In sermon development, 4 essential tools include Explanation, Illustrations, Proof or Argumentation, and Application. Sermon Illustrations help with all four. We look at them and how to use them in a powerful way.

Sermon Illustrations serve the other three essential tools for Sermon Development, which we covered in the introductory post about these 4 tools. To summarize, the 4 tools include…

  1. Explanation
  2. Sermon Illustrations
  3. Proof or Argumentation
  4. Application

See Sermon Development Always Includes These Four Essentials.

When I explain a concept in my sermons, I usually do so, at least in part, using sermon illustrations. The same is true for proving ideas and applying them. For example, in the text we looked at in the 2nd article in this series, we found that Jesus said that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we can command mountains to move into the sea.

How to Use Sermon Illustrations to Explain Ideas in a Sermon

mustard seed of faith

The concept of a mustard seed of faith is not about a small volume of faith, but instead, Jesus means that if you have any faith, even the smallest volume of faith possible, then you have faith. In other words, faith is binary.

We then used the concept of a light switch, not a dimmer switch, to illustrate this binary aspect of faith. This natural analogy shows what Jesus meant in real-world examples.

Natural analogies are relationships, circumstances, events, or other factors observed in the natural dimension that may serve as parallel images for theological concepts. These are analogous, having points of likeness that make them useful in better understanding, visualizing, accepting, and practicing biblical concepts. They are natural, a familiar part of human experience.

McDill, Wayne. 2006. 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching: Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.

A preacher might state this concept like this:

Any amount of faith is all the faith you need for God to work in your life.

Possible Statement or Sermon Point about Faith from Matthew 17:20

A preacher may compare faith to a light switch: on or off. Jesus taught that faith isn’t like a dimmer switch for lights. Having a little faith brings a little blessing while having a lot brings more. The idea of faith as small as a mustard seed disproves the notion of varying degrees of faith.

dimmer switch - used by permission from Joseph O'Connell on Flickr

The Power of Multisensory Sermon Illustrations

Let’s look at the power of using sermon illustrations to explain, prove, and apply ideas in a sermon. We use illustrations to visualize the ideas we present. The above illustration, a light switch versus a dimmer switch, visualizes the concept of faith in a way that modern listeners understand. We all use light switches, and most know about dimmers.

We experience our world using the five senses.

  • Hearing/Sound
  • Sight/Seeing
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Taste

When we experience the senses above, we remember the things at the top of the list less than the sensual experiences at the bottom. The progression gets stronger the lower we go.

We also remember things more when we experience something using two or more senses. For example, hearing an idea and seeing an image that illustrates that idea on a screen reinforces the idea in the listener’s memory. Add one of the other senses, and the audience’s memory increases exponentially.

We can communicate more effectively by developing sermon illustrations that use more than one of the five senses.

Examples of Multisensory Sermon Illustrations

Let’s use our natural analogy of a light switch versus a dimmer to illustrate the nature of faith in Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Mustard Seed. If a preacher tells a story about installing a dimmer switch, it impacts memory more than just discussing the devices in the abstract. Showing the effects of the light switch versus the dimmer switch in a video adds to the experience. Now, if the preacher brings one of each kind of switch attached to a piece of wood with a battery-powered light bulb that he can use to show the congregation and let them try it themselves, it will create a more memorable experience.

power cord as an illustration for the power of God in the great commission

In a recent sermon on Matthew 28:18-20, I illustrated the power we experience when we understand that Jesus’ authority, discussed in verse 18, gives us our power to make disciples. I brought an extension cord into the pulpit and discussed wanting to plug in my phone and charge it. However, without plugging it into the wall, the electricity won’t flow. I then plugged the plug into the other end of the extension cord. That clearly won’t work; everyone knew it before I said so. However, plugging the cord into the wall and my phone into the other end will let the juice flow. The sound on my iPhone loudly played so people could hear the chime that indicated the cord charged my phone.

Please see 7 Great Sources for Sermon Illustrations.

A Few Warnings About Using Multisensory Sermon Illustrations

slides with too much text are not powerful visuals

Consider the following when using multisensory sermon illustrations…

  • When using visuals, text is the least effective. Consider using images with short phrases instead of your sermon outline.
  • Show a quotation and read it unless it’s a long quote. Then, consider just showing the most impactful phrases from the quote.
  • Don’t use more than 6-10 words per slide.
  • If you absolutely must use text, consider emphasizing ideas with text formatting, like larger fonts, font colors, and clear fonts that aren’t full of frilly decoration like script fonts.
  • Don’t overuse taste, touch, and smell, or you lessen their impact. People can come to expect cute children’s-sermon-style object lessons and they can distract from the message itself if the preacher wears them out.
visuals with more images and fewer words are more powerful

Those are just a few warnings that can help you better use visuals and the less-used senses of taste, touch, and smell.

In our next article, we’ll use Logos Bible Software to develop good sermon illustrations to explain, visualize, prove, and apply your sermons.

2 thoughts on “Sermon Illustrations and the 4 Essential Tools for Sermon Development – Part 2

  1. Why is it when I click on the link for 7 sources for illustrations, it ask for a password and does not take me to the link?

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