Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Use of Illustrations

I confess I have been guilty of using an urban myth to get across a point. The story of the boiling frog is often used, and I have used it, to get across the idea that slow change often engulfs us without us knowing it. Now while the point being made may be true it appears that the Frog Story may be a myth. This story has been used by many and, as I guess most Urban Legends are, has been accepted as truth. So, what is then interesting is that the truth that is trying to be conveyed is truer than the illustration used.

At they place the story as an urban legend and at Wikipedia on the subject of the veracity of this story there is some question as well. Wikipedia relates that the story originated back in the 1870’s and 1880’s and even links to a page of an article that would seem to say the original test may have been true but there is a definite level of uncertainty.

Bottom line is this illustration is gone from my list of illustrations, which is short as it is. I have recently been thinking about how I use illustrations and while they may make sermons more interesting are they as valuable as we think they are. I was talking to my sons about an illustration I used on a sermon some time ago and what I found was they could vividly remember the illustration but did not remember the point of the illustration. Yes Jesus used parables but keep in mind the idea of parables was to hide things from those not ready to hear (Matt 13:10-17; Luke 8:10), not necessarily to reveal them so His use of parables may not be the best reason to use illustrations.

The question I have to ask myself is whether I have been so influenced by the world’s view of conveying a message that I seek to do so by adding illustrations. This is not to say that illustrations are inherently bad but we do need to be careful how we use them and also to make sure they are true illustrations. In today’s age of a focus on narrative preaching I am concerned that we, me included, are more concerned about conveying a good story than conveying truth and relying on God to make sure the meaning gets through to the listener. This is not a free pass to lazy sermon preparation but is to say lets us be diligent to make sure the message of the passage is conveyed and not simply leave people with good anecdotes and illustrations that at the end of the day may do more to hide the message of scripture than accentuate it.

Let’s leave the frogs, and other such dubious illustration to the world and endeavor to let scripture speak as if we really did believe it was the actual word of God, I know that is my goal.

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