By Jeff Faull
“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17, New American Standard Bible).
Church leaders are often called to work hard at preaching and teaching. One of the most challenging aspects of that responsibility is finding and developing sources of relevant, interesting, and compelling illustrations. Here are a few simple suggestions for finding fresh illustrations for sermons, meditations, or Bible studies.
SCOUR THE NEWS, ESPECIALLY THE WEIRD NEWS
The news provides illustrations from real life that are instantly documented, perennially fresh, and frequently fascinating. The headlines often tell the story. Here are a few examples.
Capsized Boat at a Nudist Camp
AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Partygoers apparently hoping to catch a glimpse of nude sunbathers crowded on one side of a floating barge, prompting the ship to capsize and dump all 60 people into Lake Travis.
Hanging Corpse Admired as Sculpture on Campus
BUDAPEST (Reuters)—Police on Friday removed the corpse of a man believed to have hanged himself at least a year ago after builders and students at Budapest’s University of Arts had initially mistaken it for a modern sculpture.
Star Trek’s William Shatner Signs Up for the Real Thing
(AP) William Shatner is among thousands of people who want to fly on Virgin Airlines’ proposed commercial space flights, company chief Richard Branson said Friday. Branson said more than 7,000 people had registered their willingness to pay the $210,000 fare for the service, which promises to send passengers 70 miles above the Earth.
The possibilities are endless. Here are a few more headlines:
• Injured Biker Proposes to Girlfriend
• Elderly Widow Preserves Her Husband’s Body
• Man Awakes from 19-Year Coma
• Motorist Has 3 Accidents in One Afternoon
• Robber Shoots Himself in the Leg
• Former NFL Player Wants His Team to Lose the Super Bowl
• Not Having Children Helps Save the Planet
• British Man Removes Wart with a Shotgun
• Semi Crash Spills Syrups All Over Buttermilk Pike
• NBA Star Says His Teammates Can’t Teach Him Anything
• Pencil Removed from Woman’s Head after 55 Years
You get the idea. This is not to suggest that every sermon or lesson should be filled with weird or funny stories or news clippings—it simply affirms that these provide a rich source of material.
WRITE IT DOWN
I call this next method “moleskining” because I carry Moleskine brand journals to keep thoughts organized. Each Moleskine comes with this Bruce Chatwin quote inside: “To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries. To lose a notebook was a catastrophe.”
I carry one in my backpack. I have one next to my bed. I have one on my desk and one next to my favorite chair. I have a little code to identify what I write down. My simple system has only three headings:
PR—preaching reflections or stories
You would be amazed at what you think you’ll remember. However, you will forget if you don’t write it down. If you are tempted to think you will always remember, it’s probably because you’ve already forgotten what you have forgotten and failed to remember that you have forgotten. Write it down!
SKIM BOOKS, JOURNALS, BLOGS, AND MORE
Books, magazines, blogs, and journals can provide great ideas for illustrations, and there are more ways than ever to glean from them. No need for the reading lecture; you already know how advantageous it is to read. Certainly we should be careful about what we read, but almost anything we read can contribute to our preaching and teaching because it expands our minds, increases our vocabulary, and stimulates our thinking. I’m not suggesting a disregard for discernment in what we read; on the contrary, we must be extremely careful, but we should not fail to read as we seek to communicate God’s truths effectively in this age.
I find it useful to read a book on my Kindle or e-reader, and to highlight everything that is important. I then transfer those quotes to my computer. I simply cut-and-paste the type to create a file with all the substantive thoughts from the book.
SEARCH THE NET
Do you remember sitting at a table armed only with a Bible, notebook, and concordance? There’s something admirable about that. It was like learning multiplication tables correctly before learning to use a calculator. But now we have “calculators” of sorts—Internet search engines—we can use to find illustrations, and it is sometimes appropriate to use them.
If you are developing a lesson on Paul and Silas in Acts 16, you might search for “prison break” stories. If you are teaching on squandered wealth, you might look for “lottery winner mistakes.” If you are preaching about pride, you might look up “most arrogant quotes.” There are creative ways to illustrate that are easily within reach as we prepare to preach and teach.
These are just a few possible resources or methods for locating good illustrations to enrich your sermons and lessons. Any number of ways exist to help our listeners understand spiritual truth.
Jeff Faull serves as senior minister at Mount Gilead Church in Mooresville, Indiana, and as a board member with e2.