Illustration Saturation

I’d like to ponder those things generally known as “illustrations.”  I tend to refer to them as “support materials” to recognize their function.  Or even better, I prefer to call them what they actually are, either “explanations” or “proofs” or “applications” since that forces me to be purposeful in how I use them.  Notice I don’t call them “fillers” or “entertainers” or “treading waters” or “favorite anecdotes” or whatever.  They are there either to explain, prove or apply what I am saying, otherwise they are not developing the thought or moving the message forward.  Anyway, back to the point of the post – there seem to be two types of preachers when it comes to “illustrations.”

1. There are those who struggle to find, record, keep, select and use illustrations. After all, it does seem to take quite a discipline to create, use, maintain and then access a personal illustration library or database.  I take my hat off to all who achieve this and use it well, but I know that many preachers are like me – illustration strugglers.  Generally speaking, and this is very general, people in this category should probably do better with illustrations.  Having said that, and it was only in general, but nevertheless, there are other ways to “illustrate” a message than the standard array of notes, quotes, anecdotes, personal experiences, etc.  But that is for another post.  For now, this category could probably increase the frequency and quality of their illustrations.

2. There are some, perhaps a select few, who seem to constantly overflow with illustrations. Every way they turn there seems to be three or four brief illustrations or passing comments that relate to the word currently before them.  While it may be superficially something to envy for the majority of us in the former category, I would like to offer one observation to illustration fountains.  It is possible to achieve illustration saturation.  Sometimes in the preponderance of “interesting” materials the text itself can be lost.

Some struggle to illustrate.  Others struggle to stop illustrating.  Remember the goal of preaching is to effectively and faithfully explain and apply the Bible passage(s) for life transformation.  The goal is not to bounce from important term to important term, filling the gaps with a string threaded with pearls of interest and offset with other biblical quotes in order to illustrate the gospel . . .

Some of us, perhaps not many, but some, need to be very wary of illustration saturation.

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2 thoughts on “Illustration Saturation

  1. I definitely fall into the former category. Is there any way to become more adept at figuring out how to intersect “life experiences” (as one preaching prof called them) with the biblical passages? Or is it simply a matter of constantly working at it?

  2. My struggle is at both ends…kind of. I usually am struggling to find the right “support material” so that I am not simply telling joke or entertaining, but truly supporting the biblical text to draw out the theological truth. So, first, I struggle with finding the right illustration.

    However, there are times I wonder if I focus too much on the illustration issue. That is, if I have done proper exegesis and have some good application for the listener, I still feel the need to illustrate (I know this is from my training). So I spend time thinking and thinking about how to illustrate a particular text instead of thinking about that particular text.

    While I understand it is quite mechanical, my sermons are usually made of three parts for every “point” I may have: Explanation (Exegesis), Illustration, Application. This works well for me as I can better remember my sermon when I am standing in the pulpit and my mind works better this way. I know there may be those in the audience who are not linear thinkers but I communicate best in this mode. Otherwise, I am unorganized and unclear.

    I am not sure if any of this makes sense to anyone else but I am glad the topic has been broached. Thanks for bringing it up.

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