Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Killer Illustrations" F

As letter F, this will be my Final post, regarding illustrations.

    WARNING: Illustrations are necessary, but dangerous.
If my purpose was to convince pastors to quit using illustrations (or congregants to quit tolerating illustrations), only one post would be necessary. The truth is, if the pastor desires to unpack the text (which is his calling), he will find himself illustrating to help bring clarity. However, these illustrations can also get the preaching (and his congregation) into a bit of trouble.

The illustration can grow. It can go beyond unpacking the text, to become the root of the message (link). Every preacher has heard a story or a fact and thought, "That would preach as a great illustration!" The only problem is, it can be tempting to force fit an illustration into a sermon where it just doesn't belong (link). If too culturally driven, the illustration could actually divide a congregation or serve as a distraction from the text (links). Tragically, they can even occasionally interfere with the process of sanctification (link). Many desire to teach like Jesus but fall quite short (link).

For Best Results: Consider the following when preaching:
    Consider illustrating Scripture with Scripture. What works better than an creative, captivating illustration? How about an inspired, powerful, effective, living and active illustration! When we appeal to other portions of Scripture, we can actually explain the text with other Biblical text. We know the Holy Spirit loves to use the Word of God, therefore, we know He loves our illustration! Furthermore, if the text involves a typology, parable or simile/metaphor, there may not be a need to illustrate but to simply unpack the illustration given.
    Consider your passion. What does this illustration do for you? Are your affections drawn more to the text, or to your illustration? If you were short on time, would you be willing to preach the text without the illustration? Or, if the illustration must be cut, would you no longer be passionate about the message?
    Consider rejecting recycling. I'm not a big fan of using other people's illustrations. The preacher is either tempted to make it sound like his own account (if the story sounds better in first person) or has a limited number of times he can credit another man's illustrations before it seems like he's simply preaching someone else's sermons!
    Consider your time. I also find that "Illustration databases" (either as books, or online forums) can swallow up a ridiculous amount of time. How much time is going into finding the "perfect illustration?" What exactly are you looking for that would make an illustration "perfect?" Is it robbing you of your time in the text?
    Consider your timing. Which came first, the text or the illustration? Did you find an illustration first, which you found compelling and then decided to preach around it? Have you been sitting on an illustration just dying to be able to use it soon?
    Consider your reputation. Could this illustration harm your witness, either by implication or association? Is there a greater context where this illustration is equated with sin? Will this illustration offend some for any other reason than unpacking that which is offensive in the text?

For Best Results: Consider the following when listening to a sermon:
    Consider your notes. Am I more often writing down cross references, or illustrations in my notes? Am I regularly writing down texts to go back and check later? Do potential cross references come to my mind, which I can check out later?
    Consider your attention. Do you become more attentive when the pastor begins to illustrate? If you found out the pastor did not have an illustration for that week, would you still want to hear the sermon?
    Consider the pastor's integrity. If you have heard the illustration before (from another source) and it did not seem your pastor properly credited that source, is there a gracious way you could confront him? Could you simply ask him if he has read/seen the illustration somewhere else? (Caution: You do not know his motive. Perhaps he did read this somewhere else but has forgotten. However, you can point it out to him so he can be more careful in the future.)
    Consider the time. Don't bring a stopwatch to church, but does the pastor spend more time expanding his sermon with illustrations than with dealing with the text. Is there a gentle, encouraging way you could direct him toward spending his time in more powerful ways?
    Consider the fit. Don't be afraid to ask your pastor, "Now, how did 'Illustration A' fit into the point you were making?" Especially if the pastor preaches multiple services (or would ever preach this sermon again somewhere else) you've at least let him know the link could be presented more clearly.
    Consider your pastor's soul. We bear one another's burdens. If your pastor uses and illustration which is offensive or sinful, have you approached him lovingly? Is your concern more for proper preaching etiquette or for the condition of his heart? Have you lovingly approached the pastor to see if something else is going on?

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