6 Keys for Choosing and Using Illustrations

Here are some hints that might be helpful reminders in preparing to illustrate your sermons or Bible studies.

Listed below you will find some hints that might be helpful reminders in preparing to illustrate your sermons or Bible studies. They are listed in no particular order, so use the ones that fit your situation.

1. Illustrate with comfort.

Share stories that you are comfortable in telling. If you have found an illustration that you are not comfortable with, chances are good that your congregation will not be comfortable with it either. A story that one pastor uses, is not necessarily an indicator that it will be useful to another. Find illustrations that fit your style, that you can be comfortable and confident in sharing.

2. Remember there is a difference between true stories and stories that communicate truth.

This is common sense, but be careful in labeling a story "true" when you are not sure if it is or isn't. Use the same care in taking an illustration and making it into a story that happened to you. Don't risk your credibility without clarifying it for your audience. Along the same lines, don't be afraid to give credit where credit is due. This is not always possible, but your audience is smart enough to know that you are not the source and writer of every illustration that you tell.

3. Have a point-not just an illustration.

The illustration is not the point of your sermon. Instead allow the illustration to bring your point to life. If you step into the pulpit armed with a great story that serves no purpose, you will be remembered as a great storyteller, but the story will have no point.

4. If the point is obvious, don't illustrate it.

When you have made a strong, clear, concise, and powerful point that can stand alone . . . let it do so. Resist the urge to water down a dramatic point by using an illustration. If the point you have made is strong, it will take off and run like a thoroughbred through people's minds. Over-elaboration turns the racehorse into a dead horse and the impact is lost.

5. Limit the number of illustrations used in one sermon.

If you have a point, make sure you can illustrate it well; but remember, don't overdo it. Over-illustrating will create a sermon that is hard to understand and remember. As a general rule in preparing a sermon, one illustration per point should be plenty. There is always a danger that the message of a Bible study can be lost in an endless stream of illustrations. In the midst of all this information on how to illustrate, remember there are moments not to illustrate.

6. Let the audience think.

The use of crisp and fresh illustrations will challenge the listener to think. In a day and age when people want information fast, it is a challenge to get the listener to think and process what they are hearing. If you can accomplish that, you will have taken the hearer to a level of learning that they don't always reach.

Jeff Dixon is pastor of Covenant Community Church, Lake Mary, Florida.