A Fishy Sermon Illustration

Written by Joel on February 4th, 2012

What makes for a good sermon illustration?

I heard a cute story on the radio last week where the $3,000 prize for an ice fishing contest was for a 4.5 oz perch! It won because it was the only fish caught that day. There were more prizes that had to be given away by a random drawing. Here’s the story by a local radio station.

My little sermon-illustration-alarm went off in the back of my head when I heard the story. It’s cute, there is a punch-line, and it’s easy to remember. I filed it away to look up later on the internet and save for the next time a fish story comes up in one of the Sunday morning readings. I immediately thought of the disciples who cast their nets and caught no fish. It fits perfectly, right?

But what is the point of a sermon illustration anyways? Is it supposed to be a cute story that relates to the bible lesson in some tangential way? I don’t get the opportunity to hear very many other preachers, but I sure can picture a preacher telling the story, embellishing with full detail perhaps even describing the weather, the participants, and the tiny little fish, taking 2 or 3 minutes perhaps (that’s a tithe of a 20 minute sermon!) And the point the preacher seems to make is “well I heard this other story about some other folks who also didn’t catch any fish.” But is that what the text is about?

Are sermon illustrations meant to fill time? Maybe to entertain? I think illustrations are meant to uncover the meaning of the text at hand. I tend to write a theme sentence for my sermon – sum up the entire message in a single statement. Then, an illustration only makes it in if it furthers the main idea of the sermon’s theme sentence. My illustrations are often short – sometimes even a single sentence “It’s kinda like…” Often context does need to be added to an illustration in order to make it effective, so it becomes a bit longer. For those disciples in the boat, they had given up and went back to their old unfulfilling careers they had before they were called by Jesus. Kinda like Mr. Incredible (Pixar’s The Incredibles) who gave up super-hero-ing to become an insurance adjustor. See what I mean? Or maybe I am off track and I should have gone with the fish.

So, preachers (and those who receive sermons): What is the purpose of a sermon illustration? And what makes for a good one? What causes an illustration to “flop?”


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