Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Challenge of Good Sermon Illustrations

Deuteronomy 32:2 - Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.

When I was in college I had a friend who had a Ford Pinto. It was a tiny car but somehow at the end of each semester he managed to squeeze all of his stuff in it and head home. But it was always a stressful time and he would begin to fret about it weeks before the semester ended. I knew lots of college students who had Ford Pintos. They were cheap. They got good gas mileage. They were cool, at least in a college student sort of way.

Many years later I was preaching to a group of college students. I was talking about how we often try to cram too much stuff into our lives and need to let go of some stuff (both physically and emotionally) in order to make life more sane. In an effort to visually illustrate my point, I referenced my college friend and his efforts to squeeze all his stuff into his Ford Pinto at the end of the semester. The group had glazed looks on their faces. They had no idea what a Ford Pinto was. The illustration made no sense to them. Fortunately, my son-in-law, who is a collegiate minister, called out from the side of the room “A Pinto is the same size as a Mini-Cooper.” There was a collective “OHHHHH” in the room as the group got the visual image of an overstuffed Mini-Cooper, and the point was made.

Many preachers struggle to find illustrations to drive home points in sermons. Recently I was in a fairly large church listening to a guest speaker. The service he was speaking in was designed to reach young adults. Though he was a good communicator, he built an elaborate sermon illustration based on a television show that peaked in popularity in 1968, which was before most of that audience was born. Most people in the room were not tracking with his point and I noticed they began googling the television show on their phones. As the sermon progressed, and the complex illustration continued, the audience began to grasp more of the point as they read about the series online. In the end, the point the speaker was trying to make probably did get across, but it would have been better to find a way to do it that did not require people to stop listening to the sermon while researching the illustration online.

The best illustrations come from our own real life experiences. But it is best to keep them short so we do not lose the point we are trying to make. It is also best to make sure they will connect to the audience we are sharing them with. Illustrations are helpful but we have to use them well. Take the time to do it right, or skip it altogether!

Lord, help all those who preach the Word use illustrations in ways that help, instead of hinder, our understanding of the Word. Amen.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a missionary, pastor and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is happily married to his college sweetheart and enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren. He is the author of numerous books including “The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences.” You can find his complete list of books at:


  1. Russell LambertMay 5, 2016 at 5:06 PM

    If you are pastoring a multi generational church. You will need two and sometimes three illustrations to make a point. Try to stay light on your feet and gauge your attendees.

  2. Thank you for sharing this very valuable insight. I enjoy giving good illustrations because they can be memorable when used properly. Your point about the relevance of the illustration and the importance or connecting with the audience was wonderfully made.