Polishing the pulpit  For building sermons today 


Taking the time to find just the right illustration... could this
really be worth your time?

by Ed Thomason

Good sermon illustrations are powerful communication tools.
Is it worth your time? Yes! Fitting just the right illustration to the sermon is time well spent. 

Once you have studied your text and developed the theme and purpose of your lesson, you should begin to ask what kind of illustration can be used to help get your audience focused on the thought(s) you wish to present. Is there something from your own life experience or from the headlines that can be used? Many illustration files on the internet allow you to use key words in your search. Suppose your looking for an illustration about being foolish. Perhaps that word can be used to do a search.

It is also highly recommended that you develop your own personal illustration file. It may be a shoebox at first with bulletin clippings but start one and keep it going. (See sermon tips on organizing an illustration file on this page.) There is also software available that can help you build an illustration file if you wish to go that route. Whatever way you decide to do it... just start as soon as possible collecting illustrations.

Should you start with an illustration? I think so! Why not try to start your sermons with contemporary illustrations will get the audience to think with you about the general theme or thoughts to be presented in your lesson. No, your right, using an illustration as an introduction is not a firm "rule" but in my mind it ought to be! When it comes to grapping and holding the attention of your audience... nothing works better And when the illustration points the way that the sermon is going to head your audience will follow you better. 

An old but simple "rule of thumb" outline for a bible study that I heard a long time ago (I can't remember where I heard it) goes something like this:

Hook, Book, Look, Took.

The hook is the illustration, the book is the Bible text, the look is a discussion of what the text says, and the took is the application or lesson to be learned. This will work in any bible class and it will work in the pulpit also. 

But our point here is to start with a "hook." Use a good  illustration that gets attention and hooks them. 



So you want to know more about planning a series of sermons eh?

by Ed Thomason

    Sermon series can be either topical or expository and sometimes a mixture of both. There are benefits to preaching through a book of the bible chapter by chapter, while others like to take one or two verses and launch into a series of topical lessons (i.e., "The works of the flesh" Gal 5). 

    Sometimes a series of lessons can seem to "bog down." For example, if you choose to preach through the book of Romans, it is possible that you yourself may tire of the study and burnout even before the congregation does. Some series may actually last years. So to overcome series fatigue, (or to avoid becoming a "serial killer") here is a suggestion that someone once shared with me: If you wish you can actually have several sermon series going at one time. Lets say you wish to preach a series of sermons from Romans. You can opt to preach a lesson from that series on the 4th Sunday of each month. (See "Our Roots" under the sermon planning guide on this site.) In this way the congregation will be involved in a series of lessons, you can plan ahead knowing what your text or topic will be, but no one will tire of it as quickly. Another advantage of this is that you will be more flexible if there is a need to preach on something specific for the congregation's benefit or by request.  

    Obviously, there is no end to the type of series that can be created. From character studies to series one obscure texts,  from basic doctrines of the gospel to a series on the family.  

    If you have a helpful suggestion to pass on, send it to us - we want to hear from you.

--- your fellow laborer in the vineyard,  Ed



So you want to build an 
A to Z illustration file eh?

by Ed Thomason

Illustrations can come from many different sources. 
1. Your own personal life experiences are a wonderful resource. (These are usually thought of at the time the sermon is being constructed.)
 2. Bulletins from other congregations will often have brief stories and illustrations that can be cut out and placed in a file.
3. Magazines, newspapers, even Reader's Digest will contain ideas for illustrations that will be contemporary.
4. As you have already discovered, even the internet can give access to several sites that offer "free" illustrations and there are others that require an annual fee to access. (These may be worth your while if the illustrations are fresh.)
5. Some sites send out weekly illustrations to their newsletter subscribers.
6. Within our brotherhood the Bulletin Digest is a good resource also.

BUT WHAT DO YOU DO WITH ALL THESE ILLUSTRATIONS that you have been collecting? How can you sort them into a usable and accessible file system?

Here is a plan that may not be perfect but it will work if you are willing to give it a try. I call it an [A to ?? illustration file] You can call it whatever you want.

1. First, feel free to go to our [A to ?? illustration list file] and print it if you wish as an index for your new file system. 
2. Second go thru all those bulletins and articles you have been collecting each month (or do this annually) and cut and clip each possible illustration - but as you do so ask what topic(s) best describe each illustration using the [A to ?? illustration list file] as your guide.
3. Third write the topic(s) in ink on the clipping(s) and the corresponding number(s).
4. Fourth purchase 26 pocket type file folders (the multi-colored ones are nice) and letter them A to Z. (Put them in a box or a file drawer.)
5. Next start filing. -- If, for example, a clipping is on the topic of "abortion" and is labeled A-101, (see file list) place it in the folder labeled A. If another clipping is on the topic of "affection" and is labeled A-114 (see list) place it also in the A folder.
6. Later as your files grow you can have a separate folder for each file topic but that probably will not be necessary for a long time.
7. Finally (and I think this is important), on the print out list which you will want to keep in the same file box or drawer,  put a mark beside each topic that you have an found an illustration for. For example, if you put a clipping in the A folder about abortion then put a slash or check mark beside the word abortion on your list. This way when you are looking for an illustration you will know that there is one in your file. If you have several marks beside the topic your looking for you will know you have several illustrations there to choose from. This is important also because you will probably not have all the A files sorted alphabetically. They will just be quickly stuffed into the A folder. Then as you pour them out and begin to look for A-101, you will know that there are only 1 or perhaps 4 or 5 in the folder. Once you have found all five, for example, your search will stop.

Here is another idea for an electronic file system...

I am referring you now to another site with the hope that you will return. But Dave Redick has some helpful suggestions along this line in his  Preacher's Study Update and Ezine. Go here for some neat suggestions: http://preacherstudy.com/ezine8.htm  The article is titled: "Keeping Track of All Your Stuff: A Filing System that Works!" In fact, you may enjoy reading all of Dave's preaching articles he has on file in his archives and even subscribe to his monthly email "Ezine." I



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