Illustrations of Illustrations For Preaching

Illustrations of Illustrations for Preaching

In the last post, we considered the five levels of illustration, as described by Haddon Robinson.  In this post we examine illustrations of illustrations for preaching for those levels.

Level 1: Shared Lived Experience

In his book, Preaching Nuts & Bolts, Brandon Hilgemann gives the example of when he was young.  This is the way he puts it:

Little girl sitting on her grandpa lap.

When I was younger, whenever I heard a pastor tell a heartwarming story about a little girl, I wondered why people in the audience would cry.  I would think, “what a bunch of emotional babies.  Get it together.  It’s just a story!”  This was because stories about little girls were only a level 3 illustration for me.  I did not fully understand.  However, after I became a father of a little girl of my own, suddenly these stories hit me emotionally too.  When did I suddenly become such a crybaby?”  (Location 768, Kindle edition).

So, one of the illustrations of illustrations for preaching is little girls.  These shared experiences that are lived by you and your audience will have the greatest impact.

Example 2

This past Sunday I was preaching on the saying of Jesus, “Unless you change and become like children you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.”  I shared some examples of children’s songs that I learned over sixty years ago.  The audience I preach to these days is pretty old, too.  As we sang, “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know”, smiles broke out in the audience.  They lived the experience of learning that Jesus loves me.

Look for these illustrations.  As you think through your message, reflect on where you have lived the experience you are describing.  Then think about those experiences that you know your audience has experienced, too, and you will hit a home run.

Level 2 Illustrations of Illustrations for Preaching

The second level of illustrations for preaching is when you make a connection with your audience through what you have learned, and when what you have learned connects with the lived experience of your audience.

Example 1

Men at a Rescue Mission

A note here: stories communicate best.  I was invited to preach a message at the local rescue mission.  The people I would be speaking to struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, and all of them are homeless.  I have exactly no shared life experience  with this group.  So, I went to a friend of mine who had that experience.  I listened to his story of losing his family, who rejected him because of his addiction.  He lost his house, his job, his position in the community, and was living in his car.  It was a painful story.

While he was on the way to a rescue mission to get a meal, his car died in a snow storm.  He ended up knocking on the door of a post office before hours.  A woman welcomed him in and gave him a warm place to stay and a phone to call a friend to come get him.  She also gave him a book of God’s Promises, saying, “This book is very meaningful to me, but I think you need it more than I do.”

That act led him to begin the journey of faith into believing and conquering the grip of addiction.  It was a beautiful story.

As I told this man’s experience, the heads of those listening to me were nodding.  This was an experience they knew about.

Illustrations of illustrations for preaching on level 2 are these kind of experiences, where you have learned about your audience’s lived experience.

Finding Level 2 Illustrations

As you prepare your message, think about the lived experiences of your audience.  Where possible, learn about that experience, and then share it in your message.  If you are preaching to a congregation regularly, you can ask individuals about their experience living in that community and being part of your church, and then share what they tell you.

Example 2

In a church that I served for a short time after retiring from full-time ministry, I wanted to share about stepping out in faith.  They had stories that they had lived about a move that the congregation made.  So, I met with the “historian” of the church and heard the story.  My learned experience connected with their lived experience when I shared it in the message that coming Sunday.

Stay Tuned for More Illustrations of Illustrations for Preaching

We’ll continue this in the next post.