Improve your sermon prep with our brand new study tools! Learn all about them here.
Preaching Articles

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.”



Dr. R. Larry Moyer is a veteran evangelist and a frequent speaker in evangelistic outreaches, training seminars, churches and universities around the world. Born with an inherited speech defect, Larry vowed to God as a teenager that if He would allow him to gain control of his speech he would always use his voice to declare the gospel. In 1973, Larry founded EvanTell, where he now serves as President and CEO. He has written several books on evangelism and frequently contributes articles to ministry publications.

Browse All

Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

David Buffaloe

commented on Dec 9, 2011

You stated "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." Jesus didn't use parables to illustrate for understanding. “And He said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand” (Luke 8:10). “Therefore speak I to them in parables,” He said, “because . . . this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they . . . should understand with their heart, and should be converted” (Matthew 13:13,15). His parables cloaked the message. Having said that, I do use illustrations, and carry a small pocket book so I can record likely illustrations to use in sermons. And I do pray over every sermon, and believe that unless God opens the eyes and the ears none are saved. What we do is of God or it is useless.

Steve Shepherd

commented on Dec 9, 2011

Excellent article about the use of illustrations. I believe it and practice it. The Lord be praised. Steve Shepherd, Jonesboro Christian Church, AR

Bobby Brewer

commented on Dec 9, 2011

great reminder! i dont know how many times ive said (to myself) that would be a great illustration and then i forget. with a smart phone app we can now record these.

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Dec 9, 2011

This great article covers many of the issues I discuss with my Seminary students in Homiletics. So good to hear a fellow colleague proclaim similiar principles.

Jason Stewart

commented on Dec 9, 2011

Very helpful and encouraging reminder of the importance of illustrations! Thank you Larry.

Jason Stewart

commented on Dec 9, 2011

Very helpful and encouraging reminder of the importance of illustrations! Thank you Larry.

Jason Stewart

commented on Dec 9, 2011

Very helpful and encouraging reminder of the importance of illustrations! Thank you Larry.

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on Dec 9, 2011

One of the best sources for illustrations is the world around us. I need to get out of my office and into people's lives to get my best ones. I disagree with Larry's point about people and newspapers- most younger people don't read a lot today (20s and 30s). We need to reach them, but they're not turned on by the written word, biblical or otherwise.

John E Miller

commented on Dec 10, 2011

"...without this item you will simply be a speaker". Hmmm!

Join the discussion