Preaching Articles

Have you ever really analyzed your illustrations? I suspect most preachers don’t. I did it one time and found that the vast majority of my illustrations were about men. They were mostly American stories. The ethnicity of the people were mostly either African American or not stated. They were largely about middle-class people and their struggles … etc

Now when you look at who I preach to, does it correlate? Some pieces do and some pieces do not. Now, don’t get me wrong, a good story will transcend ethnicity, gender and age, helping us think about our humanity in relationship to the divine. But there are still some in our congregation who will hear and learn better when the sermons more directly address them.

Plus there is the fundamental question of fairness. Now I am not suggesting that you check the percentage of women in your congregation and then make sure to have such a representation in your illustrations. But I do suggest you think deeply about how your illustration choices affect your congregation’s hearing of your sermons.

Ask yourself, who are the heroes in your stories? Are they always a man? Are they always a woman? Are they often some particular ethnicity? How about age ... do you always have the hero as the young one? The old one? These questions can help us really dig into who we are, but they also help us understand what we are teaching on a deeper level, perhaps even deeper than our conscious thoughts.

The illustrations you choose can alter your theme and make it accessible to a different group. For example, your sermon on obeying God wherever he leads based on Abraham leaving Ur to follow the voice of God could be turned into a “new adult” sermon with illustrations about the transition from your parents home to establishing a new home. It could be turned into a sermon suitable for retirees by using illustrations applicable to the process of leaving your daily work that meant so much to you but now is a thing of the past. It could even be turned into a sermon suitable for children as you use illustrations on the transition the fourth grade into a new school upon entering the fifth grade.

Preachers should think about how and why they use certain illustrations and make it work for the sermon. Like my homiletic instructor used to say, “If a sermon is worth preaching once, it is worth preaching more than once.” Changing the illustrations can even breathe life into an old sermon and allow people to hear it with new ears.

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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Daniel Leavitt

commented on Apr 10, 2015

Great point. That will be in my mind from now on! Thanks so much.

Charles H. Clark Sr

commented on Apr 10, 2015

1st cor. 12: 8-9 explain about (faith) is it a gift? Without faith its impossible to please God.

Brenda Phillips

commented on Apr 10, 2015

Paul tells us it is impossible to please God without faith. Heb. 11: 6.......

Doug Lapointe

commented on Apr 13, 2015

Good points. There is no doubt our illustrations will favor a certain gender, age, and so forth... not to mention the slides we pick if you use slides!!

Cathy Chester

commented on Apr 15, 2015

Any good resources out there to find good illustrations?

Samoita Omari

commented on Nov 30, 2019

Actors perform to their audiences on stage and in movies. Good actors can convince their audience they are something they are not. The ancient word for an actor is, ‘hypocrite’. In the Christian life, we should NOT be actors. Our walk should be without ‘hypocrisy’ – we should not hide behind a mask. Being a spiritual-actor is a complete waste of time. We may fool many people into believing we are something we’re not, but we can never fool God. He sees behind the mask and knows exactly who we are and what we are thinking. True, we sometimes need to put on a mask when dealing with certain people and circumstances, and it may even be commendable to put on a brave face in adversity. However, should we go too far with acting, life will soon become a continual performance with our true self only emerging when backstage (in private). We gain nothing by fooling those around us. In fact, we have much to lose (real relationships need real people – actors only pretend). God wants our ‘Yes’ to be ‘Yes’, and our ‘No’ to be ‘No’,(Matthew 5:37). We should relax about appearances because, in the end, an account of our lives is only given to the One who has witnessed our entire performance (both on stage and backstage). Being ‘hypocritical’ may fool some, but consider who we are really fooling? (Matthew 6:1, 16-18, Mark 7:6)

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