Illustrations are essential to any sermon. A great illustration, that is. It can take a person from “I think I sort of get it” to the “ah, I see exactly what you mean!” moment.
In fact, illustrations are used by teachers, preachers, parents, or anyone who is trying to convey something to someone effectively.
It’s for this reason that in grade school we learned addition by adding one apple to three apples to get a total of four apples.
Recall with me the prophet Nathan who confronted King David about his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and murderous act against her husband. Did he confront him by telling him, “King David, how could you have done those things?!” No. He told him a story, a parable, if you will, about two men. At the conclusion of the story David became angry at the injustice committed by the wealthy man. At this point, Nathan verbally slaps David and tells him that he is that man (2 Sam. 12:1-7).
This is the power of story.
It’s very likely that you use illustrations in your sermons. I don’t think I would serve you by trying to make a case for the need of illustrations. I think most of us agree to their importance.
What I would like to propose are 3 tweaks that you can make to your illustrations for greatest impact.
1. Use specifics rather than generalities.
Have you ever read a John Grisham novel or any engaging, page-turning, read-in-a-day kind of novels? You will notice that the author doesn’t tell you flat-out, for example, “Sara is a wealthy lawyer.” Instead, you read that she has a private jet, a three-story vacation house in St. Lucia, and a yacht that she has docked in Monte Carlo. You will now remember Sara and that she’s wealthy.
The more details you incorporate into your story the more engaging, memorable, and effective it will be in delivering your message.
Generalities convey the message that is shortly forgotten, while specifics in a story act like a laser beam that carves into the memory of your listeners.
2. Make it about people rather than things.
Most movies, novels, or fairy tales revolve around people. The People magazine has more readers than Better Homes and Gardens. Why? Generally, people are interested in people. When stories revolve around other humans it evokes emotion in us all because we are able to relate to their thoughts, problems, mistakes, fears, triumphs, courage, etc.
When telling a story as an illustration, consider finding stories about other humans to generate the greatest response to your point. Air Bud is a great animal basketball hero, but Batman who saves Gotham is even better, because he saves other people. We relate to his loneliness, losing his parents, and the desire for justice.
3. Journalism 101: Show rather than tell.
“My boss was mad” is telling; “As her blood boiled within her and her face turned red, she stormed into my office swiping everything off my desk, yelling at the cleaner who was blocking her way into the office. That’s when I knew that I had done something really wrong” is showing.
Telling the story engages the listeners to understand you and make a personal connection to what you are saying. If I were to interpret that scene described above and simply state that my boss was mad, it would make little impact if any on my listeners.
Illustrations that show human stories in specific ways are some of the most impactful ways of telling stories. Try it and see how even those in the very last row will begin to perk their ears and eyes toward you once again as your point comes alive.
Question: What techniques do you use when telling a story?