Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"Killer Illustrations" B

This post (and a lot of silliness that has gone on recently) got me thinking about warning and best results labels for sermon illustrations. [First Warning Label found here.]

    WARNING: Object of your illustration may not be as close as first appeared.
Like falling in love with a house to quickly and losing all objectivity, a pastor can fall in love with an illustration and cloud his judgment too. An idea for an illustration can come and the pastor can get excited about the emotion it will generate, the fun it will be to share or the attention it will grab. A rush comes with a burst of creativity (I'm shocked, but love it, the two or three times a decade it happens to me.). Once the rush comes, it is incredibly difficult to assess if it really serves your sermon.

Take the article from the introductory post. The pastor decides to shoot an arrow at a target to make his point. But what was his point? Was he preaching on sin and used the target to convey the idea of "missing the mark?" No, he says the message was regarding spiritual warfare in evangelism. His purpose was to encourage people that they must shoot the arrow (the gospel) for it to become effective. However, consider the following: Wouldn't the sword of the Spirit better convey the concept of an ineffective weapon when lodged in its sheath? Isn't your feet shod with the gospel a better illustration for evangelism? Scarier yet, who is the one shooting arrows in this passage? Even without the fines from the city (and potential danger to congregants), this illustration really ceased to be a good idea.

What began as an idea from reading the text can easily morph into something that really doesn't connect with the text like you had hoped. Like playing 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon can have you partnering movies no one would usually associate, sometimes the pastor can be the only one in the room who sees his tie-in between the text and his illustration.

For Best Results: Consider the following when preaching:
    Consider the text. Does it provide an illustration? Things like "a house built upon the rock," or the "Word as a double edged sword" or "clouds without rain" already give you an image/illustration. Why not just stick with that?
    Consider running it by others. Check your illustration with someone else. Can they see what it has to do with the text? How much time do you have to spend explaining why you chose the illustration.
    Consider other texts. Do other passages use your illustration in another way? Will this cause confusion as people bring those connotations into your current illustration? Realize this will distort your illustration.
    Consider your original thought. Where did the illustration begin? Has the illustration greatly evolved? Does it look anything like your original idea? Has any morphing brought you in closer fidelity to the text, or driven you farther from it?
    Consider your congregation. Can they use this illustration around the water fountain on Monday? Will they be able to use this illustration without distracting too far from the point of the text. If not, you may want to reconsider.

For Best Results: Consider the following when listening to a sermon:
    Consider your memory. If you wrote a one word description of the illustration in the column of your Bible, three years from now, would you have any clue what that means? If not, don't get too caught up in the illustration.
    Consider the text. Did you pastor explain the illustrations provided by the text? If so, spend your time commenting to him that you appreciate the Biblical illustration being unpacked for clarification. If he did not, gently ask him to unpack the Biblical illustration a little more.
    Consider your conversations. If you told someone outside of your church, "Our pastor spoke about [fill in with illustration] today," would you then be able to explain what it has to do with the text? If not, don't bring it up to other people. Just share about the text.
[I think it is necessary to point out that I am not writing these posts because I have mastered the art of illustration. To the contrary, these questions/posts are creating for me a working check list which I have never had before.]

1 comment:

~~anna~~ said...

Whew! I'm greatly relieved to know that atleast at Grace I won't have to worry about getting hit with any stray arrows during the message.

But your topic brings to mind a pastor who visited here a couple of years ago and was speaking in a local church on Sunday morning. His illustration was of saving mondy to attend a circus coming in to town (this came with much talk about how great the circus would be, and everything he would see and do and eat and then all the ways he found to earn money so he could enjoy the whole circus etc, etc,etc.) Then somehow on the way to the circus he got sidetracked and almost missed ot completely, and how awful it would have been if he had missed the circus. He went on to encourage this Dominican congregation not to miss the circus.
At the time Bob and I were shaking our heads about his relating the Gospel to a circus.
The main reason: They don't even have circuses in the DR! The closest they have is Carnival, which is held in larger cities and is a time of drunkenness, debauchery,sexual immorality, etc.

So I'm sure there were many confused people in that congregation that day!