Stage 8 – Message Details: Illustrations / Support Materials

I’ll take another couple of posts to focus on introductions and conclusions, but first, it’s time to focus on support material. Robinson calls this stage “fleshing out the skeleton.” You know why you are preaching (stage 5), what your main idea is (stage 6) and what your strategy or structure is (stage 7). Then it is time to carefully plan where to add support material. Where do people need clarification on your explanation? Where might your message be improved by touching down in today’s world? It is important to include illustrative material so that the message does not degenerate into a poor lecture. But merely sprinkling illustrations is not a wise approach. Illustrations, or as I prefer to call them, support material or applications (note correction here), should be planned carefully and evaluated to the same extent as every other element in the message. If they do not support the main idea and help the message to progress, then cut and find a better alternative. Remember, the best illustrations come not from obscure anecdotes or historical mythology, but from the everyday experience of your listeners, so learn to be an observer of normal life – this will help you to touch down in their world as much as possible in your preaching.

Previously – It is critical to remember that illustrations are servants, not masters in the sermon. Try to make your illustrations relevant, and banish boredom from your preaching. There can be great variety in your illustrating (see also part 2), and often you can find illustration images right in the text. The keys to effective illustration use include concrete language and taking enough time (see here too). One option that may need too much time is the use of movie clips (see also part 2). It is important to be pastorally careful (part 2). Don’t forget the power of humor, make your sermon sizzle and maybe even illustrate without illustrations.

6 thoughts on “Stage 8 – Message Details: Illustrations / Support Materials

  1. Great thoughts on illustrations – especially about them not being the master.
    But, you mention that you prefer to call them “support material or relevance.” Support material is good, but I don’t think relevance is a good choice. Too many people today have confused what is truly relevant. I know what you are getting at, but I think that the word relevance needs to be applied to the text directly. Your use makes a distinction between the the text and the illustration, with the illustration being the “relevant” part.
    Just a suggestion.


  2. I agree that it is the text that is relevant. Your comment points out a wrong choice of word on my part. I meant “applications” rather than “relevance.” The support material provides an opportunity to demonstrate and earth that relevance in contemporary life through application. I have to give credit to Donald Sunukjian of Talbot Seminary for this choice of terminology. I agree with him that the term “illustration” pushes the speaker in the direction of anecdotal or interesting pauses in the message, rather than encouraging “application” once explanation is complete. Sorry to change my term, but thanks for pointing out my early morning error! Would you agree with the terms “support material” or “applications” instead of “illustrations?”

  3. No problem, I knew what you were saying.
    I like support material, but I don’t have a problem with illustration. I see the point about the way people use this word. I understand it more in the technical sense – a supportive instrument used to highlight the text. It is not explanation, nor is it technically application.
    I had a professor who said that illustrations are windows whose purpose are to shed light on the explanation of the text.
    But, we may be overanalyzing semantic minutae.
    I think the major point, and mistake, you have already pointed out. When people leave a sermon and remember the illustration and not the point of the text – the illustration has not served the correct purpose.

    Here is another topic for you: How do you balance having effective, good, poignant illustrations that don’t cross the line and become the “master”?

    Just some thoughts,

  4. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  5. A practical question: do you use any system to keep record of good illustrations you come across in you reading or experience?

  6. Probably the easiest these days is to keep in a Word document with keywords listed before or after the illustration. Then you can search by keyword, or any word in the illustration. I should be more diligent in this!

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