Abstract truth served up without some form of illustration is like a rich steak without accompanying vegetables – after a while it is just “too much.” So generally we look for ways to have truth touch down on the tarmac of reality. I tend to prefer the concept of relevant applications rather than illustrations, but for this post, I’ll stick with the traditional term. Today let’s take an inventory of our typical illustrations, then in part 2 we’ll have some pointers for adding variation.
Beware of your default source of illustration – It is so easy to get into a rut. We tend to naturally think in certain ways and illustrate accordingly. Take stock of your illustrations and where they come from. Perhaps you default to a certain sport, or to sport in general, or to movie scenes, or to classical literature, or to poetry, or to a chunky book of random pithy quotes and anecdotes. Try to get out of your default at least for one illustration in every sermon – preferably more than once!
Beware of other defaults in your illustration – It is easy to profile in your illustrations. Perhaps the character that looks good is always you, or someone you love, or always male, or always female. Perhaps your illustrations are always quotes, or one-liners, or two-minute twenty second stories. Predictability can become a distraction once people pick up on the patterns.
People always say they’d rather hear lots of illustrations than none. In reality, if there is little variation in illustration type and source, the majority of listeners will not feel touched by the truth of the sermon. A rich steak needs vegetables, but remember that asparagus is not to everyone’s liking. A sermon of truth plus sports illustrations is like a plate of steak and asparagus for a good chunk of your listeners!