Sermon Illustrations

I love a good story. Not the really long kind, but one that I know can be told in a fairly brief period of time. Humorous illustrations are good too, but these can get you into trouble if they don’t go over well. Nowadays many churches with video screens can show clips for their pastors to incorporate into their sermons. Finding a good sermon illustration can be a real challenge, especially for pastors who don’t have a personal assistant whose only job is to do research for stories, statistics, and other interesting tidbits that might add flavor to that sermon on Sunday morning.

Imagine going to church one Sunday morning, singing a few songs, and settling in your pew for the sermon. Then imagine hearing and seeing yourself on a video sceen in the sanctuary. And not in a good way of being commended or congratulated for an accomplishment. Imagine your pastor using your personal moral failure to illustrate a point in his sermon.  

Consider North Phoenix Baptist Church where John and Cindy McCain were in attendance. Their pastor played a video clip of McCain’s presentation at Saddleback Community Church during the Civil Forum hosted by Rick Warren. John Bentley of CBS News wrote a blog entitled “In church, McCain unwittingly becomes part of sermon.” Bentley indicated that the Senator and his wife were “visibly uncomfortable during the presentation.”

Even though he admitted that the failure of his first marriage was his “greatest moral failure” (I still wonder why this question was asked), McCain was presented with a replay of his remarks during a worship service. North Phoenix is a large church with thousands of members, but recently one of their most notable attendees is the Arizona Senator, who claims membership in the church. Every other member of North Phoenix most assuredly knows that, so the incident made for an embarrassing moment for the McCains. 

All politics is local, so there may be some circumstances relating to that situation I don’t know. Folks in Arizona know McCain better than the rest of us, and his track record with this particular pastor and church are unknown to me. I won’t delve into that, but it does provide an opportunity to look at the sermon illustrations in general and their importance.

I use stories all the time, some fictional and others factual. I refer to personal stories uncovered in books, magazines, and news sources on the internet. It’s part of the craft. Illustrations are an important attention getting device. They are also useful in “illuminating” a point during a message. It can be difficult finding an “appropropriate” illustration or story to use in a sermon. I use that term because it’s not always easy connecting an illustration to a point in the message. 

I have heard some preachers say that the only illustrations they use are in the Bible, particularly as this relates to using Old Testament characters to relay an important spiritual truth. This is certainly a meaningful usage of the Old Testament, but I wouldn’t go as far to say that they only appropriate illustrations come from the Bible itself. After all, Jesus used parables dealing with everyday matters to communicate to his audience. Stories about the Lost Coin, Lost Sheep, Lost Son, Good Samaritan, and Persistant Widow are only a few of the masterful accounts we have recorded as used by Jesus in his teaching. If only “biblical” stories were appropriate, he would have only used the Bible available at that time which had to do with Law, Prophets, and Psalms.

My point is that sermon illustrations are here to stay, and many church goers are thankful for that. Many of them remember the story more than the biblical text or topic of the sermon. So, today I sympathize with the McCains in their embarrassment. We are all sinners, but don’t necessarily deserve to have the highlights of our lowpoints televised over a jumbotron during a worship service.

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6 thoughts on “Sermon Illustrations

  1. waynecbartee says:

    I read that McCain is actually an Episcopalian although he attends North Phoenix. Given his wife’s basis of wealth (daughter of a rich beer baron) and his numerous exrtramarital affairs, I don’t envy the pastor, who has to support him. But then why should a pastor be held responsible for any member’s conduct?

  2. I think that is a great point, and I for one am glad for your last observation. There’s no way a pastor can be held responsible for the conduct of someone in the church, even though it might be a reflection on the congregation.

    I would question whether the pastor has to support him, depending on what you mean by support. I am curious about the church/state viewpoint of a church with a presidential candidate in attendence.

    It’s interesting that I used the same illustration last Sunday. But, if either candidate was associated with our church I would have avoided it.

  3. ircelharrison says:

    I don’t think it is the responsibility of a pastor to support a church member who is a political candidate; at the same time, I think it is in poor taste to use something like this video clip in the worship service of the church where the politician is a member.

    It smacks of sensationalism. Pastors need to take care in using illustrations about any person–in or out of the public eye. My kids got tired of me using them as illustrations when they were younger!

  4. I am trying to be cautious about too many stories about my kids and think I’ve done well with it, but there are times when it’s appropriate. You’re right, though, I want my children to like me when they grow up.

  5. hi there from the UK. I’ve just posted a new blog over at theologising.info which looks at my attempt to try and create an ever increasing database of sermon quotes and illustrations which I can connect with. I would value your comments.

    A

  6. Glad you stopped by. Sounds like you’ve got a good idea there, almost like having a research assistant to gather stories. I wish you well with it.

    Most of the stories I use come from personal experience, my reading, and even contributions from my church members via email.

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