To illustrate is to shed light on a subject. Illustrations are like windows in a house: They let the light in, but they can also let in voyeurs, seeking to eye the forbidden.
Voyeurism is not just the vice of those who want to see what they should not see. It is also the vice of those who want to show what they should not show.
There is no place for voyeurism in the pulpit. Sermon illustrations should be like letting sunlight into a window, not like putting a spotlight on a stage.
Here are 10 guidelines for avoiding indecent exposure in the pulpit.
1. Thou shalt not embarrass thy neighbor.
When I got married, Crystal gave me blanket permission to use anything I thought was appropriate or helpful. She had one qualification: “Don’t embarrass me.”
I strive to keep this one commandment. So should you. Don’t say anything that will embarrass your family and friends. Don’t criticize, settle scores or take shots from the pulpit.
Affirm, don’t embarrass.
2. Think twice.
Many inappropriate things are said in preaching spontaneously. We just don’t think about it before we say it. This is why you should write out your messages. And as much as you can, stick to the script.
If you stray from what you prepared, and it includes a personal reference you have not thought through, think twice.
3. Do not boast.
You should not use illustrations about what you drive, where you live, what designers you wear, how much money you have, who you know or anything else that conveys you have it going on.
Don’t use the pulpit to brag about material things!
4. Ask permission.
A simple way to stay out trouble is to ask permission before you mention someone from the pulpit.
Get permission first, and you won’t have to get forgiveness later.
5. Do not use illustrations from counseling sessions.
Church members do not confide in pastors (or other members) because they fear their private business will broadcast. “Please don’t talk about me from the pulpit,” they plead.
Your people should trust their discussions with you are confidential. You undermine this confidence when you use counseling conversations as pulpit material.