Why You Need Good Illustrations

Why You Need Good Illustrations

The last several posts have been about the 6 levels of illustration, with an emphasis on using the first 4 levels and avoiding the last 2.  In this post we are going to consider why you need good illustrations for your sermons.

The Listener’s Critique

Bryan Chapell

Bryan Chapell is a well-known expert in preaching.  Some years ago now he wrote a book titled, Christ Centered Preaching In one section of this book he quotes a man named Reuel Howe, an earlier preaching expert, in listing the critiques of preaching by those who listen.  Howe interviewed a host of people, and formed their critiques into five categories.  Here they are:

  • sermons often contain too many complex ideas;
  • sermons have too much analysis and too little answer;
  • sermons are too formal and too impersonal;
  • sermons use too much theological jargon;
  • sermons are too propositional, not enough illustrations;
  • too many sermons simply reach a dead end and give no guidance to commitment and action.

You Need Illustrations

Think of your last sermon.  Did your message get clouded by these kinds of things?

It’s Monday as I write this.  Yesterday I attended a church as a guest.  Someone had put thought into building a fairly traditional service of Praise, Confession, Prayer, Offering, Message, and Communion as a preparation for this worship service.  I was intrigued when the subject for the sermon was announced, because it was a section of the Lord’s Prayer that I had preached on a couple of weeks ago: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   I was eager to hear how the preacher would address this text.  He did a nice job of logically approaching that we, the Church, must be renewed and be the Kingdom so that the rest of the world can be touched by the Church.  That’s the point of this prayer, he said.   However, when I consider the critiques listed above, I would say the following apply:

  • too much theological jargon (he quoted two doctrine statements).
  • too propositional and not enough illustrations

In fact, this preacher didn’t use any illustrations, and there was no attempt to use picture language (you can explore that need in this previous post in this blog).

Other Reasons Why You Need Illustrations

In this post I want you to realize why you need good illustrations for your preaching.  One reason is that it helps your people connect with you and your message.   Here are some more reasons:

  • Illustrations give connecting power to your message.  They allow your audience to tune in.  The man who taught me preaching beyond the seminary’s attempt to do so called them “hooks”.  They hook your audience into the message.
  • Jesus is the example of great preaching.  Think about how many illustrations  he used in his preaching.  Many people believe that Jesus used things that were happening around his audience to make a point.  There likely was a slower sowing seed when Jesus talked about the various kinds of soils that exist in human hearts.  When he talked about a city on a hill, he may have pointed to one.  A light of the world?  Maybe someone was lighting a lamp at that moment.
  • Most powerfully, he told stories, parables, that brought truth home to the human heart.  Jesus could have just said, “God loves you, and will always welcome you back when you wander away, no matter what sins you have committed.”  Instead, he told a story of a son who blows his inheritance, begs for mercy, and is restored to sonship.  Which tactic would hit people most powerfully?
  • When you tell stories, especially personal ones, people connect on an emotional level.  It’s good, of course, to connect on an intellectual level, but when you can connect on both emotional and intellectual, people will remember your message and apply it to their hearts.


This is just the beginning of this reflection.  I’m realizing as I write that there is much more to say in this regard, so stay tuned to the next post to continue looking at why you need good illustrations for your preaching.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, here is an explanation of some places you can find good illustrations.