The Best 3 Places to Find Sermon Illustrations: From Jay Z to Brian Regan to (Almost) Plagiarizing

Pastors are always on the hunt for sermon illustrations.

But perhaps you’ve noticed that illustrations from “sermon illustration books” and websites feel like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes. You have to do some tailoring to make them fit right. But even as you tell the reshaped story, it still doesn’t feel like yours.

The power of illustrations is in the shared experience between the preacher and his congregation. Foreign-born illustrations don’t work quite as well because you, the preacher, are not sharing your experience.

So the question remains: where do you find sermon illustrations? Not just any illustrations, but high quality illustrations?

These three places have provided the best ones for me.

How a rap song illustrates the new creation

Because they so vividly portray the deep longings of the human soul, movies and music are goldmines for illustrations.

iTunes album art and the DVD covers at the Redbox kiosk are like a mosaics of what is so wrong with our world, and what is almost right. Both of which are prime illustration material.

I yelled eureka when I first heard Alicia Keys sing the chorus in “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z:

Now you’re in New York, these streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you.

She recognizes the universal desire within the human soul to be renewed. But she finds her solution in the concrete streets and neon lights of New York, rather than the golden streets and the divine light of the New Jerusalem. That’s the place where, more than merely feeling brand new, you actually are brand new.

Maybe Jay Z will connect with your hearers, or maybe you have more of a Brad Paisley congregation. Either way, find out who will connect, and start mining.

Do what these comedians do (except for the joke telling part)

Stand up all stars like Jerry Seinfeld and Brian Regan rose because of their ability to draw comedy from the well of everyday life. Everyone has been there, which is why everyone gets the joke.

The preacher’s mundane, everyday life is a rich well from which to draw illustrations.

I used to think that my life was a lame source for illustrations. Overall, I’m a pretty boring guy. When friends are sharing life stories around the fire pit, I do a lot more listening than telling. I don’t have a lot of entertaining stories.

My mistake was to think that only extraordinary events in life were illustration worthy. But when I started to see the illustrative power of normal experiences, my daily life began to explode with connections to gospel truth.

Stealing will make you a better illustrator

Collect illustrations for your own use as you read books and listen to other preachers. Just because it has been used once doesn’t mean it can’t be used again. And since your congregation probably doesn’t read the books you read, it will be new to them.

But how do you do this without plagiarizing?

Bryan Chapell warns preachers not to ascribe verbal footnotes to your illustration while preaching. It ruins the flow of the sermon.

However he does advise that you defer credit. It’s not plagiarism if you start off with, “I once heard a pastor tell a story…” or, “I recently read about…”

In your illustration file, include the reference in case someone asks you where you found it.

It comes down to the collection habit

You need to cultivate the habit of collecting illustrations. It’s the only way to build your own stash of illustrations that match your personality. As you develop this habit, you may find your goldmines in a different neck of the woods. Even if that is the case, the above three places are pretty good spots to start.


  1. Clifton Means says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I love it!!


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