Monday, June 19, 2017

5 Rules for Sermon Illustrations

A well-chosen illustration can illumine the passage and strengthen the sermon. That is why generations of seminary students have been taught that good sermons include explaining, illustrating, and applying the text. Of the three, illustrating the text is the least important, but it is important nonetheless.

 

Have you ever heard a sermon illustration that did more harm than good? I have. In fact, just recently I heard a sermon illustration that was an absolute train wreck. It sent God’s people on an unhelpful diversion, had nothing to do with the passage, and compromised the sermon’s final, concluding thrust. In other words, it was a disaster, and the results were debilitating to the sermon.

Yet, a well-chosen illustration can illumine the passage and strengthen the sermon. That is why generations of seminary students have been taught that good sermons include explaining, illustrating, and applying the text. Of the three, illustrating the text is the least important, but it is important nonetheless.

Therefore, how should we view sermon illustrations? Consider these five rules.

1. Make sure the illustration amplifies the text and does not distract from it. This is a non-negotiable rule. If your illustration makes the meaning of the text clearer and more memorable, mission accomplished. If a week later your hearers still remember your illustration, but not the point it was making or the text connected to it, that is a problem.

2. Make sure the tone of your illustration matches the tone of your text. I do not want to take this point too far, but we need to be mindful of the emotional affect our illustrations will have on our congregants. Recently, I heard a sermon on a sober, weighty passage of Scripture. Oddly, though, the preacher chose a silly illustration to amplify the text. To make matters worse, he re-wove it throughout the sermon. Every time we brushed up against the depths of the passage, the trite illustration reappeared. The crowd needed a dose of emotional Dramamine they were so off balance throughout the sermon.

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