Five Key Sources for Sermon Illustrations and Why They are Important
Preaching is a grind I welcome every week. Expositing God’s Word is one of the toughest but most rewarding aspects of being a pastor. You can’t treat preaching like a sprint, rushing to get a response on Sundays. It’s more like a marathon, a paced lope in which long strides are made over time.
Illustrations are not the most important part of a sermon. The meat is the exposition of the text—always. The illustrations add spice and flavor. Nobody wants to eat just spices for dinner. But then, meat without flavoring is bland. In most cases, sermons need a little flavor.
Illustrations also help the listener to understand your points, especially the more abstract or theological ones. You know those technical manuals that “help” you put together cheap furniture? That’s your sermon without any illustrations. They may get the job done, but nobody will enjoy them.
Where do I get my sermon illustrations? I have five key sources.
- Real life. About half of my sermons begin with a personal illustration, preferably a recent one. It’s good for your guests and new members to hear a little about who you are and what’s happening in your life. Additionally, your members are more likely to relate to you if you open up about your own life.
- History. I utilize historical examples in about every other sermon, typically in the middle of my sermon. These illustrations help teach church history, historical theology, and local history. More importantly, history can connect generations. An example from the 1960s can unite Boomers and Gen Z. An example from the 1940s can connect Millennials and Builders. I intentionally pull from different eras of history in order to relate to different generations. An additional benefit is that I learn historical details I did not know from my research.
- Current News. Everyone is watching it, so you have to go there. Otherwise, you’ll appear out-of-touch and detached. I’ll often address major occurrences from the prior week. But be careful here—not every news story is worthy of sermon time. In our era of 24/7 sensational news, it can be hard to discern the true newsworthy events from selections made by media conglomerates who sell news. Everything is BREAKING NEWS according to them.
- Pop culture: Don’t dismiss this one. While the latest fad, gadget, or hit music may not appeal to you, they do apply to the younger generations. It’s popular in the culture for a reason. I’m not advocating you take on every one of latest fashions. I certainly don’t. However, I want remain knowledgeable about the current culture. If I can’t talk their language, then why would they listen to me? If you can’t, why would they listen to you?
- Biblical examples: Often the best illustrations are found in the Bible. For example, I preached Galatians 5 on Sunday, but my ending sermon illustration was the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Biblical illustrations help your listeners connect the dots between stories in the Bible, between the Old Testament and the New Testament, between the law and the gospel, between the many different genres of Scripture.
What about jokes? I rarely tell them, but on occasion, I’ll use one if I know I can land it well. Even then, they often fall flat. In reality, few pastors can pull off comedic relief in sermons. I don’t recommend anyone ending with a joke. I’ve never heard a sermon in which it worked.
It’s one thing to tell people truth. It’s another thing to illustrate it for them. The truth is most important, but helping people connect to the truth is also necessary.