When I began preaching over a decade ago, I was concerned that my background in entertainment, as well as my own need for approval, would taint my sermons with egotism. In the years since, I have come up with some guidelines that help keep me from going off track (though not always successfully). The series I began yesterday continues with some tips about using illustrations in sermons.
Use Only One Personal Story Per Sermon – If your sermon includes one story about your kids, one about your great marriage and one about how many times you threw up that week because of a stomach virus, your sermon may be just a little too focused on yourself. Pick just one. This can be challenging, since we want to preach from own experiences and not just parrot downloaded resources like the pastor mentioned in yesterday's post. When you do tell that one story about yourself…
Don’t Make Yourself the Hero of the Story – People think you’re being a holier-than-thou pompous ass. How do I know this? Because I think you’re being pompous ass too. Anytime you tell a story about yourself, ask what you are convey and why you want people to think that about you. Self-depreciating humor and anecdotes go a long way to deconstructing the stereotype of the self-righteous clergyperson. Yes, there are times when you need to lead by example and let people know you are doing so (e.g. making mutual sacrifices with the congregation). But in general, if you suspect a story makes you look like a super-Christian, leave it out. People have had enough of self-righteous preachers.
Look Around the Room - So if canned illustrations and too many stories about you are a bad thing, from where should you get your illustrations? Look to others in the community. Share their stories (with their permission of course). Better yet, let them share their story. It is a myth that the pastor must always be the one in the community with the best marriage, or best kids, or deepest prayer life, or closest to God. Our faith communities are filled with people whose stories are more God-filled than our own. If you have no one in your congregation whose story is worth sharing, well then, you have a whole other problem entirely.
As a preacher or listener, how do these suggestions resonate with you?
That's it for now. Tomorrow, the Carson and Miller principles.