As one who has become increasingly interested in preaching, I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store at this years Gospel Coalition Conference. One of the very cool things about the conference was that it hosted a very diverse yet highly skilled line up of preachers (Tim Keller, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Ligon Duncan, Bryan Chapel, C.J. Mahaney, D.A. Carson to name a few). Another interesting twist was that most of the teachers were assigned a portion of 2nd Timothy, meaning that by the end of the conference the entire book was taught in completion. Side by side I’d never seen such quality teaching done with such diverse styles. One of my takeaways was the power of good illustration. Here’s a few of my observations regarding what makes a good sermon illustration.
1. Parallel the Meaning of the Text
A good sermon illustration must closely parallel the emphasis of the subject matter within the text being taught. It’s important to remember that if an illustration doesn’t strongly tie-in with the text it’s better not to use it. A lot of Pastors use stories or movie clips because they are “hip” or “inspirational” but in doing so, totally miss the point of the text.
2. Be A Story Teller
The best preachers are great story tellers. Even if you’re a person who uses a manuscript when teaching, the illustration gives you and excellent opportunity to pull yourself away from the text and fully engage with your listener. For the less experienced teacher, it is imperative to practice your illustrations so they flow naturally and capture attention.
3. With Age Comes Wisdom
In the pastor panel at the Gospel Coalition Conference Tim Keller remarked how he is a better preacher because he is an older preacher. At his stage of life he’s helped scores of people walk through difficult suffering, struggled with personal health issues, endured persecution, etc. It’s no question that, like a good wine, preachers can become more effective with age because they bring more wisdom and experience to the illustrations they share.
4. Study Culture
In my preaching class at Covenant I remember the quote that every teacher should have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Though today it’s probably more accurately said, “a Bible in one hand and a laptop (preferably a Macbook Pro) with Google Reader in the other” the point is the same. If we hope to relate to culture, we must be a student of what is going on around us. Using illustrations directly from the culture give us powerful points of relevance with those we teach.
5. Develop a Filing System
Recently I started trying to assemble a file folder of good illustrations. The content of these illustrations come from blogs, books, podcasts, emails, and life experiences. Many preachers find ways to organize and store good illustrations either in file systems or on their computer.
6. Don’t Overdo It
First of all, illustrations that are shared more than once or twice loose impact, so don’t become lazy by using the same illustration again and again. Second, just like the parables, illustrations are only helpful at emphasizing one or two points. Use it to make the point and then move on. It’s fine to say the egg illustrates three being also one, but the illustration breaks down quickly when you assign the yoke to God, egg white to Jesus, and shell to the Holy Spirit. I think you get the point.