Illustrations are a vital tool in the preacher’s armoury. Our LORD used them in His ministry as seen particularly in the parables. Spurgeon called them “windows into truth”. I must say I find the work of using illustrations appropriately in preaching to be a difficult one. I want to mention here four issues:-
- The illustration becomes too big. – I am referring here to when an illustration becomes so impressive that all that is remembered is the illustration. No-one is led to think about the truth that was being illustrated, they only remember the illustration. When people remember the illustration and not the truth that is being illustrated then something has gone wrong. How can we avoid this from happening? I think we have to be very careful in our presentation. The illustration needs to presented in sufficient detail so as to shed light on the truth. However, it should not be developed to such an extent so as to dazzle the viewers of truth so that they cannot see the truth.
- The priority of truth. – The preacher should construct the message so that the sermon is clearly arranged so as to reveal truth. In that way everyone will know that any illustration is there, not as an exhibit on its own, but to shed light on the Word of the LORD.
- The over-illustrating of a point. – Sometimes preachers can over illustrate a point. This means that they give several (or even multiple) illustrations of the truth. In this context the preacher needs to remember that he is there as God’s servant to bring the bread of life to the hearts of hungry souls. It is truth that feeds souls, not illustrations. Illustrations help with the savouring and digesting of the food, but they are not the food. So illustrate enough to help the savouring and digesting of truth.
- Sermons full of illustrations, but no truth. – If you are preaching such sermons you may be very popular, but you are a menace. A preacher of God’s Word is to bring God’s Word not just illustrations. So if you are preaching sermons which are sodden with illustrations and no truth please stop preaching now.