3 Things Photographers Can Teach You about Developing an Eye for Sermon Illustrations

“I just can’t find any good illustrations.”

“I just can’t think up any good illustrations.”

Those were my top two excuses for not prioritizing illustrations in my early preaching days. I wonder if you feel that way, too.

The solution is not finding illustrations when you need them, but to find them before you need them.

Thing is, to find good sermon illustrations before you need them, you have to be able to notice them. Here’s a good quote from Bryan Chapell about developing an eye for illustrations.

The preacher must look at the world marching past his eyes as a photographer looks through a camera, constantly framing one moment, one event, one sequence after another. What looks common to the ordinary eye is significant to the artist because of the peculiar shadow upon it, the colors in the background, or a tear upon a face that should be smiling.

Preachers should be continually taking snapshots of both life’s  great and commonplace events so that they may relate both to the awe and to the tedium their listeners experience. Nothing of life goes by without examintion.

If you hope to illustrate well, do not wait passively for the world to offer you something significant to note. Rather, steal from the world the treasures others do not notice or do not have the opportunity to display. There is beauty in a child’s mud puddle, irony in a monument to a saint, pageantry in an abandoned city lot, and grief in a sagging barn, if the preacher will but see it” (Bryan Chapell, Using Illustrations to Preach with Power, 92).

Chapell essentially says there are three things we need to do to notice a sermon illustration when it crosses our path.

1. Always be on the lookout for illustrations. You’ll have to cultivate the habit of being observant. Also, you’ll need to carry something with you in order to record sermon illustrations as they come to you. I use Evernote for iPhone.

2. Look for the extraordinary and the ordinary. I’ve said before that ordinary life situations are great sermon illustration material. But, for balance sake, aim for both.

3. When you record an illustration, get vivid. If you save an illustration for future use, but lose the vividness of what you observed, you will struggle to recapture the power when you pull it out of your file. Read that last sentence of the Chapell quote again. Notice how a distinct picture emerges in your mind? More than the image itself, we associate an emotion to those images, too. Image + Emotion = Affect when it comes to illustrations. So try to maintain both when you save your illustration for later.

It won’t take long before you have collected dozens of illustrations to use in your sermons.

Then your problem will be, “I just have too many good illustrations. I don’t know which one to use!”

(Image credit)


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