Illustrations of Relevance

The whole subject of illustrations in preaching is worthy of consideration.  For some of us, it is a constant struggle.  For others it seems to be an effortless delight.  Here are some points to ponder:

1. Determine the purpose of an illustration.  Instead of placing an illustration in a message just because it has been a while since the last one, try to define the purpose for one at this point.  Is it there to explain and clarify the point?  Or is it intended to support or prove the point?  Or is it moving the listener toward application of the point?  These are the three ways any idea can be developed, so these are the three things that an illustration can do.  There is one other option – an illustration can provide a temporary break allowing for a moment of humor.  This may be legitimate, but choose to do so purposefully.

2. Remember that experience is better than mere knowledge.  People will connect more effectively with something they have experience of than something they only know about.  Thus an illustration taken from common experience (such as choosing the shortest line of people and then seeing every other line go faster) is usually more effective than known but not experienced (such as an astronaut walking on the moon).

3.  Their experience is worth more than yours.  Ideally you will find illustrations that both you and they have experienced (then you can visualize and describe effectively, and they can see what you describe).  But if you can’t get both, try to find illustrations from their experience rather than yours.  Obviously this is not always possible, but worth it when you can pull it off.

4. There is a weakest form of illustration.  This is one that is outside both your and your listeners’ experience and knowledge.  This will often take the form of an obscure story from times gone by and distant lands.  These are usually found in books of “5 Million Preaching Illustrations.”  Sometimes these will fit and work relatively well.  Usually not.  

Don’t give a steady diet of illustrations lacking in clear purpose or audience relevance.  Let us try our hardest to come up with the best we can, then when Sunday comes, go with what we’ve got!

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