Searching for Illustrations: Pay Attention!
Every preacher experiences two extremes. The incredible high of delivering a perfect illustration that makes the point of the passage pop. And the depressing low of having an illustration you were excited about fall flatter than pancake. Sermon illustrations are tricky. They can help the sermon shine and they can cause the sermon to suffer. On top of that, the search for illustrations can add hours to a preacher’s already busy week. The purpose of illustrations is to help the congregation get the point and pay attention to the passage.
To help the people pay attention, I remind myself to constantly pay attention to things during the week, leading up to the sermon. Here are 5 areas I pay attention to during the week in effort to help my people pay attention to the text (see what I did there?):
1. Pay Attention to Your Life.
If you are looking for it, you will be shocked at how many life lessons and stories will help begin, end, or illustrate a point in the middle of your sermon. Some will jump in your mind that happened years ago, even in childhood. Others will happen the week leading up to the message. Don’t force a life lesson. Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking everything can be illustrated (you will drive your family crazy!). But do lean in to things that happen during the week that might help your people pay attention. God knows what you are preaching. He wants the people to understand more than you do!
2. Pay Attention to the World.
Watch the news. Read the paper. Be in tune with what is going on in the world. There will be times you find illustrations. There will be times you find application. To be sure, there will be times when you find nothing. But making it a regular practice to read headlines will (a) let your people know you don’t live under a rock; and (b) lead you to great illustrations that will force people to pay attention.
3. Pay Attention to Your People.
What I DO NOT mean here is use your people for illustrations! There may be a time when you want to illustrate a point with a story from someone in your congregation. If so, ALWAYS get their permission! What I mean here is pay attention to what your people are interested in. What causes their ears to perk up when you talk about it? What causes them to lean in close when you preach? What are they concerned about? What are they passionate about? Every congregation is different. Your sermons will improve as you learn their interests, concerns, and passions.
4. Pay Attention to the Bible.
Often, a story in the Bible will help illustrate a point. This is especially the case if you are preaching through an epistle. If you are preaching to a congregation of “churched” people, this can be super easy and insightful. Most will know and recognize a Bible story and see (thanks to your explanation) how it makes the point you are aiming to make.
5. Pay Attention to Other Preachers.
If possible, get with other preachers and ask them what kind of illustrations they have used for a particular passage/topic. Invest in several application commentaries that include illustrations. Listen to preachers who have preached on a particular passage. Always be reading books by authors and pastors who illustrate their points well.
Every week is different, just like every sermon is different. If you force yourself to pay attention to these things, it will become easier for you as you help your people to pay attention to the passage.