Illustrations and Preaching


I’ve been haunted for several weeks now and it’s time to come clean.  When prepping a message I wrestle with the desire for people to like me, think I’m a decent speaker, etc.  This isn’t anything new to young preachers, I  think it’s something we all can wrestle with from time to time.  I’ve come to really value sermon prep. time because this give me an opportunity to work through these desires and get to the text, the message, what is really important.  I’ve also come to dread sermon delivery time because I know that my flesh is raging to get out and say something silly for no other reason than to gain the favor of the audience (which is not always a bad thing and can be a productive strategy).

I guess the real struggle comes in when I ponder what people will take away.  Will the message be remembered at all?  Will the gospel be savored?  Will people be provoked to worship? Or will the take away be the wrong soundbites from the message?  Will they remember my personal illustrations, but not the point?  Will they remember that joke at the begging of the message that was loosely related to the topic of the text, but not the text?  Will lives be changed because God has spoken or will lives remain the same because in the end I’ve just been an entertainer?

To be sure, I have seen and heard illustrations that really helped bring the gospel into focus for individuals. (My pastor though years of experience is very good at this.)  I’ve also heard several illustrations that have ultimately been a distraction to the truth of the message.  It’s always fun to hear comments after preaching (less convicting when I’m not the preacher by the way) to see what people remember.  Statements like, “He sure hates cats” make me cringe because I know the observer missed the message and I’m left to conclude that either they are really dense or that I was stretching it a bit to bring my hatred of cats into the message (i’ve never heard this statement by the way… it’s an illustration… and I’m still not a fan of cats).  I can’t believe that so many people are that dense, so I’m left to admit that perhaps that was a bad illustration on my part.

My current train of thought is to explore strongly rooted Biblical Metaphor.  I had a chance to do this in the message last night with the expression, “and behold it was Leah” (Genesis 29:25) I didn’t fully exploit it at the time, but now see that I could have done more with it to help make the connection in peoples minds. (Wouldn’t you know it… the day after I preached the message I heard a Tim Keller Sermon where he does this masterfully).

This introduces the question I have for you.  What type of illustrations have driven a message home for you?  If you are a pastor or Bible teacher, what types of illustrations do you look for?

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