I once heard a professor say that a sermon illustration is “a window that lets the light in on the truth of the Word.” I like that picture (that is, an illustration itself . . .) to help me understand the importance of illustrating truths. Despite the importance of illustrations, here are some common problems with sermon illustrations:
None used – “Just preach the Word,” they say, “and you shouldn’t need any illustrations.” I understand that point, but even Jesus often painted His truths with pictures (e.g., the parable of the soils). Most listeners appreciate the help in understanding the Word that a good illustration provides.
Disconnected from the scriptural truth – If listeners must work to “connect the dots” between the illustration and the sermon truth, the use of the illustration is weak. Illustrations should illustrate, not complicate.
Too long – An illustration is intended to illuminate the biblical truth and help the listeners apply that truth to their life. Clarity and brevity are imperative. When the illustration drones on forever, the listener might forget the biblical truth before the illustrating story is over.
Chuck Lawless is Dean and Vice-President of Graduate Studies and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where he also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions. In addition, he is Global Theological Education Consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.