I feel somewhat chagrined about submitting a post on sermon illustrations. How can the mundane task of sermon preparation compare with the exciting furors involving the latest convention news? Still, even the most exciting drama on television stops for commercial breaks. When I was a pastor, I estimated that I preached 46 Sundays each year. Our church also had Sunday and Wednesday evening services. So, that made for a significant preaching/teaching load in a given year, not to mention preaching year after year.
When I studied at Southwestern Seminary my preaching professor, Dr. Al Fasol, taught us expository preaching. (Some now call it “text-driven preaching.”) We prepared three lengthy exegesis papers as well as three complete sermon manuscripts. Believe me, he taught us how to develop an expository outline from a biblical text. He taught us well, and I still mainly preach expository sermons. So, developing an outline for each sermon did not present a problem; however, finding good, fresh illustrations did present a problem, a continuing problem.
I searched for illustrations from many different sources. I gathered illustrations from devotional books and booklets, like Our Daily Bread and Open Windows. Sometimes, I heard a good illustration in the seminary chapel or at the Pastors Conference or the SBC annual meeting. I found that I had to write those out immediately, or I would forget them. I purchased sermon illustration books, but honestly those books seldom provided a fresh illustration. Most of the illustrations seemed old and dated.
Radio and television programs sometimes suggested an illustration. For example, one morning we were driving to Southern Seminary, and we heard an advertisement on the radio, asking women with beautiful feet to call an 800 number. That intrigued me, so I investigated and learned that a marketing company needed women with beautiful feet to model a new line of hosiery. Of course, that illustration made for a good introduction to a sermon on Romans 10:13-15. Jesus used illustrations from daily life in his teaching, and that is still a great source, probably the best source. The trick is to be alert to these as you encounter them. Again, you’ve got to record or write them down quickly.
Storing and retrieving illustrations is another challenge. I developed and maintained a sermon illustration file. I wrote or pasted the illustrations on 3 by 5 cards and arranged the cards topically. (Old school! Yes, I know.) I kept the cards in a big wooden box that originally was the card catalog for a small library. That was some years ago, and now I can search for material on the internet. Many sermon libraries, like those of W. A. Criswell and Adrian Rogers, are digitized and online and permit the preacher to search the database. However, one must be careful about this. What was current and fresh in 1975 may not be today. This is also a caution for those who love to read Spurgeon. Read him, by all means, but remember his illustrations were fresh 150 years ago. Preachers can purchase a filing system that will help them organize their sermon material.
What about our dear readers on SBC Voices? Do you struggle to find fresh illustrations? What sources have been helpful to you? How do you store and retrieve illustrations? Hopefully, your suggestions will aid your fellow preachers. And, for the non-preachers who read Voices—What kind of illustrations do you find interesting and helpful?