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"All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, He said nothing to them without a parable" (Matt. 13:34).

I have been thinking with my preaching students about the use of parables in our preaching. Almost all of us have heard the old adage that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. To my way of thinking, there probably never will be a more succinct definition of a parable.Hans Finzel, in Opening the Book (Victor Books), lists five easy characteristics of parables in the gospels:

 

1. A story with a plot.

2. A story that is not historical.

3. A story that is true-to-life in the author's day.

4. A story given only to teach a truth and not to entertain.

5. A story with a series of comparisons.

By parables, of course, we mean more than the wonderful parables Jesus used. When we preach using modern-day parables or illustrations we are in good company, for we are following the preaching example of Jesus. Illustrations can help make us all better preachers. Good illustrations can…

1. Make your point more clear.

2. Relax your congregation and help lower resistance to what you are saying.

3. Make your truth more impressive.

4. Make your preaching more interesting.

5. Help the people remember your sermon.

6. Persuade people to buy what you're selling.

7. Take the boring out of repetition.

In Birmingham, Alabama, there is a statue to Brother Bryan, once-upon-a-time pastor of Birmingham's Third Presbyterian Church, now pastored by Richard Trucks, with whom I attended seminary. Brother Bryan's statue carries the caption, "Religion in shoes." It speaks of Brother Bryan's faithful and practical approach to the gospel. In a very real sense, our illustrations put shoes on our preaching. They make real what some might otherwise think are great ideas but hard to practice.

A good illustration puts shoes on our preaching. It can be likened to a parable in that it adds color (within the lines, of course!) to a child's coloring book. Or we can think of it as adding skin to sermon bones and sinew.

As we go forth to preach and to motivate people to take up the cross and follow Jesus, we can apply this seven-point test to our illustrations:

1. Does this illustration make my point more clear?

2. Does it have the potential to relax the congregation and help lower any resistance to what I have to say?

3. Does it make the truth I am called to preach more impressive?

4. Does it make my message more interesting?

5. Will it help the people remember what I am saying to them?

6. Will it help persuade the people to buy what I am selling?

7. Will it remove the boring from my repetition?

When I can answer any of these questions with a firm yes, it is a good illustration. If my illustration does none of these things, I should save it for another time."He said nothing to them without a parable…" If parables could bring life to Jesus' preaching, they surely can be important tools in your sermon tool kit to bring life to your messages.

The Rev. Dr. Leslie Holmes is professor of ministry and preaching at Erskine Theological Seminary in Columbia and Due West, SC. A Presbyterian minister, he was most recently senior pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA.

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Talk about it...

John E Miller

commented on Feb 4, 2012

Here's one for you. If you've heard it before, please accept my apologies. A gentleman was walking along the road and heard repeated exclamations coming from behind a garden hedge. "Oh Adam! Oh Adam!" Looking over the hedge he observed an elderly man down on his knees pulling up weeds. Interupting the gardener in his task he enquired the reason behind the expression of such irritation. The answer came confidently and laid the blame for all weeds on Adam and his disobedience of God (Gen.3:18). "Do you think that you would have done better?" asked the passer-by. The gardener assured his inquisitor that he would never have disobeyed God and if he had been in the Garden of Eden things would be very different today. The passer-by changed the subject, explaining that he was a newcommer to the district and asked if his newly found friend would accept an invitation to dinner, bringing his wife. The arrangement was made and at the appointed time the gardener and his wife arrived for the meal. They were shown into a beautiful dining room where a large table was laid with a sumptuous array of the finest food imagineable. It was a very warm day and glass doors leading to the garden had been left open so that a gentle breeze kept the room reasonably cool. Just as they had sat down to the meal a servant came in and whispered something in the master's ear. Rising from table he apologised for having to leave his guests and promised to return without delay. "Help yourself to any dish that you fancy," he said, "but please do not lift the lid on the big silver platter in the centre of the table." They started to eat and then the gardener's wife suggested having a quick look under the cover of the big silver dish. At first her husband refused, but alas, he eventually agreed. Cautiously she lifted the lid! What lay beneath? The great covered plate had been packed with tiny feathers which immediately blew all over the place in the freshening breeze from the open boors. The door opened and their host entered. "Now do you think that you would have obeyed God, where Adam disobeyed?" he demanded. I don't need to explain what this little story teaches.

Scott Maxwell

commented on Feb 4, 2012

The parables were definitely not "A story that is true-to-life in the author's day"... no shepherd worth his salt would leave the 99 and seek the lost one-- that was an outrageous thing that only a Crazy Shepherd would do... No businessman would pay all the workers the same wage at the end of the day... No man would forgive a huge debt and a small one (maybe a small one tho)... No King would invite the dregs off the street to a Banquet... No father would joyously welcome his son who told him to drop dead (that is what asking the inheritance meant), without hearing his son's well rehearsed confession (the son said nothing before the father kissed him and treated him as son).... None of the Parables are plausible stories. They are absurd to declare the Absurd Mercy and Grace of God.

Winston White

commented on Feb 5, 2012

Also bearing in mind the comment in 1. above, I throw this question into the discssion: Is it OK then to invent our own parables or should they be true stories?

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