Evangelistic Preaching (07)

8 04 2009

7crayonsjpg. Illustrations.

Some people seem to think that illustrations in a sermon are from the devil. Others think they’re more important than the Bible itself (caricatures, both). Most of us are somewhere in between. Personally, I’m a fan of well-aimed, helpful, and relatable illustrations as a basic tool of good communication. It seems crazy to me to use illustrations whenever I teach pretty much anything, but when it comes to a sermon—well that tool should be left at home. But I also understand the critiques of preaching that overuses illustrations, or that uses them for cheap laughs, or does not handle them with care. They certainly shouldn’t blot out the sun, so that all that people remember are a string of illustrations with little substance or Bible.

As for evangelistic preaching, I think illustrations are all the more important.

a. First, because our hearers will probably need more help to grapple with biblical concepts, since it may well be the first time they’ve encountered such ideas. A good illustration can be the key to understanding something for the first time, especially an abstract concept.

b. Second, since there will be little or no existing rapport with our hearers, illustrations can help to bridge that gap. This is especially so with illustrations that come from our own experience and lives. Dominic Steele encourages itinerant preachers to use personal stories over other people’s stories for that reason: your hearers don’t know you, so throw them a bone and connect.

c. Third, illustrations can be used to provide some mental relief. The fact is that most people find it hard to listen to a talk for 20 minutes, and anyone who has been going to church for years has developed some staying-power. So, we can forget how hard it is for those who are not used to it. An illustration can be placed right at the spot in the talk where you think you’re going to lose people: help them to get back on board and stay with you till the end.

d. Fourth, illustrations can be used to model application, or a right response. This is one the best uses of an illustration in my view, because it can give an example of what it looks like to put truth into action. How does someone turn to Jesus as Lord? What difference does it make? This can make the whole thing far more concrete for our hearers.

Posted by Con Campbell



3 responses

9 04 2009

This is good. Are you going to post something against being comprehensive – having to explain the minutae of the gospel in every evangelistic talk. Young players (like myself) have a tendency to do this and I’d personally appreciate some pointers.

Keep up the good work!

10 04 2009
Chris Inness

I would be interested to hear whether you think the use of parables as Jesus did to explain the thing of Heaven is the same or different to the preahcer using illustrations in a sermon?

10 04 2009
Con Campbell

Well, Chris, I think Jesus used parables to hide meaning as much as anything else, as Mark 2:10–12 seems to indicate. In that sense, parables are quite different to sermon illustration, since I take it that we use them to make things clearer! However, I also think that Jesus used plenty of non-parable illustrations in his general teaching. Take, for example, Luke 14:28–32. These are not parables but are clear examples of the use of illustration to help make a point.

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