Illustrations and Interest

Illustrations are an interesting subject.  Actually, my concern is that often illustrations are seen as the source of interest in a message.  Therefore the best speakers, that is, the most interesting, are those who seem to be a repository of well-researched illustrations.  But here’s my concern – do we rely on illustrations to be interesting?

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that we are relying on illustrations to be interesting.  What does this imply?  Does it imply that really entering into the text as we preach is boring?  (That is to say, explaining, understanding, encountering, experiencing the text is actually boring?)  Or does it imply that actually we often aren’t really engaging and entering into a text at all?

In some preaching you do get the sense that the text serves as an introduction to the next illustration.  Personally, I don’t believe the text itself is boring and in need of our help to make it interesting.  I do believe that a lot of preaching somehow seeks to explain texts without really entering into them.  The text is offered at arms length as exhibit A, but is not a living and active revelation in which the preaching thereof engages the whole listener in an encounter with God.  (I’m not really arguing for some kind of neo-orthodox “text becoming word” concept here, but I am suggesting that the Bible is written with affective and emotive function in the different biblical genre that requires it to be somehow experienced and well-understood – as opposed to “mentally understood” from a safe distance leaving the heart largely untouched.)

So no illustrations then?  I’m not saying that.  If their main function is to offer interest, then I would suggest revisiting the text some more and discovering something more of its wonder as engaging inspired revelatory literature.  But what if the illustration serves to explain some aspect of the message, or help to validate or “prove” the truth of the text, or assist the listeners in imagining effective application of the text?  By all means, use explanations, or proofs (maybe a better term would be supports or validations), or applications.  Personally I prefer to call them what they are – explanations, or supports, or applications.  If I call them “illustrations” then I might be tempted to fall into the illustration equals interest trap.  For many, that is what illustrations are.  They don’t have to be.  May we convince people of the inherent interest value, and personal value, of the Word of God.  If we fail to do that, what is it we are doing again?

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4 thoughts on “Illustrations and Interest

  1. Nice distinction as to the mindset for developing illustrations. However, focusing on your audience is essential to good communication. The most common mistake is to assume a lay audience is as receptive to the nuances of the text as we are.

    Thus, using poignant, emotive, thoughtful, funny, on-point illustrations is almost ALWAYS needed.

    The purpose is communication, not a dogged recitation. Unless you can provide socio-cultural, historical, forensic ,or archaelogical detail to plump up the Scriptural text, you better have illustrations. This is, after all, a lay audience, not a seminary class.

  2. Amen!
    The key point being that the Bible and any portion we are preaching requires a depth of understanding and subsiquent depth of explanation to our listeners that brings us and them to a full appreciation of the passage. Whatever we choose to call them, our addtions do their best when they used as spotlights to illuminate the inspired content present in the text.
    Great encouragement to properly focus our use of Illistrations…
    Thank you.

  3. For me, its about the “wow” factor. Providing a “wow-insight” heightens the expectations of the audience. “As iron sharpens iron” has a socio-cultural context that wows the audience, so does “only the Father knows the time.”

    Providing the historical and cultural context of the “Jewishness” of the New Testament, we make it come alive. Other insights work too: Why did the Holy Spirit direct Paul away from Asia and toward Greece? Consider the communication hub represented by Greece (and Rome) from which the Gospel could be more effectively disseminated! Paul’s idea would have slowed the growth of Christianity.

    I look for relevant insights and illustrations that heighten interest as take-aways. The Bible is brimming with them.

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