LECTURE 13 ON SERMON PREPARATION Illustration

Broadus says illustrations explain, or prove, or arouse attention, or motivate and they are easy to remember. Just a note on that! There were occasions when I used illustrations and somebody came up afterwards and said that was tremendous, but upon investigation they missed the point although they remembered and loved the story. The illustration has got to be so knit into the message that the hearer will not forget the point. Now the kinds of illustrations are adjectives, dramatic phrases, quotations, and examples such as personal experiences or historical events. For example in discussing spiritual warfare I googled Churchill and wrote down a quotation from his speech to Britain at the beginning of WW II, in which he speaks of blood sweat and tears and the dedication to victory. On another occasion when talking about sacrifice, I used the example of missionary Jim Elliot who was martyred in Ecuador and combined that with his powerful statement, “It is no shame to lose what you cannot keep in order to gain what you cannot lose.”

Later,  Broadus also talks about the accuracy of illustrations. I can’t remember the exact wordings now, but before I used them in a sermon I went on the internet to get it exactly right. Sources are many but they include observation (I often hear preachers use family illustrations), science, history, literature, art and on occasion one may even invent an illustration which is a supposition. Art would include dramas and films with which people are familiar. On one occasion speaking of the sufferings of Christ I referred to Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion,” which just about everyone had seen. Finally our use of illustrations should be careful. I remember someone telling me about a preacher they heard that his sermon was nothing but stories, This may be entertaining, but in this instance, it turned the person off because they wanted more Bible and more meat.

Adams also addresses this pitfall. Before I deal with Jay Adams’ chapter on sense appeal and storytelling, I want to pass along a word from an old Baptist preacher, Clarence Roddy, who was my first instructor in homiletics at Fuller Seminary. He also wrote a book, “We Prepare and Preach.” I remember that he advised his students to subscribe to the Reader’s Digest. He said it’s full of stories and a gold mine of illustrations and it’s probably a lot better than most of the illustration books I have seen. The first advice when telling a story is that you should adapt it to the circumstances. Adams uses the word manipulate, but I like adapt. What he means is not that you twist the facts, but rather that the story is told with an emphasis that addresses the immediate context and need. He addresses sense appeal in story telling with three suggestions: Language, sound and gestures.  Language should be picturesque and evoke an emotional response without being vulgar. Sound is important because you don’t say everything the same way. For example you are preaching on Amos 1:2 “the Lord roars and thunders from Jerusalem. Now you do not need to growl like a lion, but you do not say this without raising your volume and intimating a roar. (The same thing is true, by the way, in reading Scripture.) Gesture involves the whole body, and I think is a reflection of whether you are really into what you are saying. For example if you are talking about eating something unpleasant, your face should reflect the disgust. It’s ok to hit the pulpit once in a while when you are making a severe point. And if you are talking about the gloriously large temple described in Ezekiel 40-48 spread your arms in an indication of immense size. Adam’s has the same advice on the construction of the story as others: Introduction, (and it’s not I’m going to tell as story to illustrate this),  the complication or problem, the suspense, the climax-what happened?, and the conclusion.

Chapell also emphasizes the listener’s involvement through the senses appealing to the imagination. Illustrations are concrete and meet the hearers where they are. Illustrations are not used to keep the congregation awake. They can get better on TV! Nevertheless, because of the generation in which we live, we cannot indulge in puritan type preaching because this is the age of visual literacy. Consider Edward’s “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God,” or William Jennings Bryant’s, “You Shall not Crucify mankind upon a Cross of Gold,” or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.” The truth must touch us experientially. Involvement is essential, and the Pastor needs to ask, “How can I involve the congregation? Therefore illustrations are essential. The OT prophets did it at God’s command. Jesus did it, and Paul did it. I love the sentiment that preachers “steal from the world the treasures that others do not notice or do not have the opportunity to display,” and  by the way, did you notice the precision of that statement? He did not say that others do not want to display these things, he said, they don’t have the opportunity. That is the way you should preach. Chapell gives the exact same advice as Broadus and Adams with regard to the construction of the illustration. Illustrations as we learned should be used prudently and pastorally. He closes with advice about discovering illustrations and cataloging them so that they can be retrieved. If you use a computer as I do, I have a sermon illustration program called Bible Illustrator for Windows. The nice thing about it is that it allows me to enter and catalog any illustrations I wish under their headings which are numerous. I got it from Parsons Software. Also the internet is replete with illustration sites. If you just use your search engine and type in “sermon illustrations,” you will find numerous sites. But, of course, the best ones are ones gleaned from your experience and reading because they are usually more vital.