Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Killer Illustrations" C

This post (and a lot of silliness that has gone on recently) got me thinking about warning and best results labels for sermon illustrations. [Other Warning Labels: 1 2.]

    WARNING: Cultural illustrations have a short shelf life.
When considering an illustration, current events and popular media are an easy place to go. By appealing to that which is "pop culture," we increase our odds that many in the congregation will track with us. These illustrations can also present the pastor in a contemporary light and create some rapport with members of the congregation. In some ways, contemporary illustrations appear like a win-win; the pastor seems hip and the illustration gets maximum coverage.

But, there are downsides. It is possible that such cultural illustrations can alienate some within the congregation. The pastor can actually distract or confuse those who aren't as aware of the cultural issues. In fact, some could be made to feel they have erred or are stupid for not understanding the illustration. Especially in our current climate--where cultural savvy can almost be presented as an evangelistic prerequisite--to not know the latest facts of the culture can be perceived as disdain for the Great Commission.

Less tragically, the pastor will actually set himself up to appear out of synch. Except in extremely rare cases, most pastors are probably not able to devote proper time to study and ministry and also stay on top of the culture. Therefore, they can either become experts of pop culture (and neglect the Scriptures), or will focus on administration of the word (and find himself occasionally out of touch). These dated references to the culture are not a problem, unless the pastor has attempted to show himself to be contemporary. Then, as he appeals to an illustration that isn't quite current, the pastor actually can discredit the persona he is attempting to establish. Though not always the case, this sort of compromise may affect his perceived credibility with the Word. Some may think the pastor is prone to similar errors in his exegesis.

For Best Results: Consider the following when preaching:
    Consider the world. Could people of other cultures and nations understand this illustration? Is this illustration only understandable by a select few people? (Anna points this out well in the comments).
    Consider recordings. If someone listens to the recording of this message in three years, will they have any clue what I am talking about? Does this sermon only make sense right now?
    Consider your intentions. Is the purpose of the illustration to enforce the point of the text, or to enhance your reputation? James Denney stated, "No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save." Can you at once prove yourself relevant while keeping the focus on Christ? I don't think you can.

For Best Results: Consider the following when listening to a sermon:
    Consider your brother. If you understood the illustration or cultural reference, be alert that there may be some who did not. Seek to encourage these people and prevent them from feeling stupid. Likewise, if you do not understand the illustration or didn't catch the cultural reference, relax. Look around the room and understand that others probably did.
    Consider your calling. You were bought with a price, you are not your own. Cultural dissonance is not a sign of spiritual depravity. Remember the Bereans. They did not go back after Paul preached to make sure his sermon conformed to the world around them. They went to the Word to make sure his sermon conformed to God's Word. We should focus likewise.
    Consider your expectations. Do you expect your pastor to be overly informed on contemporary culture? Do you believe your pastor has failed if he has not watched the shows you watch and doesn't follow the same current events stories you follow? Are you clinging to the modernist picture of the pastor with a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other?
[As with previous posts, this is not stating your message cannot make reference to contemporary events. But instead, are sermon series based around movie releases, tv shows or even Y2K profitable when you consider how narrow their focus becomes.]


marilyn66 said...

I have an idea, in part, where this series has come from! You are VERY thorough!

danny2 said...

this link seriously points you to the catalyst for this series.