10 Pro Tips for Better Sermon Illustrations

Pro Tips for Better Sermon Illustrations

As stewards of the mysteries of God, preachers should strive for utmost clarity and spiritual impact in preaching God’s Word. Helpful illustrations undergird that goal by make truth more palatable and relatable to listeners.

A good sermon illustration can stick with someone for years and continually shed light on the truth of Scripture, while a bad one can fall flat and potentially hinder listeners from receiving God’s Word.

Here are ten pro tips to help you communicate the truth of God’s Word for maximum transformation:

1. Unpack the illustrations Scripture uses.

This is the easiest tip on the list. Scripture is filled with an arsenal of illustrations that you can tease out to support your points. Use them and sear Spirit-inspired truth in the minds of your people. In Jeremiah 2:13, Jeremiah paints a picture of how foolish and unsatisfying idolatry is:

“…for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

2. Use relatable illustrations.

Even if you personally love your illustration, it won’t have the impact you desire if it doesn’t resonate with your hearers. We want our people to think hard about biblical truth and how it applies to their life and not strain to relate to your illustrations. Know your people well enough to cater illustrations that will connect for better biblical understanding.

3. Know what illustrations will do more harm than good.

Illustrations that touch on something a person really loves—or hates—can distract listeners from the illustration’s true purpose: communicating Scriptural truth. If you’re a sports fan like me, hearing a sports-related illustration about Michael Jordan might make me start thinking about what would have happened if he didn’t retire (the first or second time) or why they haven’t made a Space Jam 2 yet (I’m still hopeful…and distracted).

Preacher, know what will distract your audience and keep your focus on the Word.

4. Pepper your sermon with vivid word pictures.

Word pictures engage the imagination of your listeners, causing them to not only hear but see what you are describing. Word pictures and figurative language don’t need to be longer than a sentence, they only need to project an image into the minds of your listeners that will help them understand and see spiritual truth. Charles Spurgeon masterfully used brief word pictures to visually illustrate truth (example below).

“New converts put fresh blood into the veins of the church.” Charles Spurgeon

5. Illustrate to give your listeners a break.

21st-century listeners have a war going on for their attention. Tweets, text messages, podcasts, phone calls, and (gasp!) real people all battle for our attention—even during a sermon. A good illustration will reel listeners back in from distraction.

6. Use negative illustrations.

That is, share how not to understand a certain truth. This will teach your people the right and wrong way to think and act and can correct wrong understanding in the pews.

7. Don’t illustrate overly complex things.

We shouldn’t wreck our minds trying to come up with the perfect illustration for the complexities of the faith. Phil Campbell in Saving Eutychus explains: “Illustrate the obvious, and the complex ideas will take care of themselves because your listeners will be fresh and focused enough to stay with you.”

8. Create a database of illustrations using Evernote or OneNote.

In Preaching and Preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones urges preachers to “be like a squirrel” and “learn how to collect and store matter for the future days of winter.” “Squirrels” collect the great illustrations that come to them on a daily basis when they’re commuting, working out, or in the shower. Harness the great illustrations from your life and reading by documenting them in an organized way.

9. Include people in your illustrations whenever possible.

Talking about real people in real situations will help listeners quickly connect your message to their lives and remind them that truth is to be lived out.

10. Illustrate your applications.

This engages the imagination of listeners with applying Scripture and can cause them to think of other ways to apply Scriptural truth. Illustrating the application of a text will help listeners recognize what a life transformed by Scripture looks like in real-life. (I first heard about this tip from David Jackman.)

What else would you add? Let us know in a comment!

Before You Go…

Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.