations.
Now there’s nothing wrong with using quotations. They can really shine light into a particular moment. Those exact words need to be expressed. But we know that illustrations could use some diversifying. I want to encourage you to diversify your illustrations.
Illustrations do primarily three things. They function to explain, prove, or apply, as Haddon Robinson explains in Biblical Preaching.
Some concepts need to be explained. Therefore, we’re going to use an illustration that explains the text.
Sometimes we want to persuade our listeners. We want to prove that the biblical concept or event actually occurred and validate its accuracy. So in those moments, we want to persuade or prove. To do so, we might tell a story from life to bolster persuasion.
Lastly, we want to apply the text. We want to help listeners put into practice exactly what is being taught. So we find an illustration from life that applies the concept.
Now where do we get illustrations? Illustrations can come from any source. You can think of personal examples. Think of the moment when you were driving down the highway and someone cut you off. Share with your listeners the things that you wanted to say, but couldn’t say or didn’t say. Give them examples of showing restraint in a moment of anger or frustration. You can think of a story that you tell your children at bedtime. Stories are powerful ways to illustrate what we’re trying to communicate.
We can also use movie clips with discernment. Sometimes a clip from a movie will convey what we’re trying to communicate in the sermon. We can create hypothetical situations. We can find them in newspapers or by observing people and how they interact with one another. Illustrations can come from statistics or novels.
Simply put, illustrations can come from any source when we use our creativity. Instead of relying on one form alone, diversify your illustrations. Find creative ways to illustrate your points as you explain, prove, and apply the text. Diversify your illustrations.
Note: The Sermon Starter Guide in Logos is a great way to find new illustrations. It pulls illustrations, quotations, and more from your resources for passages and themes. Learn more and watch the video below.
This post is adapted from “Preach to one person at a time,” by Matthew Kim in Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry, edited by Scott M. Gibson (Lexham Press, 2016).