No brainer! Evangelistic speaking must be bathed in prayer. We bring Christ to men; only God can bring men to Christ. John 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
It also requires careful study of the Scriptures to make sure that we are preaching His thoughts, not ours. Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).
There is another item, though, that will also make or break our preaching in the 21st century. Without this item, you will simply be a speaker. With it, you will be a communicator. It is called illustration.
This should not surprise us. Jesus Christ was a master communicator. How often does the New Testament say of Him, “And He spoke to them a parable”? So important are illustrations that three questions are worth answering.
Let’s start with the basic one. Why? The reason is three-fold. People of the 21st century understand the newspaper; they don’t understand the Bible. Therefore the newspaper can be used to illustrate how the Bible fits life where they are living. To say that men’s hearts are filled with greed is one thing; to illustrate that through a statement in the news of a person who having much still wanted more is another. To say, “Christ died for you” is one thing; to illustrate that through one person substituting his life for another is powerful.
A second reason is what it tells the audience about you, the speaker. Illustrations tell them that you not only understand the Bible; you also understand Him and life.
A third reason is that illustrations enliven the audience and get attention. By illustrations, I am referring to quotes, analogies, stories, and statistics. Watch an audience that tends to fall asleep. Now watch what happens if the speaker says something such as, “Let me tell you about something humorous that happened to me the other day...” “I read a touching story two days ago in our local newspaper...” or “You are going to laugh when I tell you the following story.” Heads raise up, eyes open up, ears perk up. People love stories.
With that understood, a second question is of equal importance. How do you get good illustrations? Notice I said “how,” not “where”. Unless the “how” is understood, the “where” rarely matters.
Two things are paramount. One is to never be without a recording device. Some say, “Never say never,” but there is an exception to every rule. By never, I mean never, unless it’s physically impossible as when you’re swimming! Your recording device may be a PDA. Although I have a PDA, my recording device is a 3x5" card; this for me is quicker and simpler. I then transfer the illustration to my computer file.
If you don’t have a recording device, you won’t remember illustrations as they happen. You will only tease yourself that you will. And even if you do, you will forget the details, and it’s the details that make the illustration. Telling me that a middle-aged man entered an office building is rather dull. Telling me that a man in his forties walked in to a five-story office complex in the center of Detroit and took the elevator to the fourth floor pulls me into the story. I begin to visualize the man, the building, and the elevator.
Equally important is to set a goal. Mine is ten a week. I’ll go over it, but not under it. That is why I now have nearly 20,000. What is so comforting about that is that if I’m speaking to the need of a right attitude when going through trials, I have 35 in that area to choose from, not just five.
With these two items in mind—a recording device and a goal—you will need to develop an eye for illustrations. You will be surprised at how many you’ve missed and be amazed at how many you have not filed and how many you can’t remember. But don’t live in the past. Live in the present and the future. Start now!
Now, the final question. Where do you get the illustrations? The answer in most cases is...everywhere! But let’s nail that down.
Reading will always be your single biggest source. Nothing will surpass it. You cannot (and should not) watch enough TV. You will never be able to listen to enough people or entertain enough conversations. But you will consistently have at your fingertips news reports on the Internet, newspapers, new magazines, books, devotional booklets, and a list of advertisements and pamphlets. They focus on politics, family, sports, money, and past and present events.
Listening to messages by people who illustrate is another great source. Good communicators have good illustrations. As you listen, write. Don’t feel like you’re doing wrong by using someone else’s illustrations. Very few speakers use original illustrations. They are borrowed without apology from the sources. Having collected thousands, I seldom hear one I have not already heard.
Illustrations are not a novelty in communicating with people of the 21st century; they are a necessity. More than ever, people think with stories in their heads. Notice something: One speaker speaks for 30 minutes and it seems like 15; another speaks for 15 and it seems like 45. The difference more often than not is whether or not there was an effective use of illustrations. More importantly, the one without the illustrations often brings a message easily forgotten. The one with illustrations brings a message hard to forget. The reason: When the speaker taught a truth, the listener said, “I hear it”; when he used an illustration, the listener said, “I see it.”