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How to Use Stories to Upgrade Your Sermons

sermon illustration

Great stories! They can make or break a sermon. A sermon illustration is the neutral zone where the application of the text occurs. If you’re preaching about anger, you probably don’t want to use your head usher as an example, so you need a story everyone can relate to—one that won’t be needlessly offensive. Perhaps a story about your long-departed Uncle Freemont who threw a pot across the room and struck the dog, who turned and bit him.

I learned the value of great stories and illustrations while sitting under the ministry of Dr. H. Edwin Young, who was my pastor years ago in Columbia, South Carolina. His stories never got in the way of his message; they enhanced it. They helped me see how the biblical truth he expounded applied to me.

Good illustrations are always servants of the text. The truth of the biblical passage is the driving force of a sermon or Bible lesson. Illustrations are primarily application tools to show the practicality of the material for daily life. (As a bonus, good stories often wake up groggy listeners and keep children engaged in the message).

Where to Look for a Sermon Illustration

Where do we find the stories we need?

In the news sites and news searches, where an entire world of incidents are recorded and reported.

From our own lives and experiences (in moderation).

From conversations with others (with permission).

From biographies and autobiographies.

From analogies in nature or life.

But I want to recommend including occasional stories from history. Like all illustrations, these need to be practiced and well-told. Good speakers are good storytellers, and that takes forethought and practice. But consider this. Where else are your listeners going to learn about the 2000 years of heroes, history, and heritage that brought the Christian faith from apostolic times to the 21st century?

Most churches don’t have classes in church history or about the history of Christianity in America. Most church members aren’t going to read Philip Schaff’s eight-volume history of the Christian church, as good as it is. Telling an occasional story about Athanasius, Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Whitefield, Brainerd, Wilberforce, Carey, Moody, or Graham is the only means by which most Christians will ever glimpse their heritage.

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Robert J. Morgan is the teaching pastor of The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee, where he has served for 38 years. He is a best-selling, gold-Illuminations, and gold-medallion winning writer with more than 35 books in print and more than 4.5 million copies in circulation in multiple languages. He is a collaborative writer for Dr. David Jeremiah and Turning Points Magazine. Rob has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. He speaks widely at churches, conferences, schools, and corporate events.