Steps to Improve Your Preaching. Part One: Sermon Illustrations
It’s been said that the necessary ingredients for an effective sermon are a great beginning, a great ending, and placing those two elements as close together as possible. But joking aside, it’s not length but depth that makes a great sermon. Depth of insight, depth of conviction, and most important — the depth of connection with the people God has entrusted you with — to inspire, uplift and enlighten with His Divine Word. The useful tips to improve your preaching in this article have been compiled by the Sunday Sermons editors.
The late Pastor Bruce Larson once recalled a cartoon that was published in The New Yorker magazine. It depicted two men standing on a street corner across from a church. It is Sunday noon, and the congregation is pouring out of the church, cheering, laughing, arms in the air — some dancing. In the midst of all this, they are carrying out their pastor on their shoulders. Seeing this, one man says to the other, “I wonder what he preached on?”
Bruce Larson explained, “I suspect this cartoon stayed with me because I would like to be a preacher who could excite people like that. I would like the church itself to be a place where such genuine feelings can be released.”
If you are here, it’s likely you feel the same way.
So how do you craft sermons that will inspire, uplift and enlighten your people? How do you improve your preaching? Whether you are fresh out of seminary or are a seasoned pulpiteer, following a few basic guidelines can help you deliver a message each week your people will look forward to. To do so, there is no more important point than this: finding the right sermon illustrations to capture wandering minds and bring them back to the major theme of your text is essential. But where do you find them?
1. Personal experiences. A story told from the heart based on your real-life experiences can be a powerful way to improve your preaching. But use caution: Be sure it is relevant, interesting, and credible. The following illustration on humility can help us understand this last point.
A young preacher, still in seminary, was delivering a message to a group of seniors in a retirement community. For what seemed like an eternity, the young man lectured the seniors on “The Art of Living.” When his sermon was over, an 88-year-old man waited until everyone was gone but the 25-year-old preacher. The senior congratulated the seminarian for delivering a message with such confidence and conviction. “Your style and presentation were very polished for a young man your age,” he said. “I applaud you for the effort. But I must tell you something you’ll realize as you get older: You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
2. Popular books, business books, self-help, magazines, and biographies. In days gone by, if you were to visit the study of a preacher on Saturday night, you’d likely see books, papers, and notepads covering the desk. Of course, things are different today. In many ways, today, it is far easier to do a quick Google search of such materials than make endless trips to the bookstore or library. And that is where your research skills come into view. Learn how search engines really work (a topic we will cover in a future article). Learn to use keywords that are relevant to your message. And most of all, have patience. Uncovering those hidden gems that can be used in your preaching can be well worth the effort.
3. Anthologies of Humor, Anecdotes, and Illustrations. This is an obvious one. There is an endless array of such resources, and so, too, an endless range in terms of quality and appropriateness for the pulpit. That’s why it is important to also consult resources such as the illustration database found on this website.
Finding illustrations to give life to your preaching may seem like a journey of a thousand miles. But I urge you to take this important first step to better preaching. We hope you have benefited from this is the first in our continuing series of useful tips to improve your preaching.