In his Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon compares illustrations in preaching to windows in a house—they “let in light.” A house made of windows is unstable. A house with no windows is just plain dull. Somewhere between these two extremes is where I try to live.
I recently listened to Richard Bauckham give a lecture on becoming “fishers of people” (Matt 4:19; Mark 1:17). Toward the end of the lecture, Bauckham made the interesting point that, though Jesus was a carpenter, we find no carpentry illustrations in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. He went on to suggest that this is precisely because Jesus made an effort to find illustrations in the lives of the people he was trying to teach. I think there is an important point for preachers and teachers here. It’s easy for me to think of an illustration about running, because I like to run, and I know a decent amount about the subject. But do I have any other runners in my congregation? In a rural church, would I “let in [more] light” by using an occasional farming illustration? If I have a number of architects in my congregation, would an illustration from their domain be more effective? I might not know anything about farming or architecture. It might require a bit of research, a little more effort on my part, to craft a quality illustration that comes from an area of life with which I am fairly unfamiliar. But it seems to me it would be worth it. We pastors probably should spend more time thinking about the people we are trying to teach when crafting our illustrations.
And if I’m right about all of this, if some of the best illustrations come from the lives of the people in our own congregations, then this is one reason why we pastors should not—not even for all of Spurgeon’s cigars!—use a book of generic illustrations.
Just a thought for your Saturday morning.