Finding the Right Sermon Illustration Makes The Message


The Right Illustration Makes The Message

This is a truth: the right illustration makes the message when you are preaching. We’ve been looking at the subject of illustrating sermons in the last couple of posts, and today we continue that subject.  Just a reminder, the topic we are following is the Top Preaching Tips, and I’ve been following the outline given by a man named Stephen Brown, in his book, How to Talk So People Will Listen.   

In previous posts we have looked at the fact that a good sermon will be Therapeutic, Unconventional in some way, Lucid, and will be well Illustrated.  This is the third post about illustrations.  We saw last time that illustrations can be stories that illumine your point, or they can even be personal stories about your encounter with the truth of the text.

Where to Find the Right Illustration

Finding the right illustration makes the message sing.  So, where else do you go to look for the right illustration?

Humor is great

The church that I grew up in had somber worship services, with a deep desire for reverence.  Laughter in church would have been considered out of place.  Yet, I find that when I share a humorous story, or a cartoon, people sit up and pay attention.  They will for you, too.

Where do you find the right kind of humor?  Again, reading provides many stories.  Sermon sites such as have a trove of stories.

Asking for Stories

I also ask people for their stories.  When I am in a gathering of pastor/preachers, I will often ask around a table, “What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you in ministry?”  Once upon a time, I thought I would use all those stories in a book.   The book never materialized, but the stories have become part of messages and Bible studies.

I am especially fond of stories that have a “hook” at the end.  For instance, a Presbyterian pastor shared the story of a strange communion service.  A woman who had never prepared communion before found a bottle in the refrigerator, and thought it was communion wine.  However, in the ceremony, the pastor noted that the fluid that he poured from the picture into the cup was brown, not deep purple.  When he invited everyone to drink, everyone pulled a face.  The fluid was bitter.  It turned out that it was prune juice, not wine or grape juice.

That story is funny, but it become poignant when you hear the ending.  The woman who had prepared the communion developed cancer, and it was terminal.  She moved away to her daughter’s house for treatment, but came back to say “Good-bye” to her church family.  In acknowledgement of her life, they had communion together as a church family–with everyone raising prune juice cups.


Finding the right illustration can make the message and sometimes the right illustration is a cartoon.  This one, from Leadership magazine, makes the point that we too often consider preaching to be a secondary action in ministry, when Biblically, it is the most important thing we can do.


Perhaps the greatest, most available source of illustrations is life observed.  A great Christian preacher from a previous generation once gave a talk for pastors.  He said, in this message, that one of the major tasks of the preacher is observation.  He said,

“When this preacher comes to a Sunday in his journey through the week, people ask him, “Preacherman, where were you and what saw you while the workmen were sweating at their toil?”  And then of this preacher we may say reverently, “he opened his mouth and taught them saying”: and there will be another, though lesser, Sermon on the Mount.  And the auditors sit and sob and shout under their breast, and say with their helped hearts, “Preacher saw you and heard you that?  You were well employed.  Go out and listen and look another week; but be very sure to come back and tells what you heard and saw.””, p. 119

Again, the right illustration makes the message when you preach.

Television and Movies

In today’s world you can pull many illustrations from television shows or movies.  If you are in a place where you have technology at your disposal, you can even use clips within the message to make points.  For instance, Star Wars, with its constant reference to the passive “Force”, can be used to move on from that to a God who is Immanuel, God with us.

Next time we’ll look at the P in TULIP, the we need to preach with passions.

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