There are numerous books available that promise to help turn tedious sermons into sizzling and vibrant power-sermons. You simply look up your theme and then choose one of the collected illustrations, like sprinkling seasoning on a bland dish of food. These tools can be helpful, but I’d like to point you to the best one of all – 45,000 Great Preaching Illustrations. This is not available in print, nor on a website. In fact, you already have it. Using it will help your messages sizzle with seasoning, rumble with relevance and be energized by engaging with your listeners’ lives. 45,000 Great Preaching Illustrations are before your eyes every day – it is normal life.
Here is a simplified list of sources for illustrations, and the order is deliberate:
1. From the experience of both speaker and listener. This is the place to start. You know what it is like, so you can describe it well. They know what it is like, so they can see the image form in their minds. Highly relevant, excellent source of illustrations (even if it seems mundane – such as getting in the shortest line at the store, and being there the longest!)
2. From the experience of the listener, but learned by you. Perhaps you don’t work in an office with non-believers, but you learn about it and draw illustrations of relevance from there. If you learn well, then the image will form for the listener and you will seem like a relevant speaker.
3. From your experience, but learned by the listener. You can convey these personal experiences well, but you have to educate in order for them to communicate. These take more time and will feel less relevant to the listener. With appropriate vulnerability, these can be worth using for the connection it creates between you (even if the experience is slightly foreign to them).
4. From neither your experience, nor theirs. The pithy anecdote from some character in history, or the “canned” story from your bookshelf. These often feel canned because they are canned. If you use one of these, make sure the character in question has some appeal to your listeners, and be sure to look for other ways to be relevant. The 1500’s or 1700’s may be interesting to some, but it is relevant to none.
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.