I HAVE always been a preacher who likes a good illustration. But as I look back over my earlier ministry I am appalled at some of the illustrations I used. A lot of the stories were spine-tingling and ear gripping, but to be honest about it they didn't have much spiritual significance. They weren't totally irrelevant to my message, but all too often they were so outstanding that in later years when I met people who had heard these sermons the only thing they could remember was the story, which in itself was quite pointless. After a few years of service it finally dawned on me that everything a man preaches in the pulpit ought to have real meaning and point. We are not entertainers, but preachers of the Word.
Sometimes the stories were quite gory. They kept everybody awake, but after the blood and thunder cleared away, what had I really done in helping people toward the kingdom?
A Lesson Well Learned
On one occasion I was asked to conduct a Week of Prayer series in my own church school. I dramatically related the Bible stories of the Flood, David and Goliath, and several others. Now there is nothing wrong with these stories, but the act I put on with them resulted in entertainment rather than reaching the hearts of these young people.
One morning after I had finished my talk and was feeling that I really had those children "eating out of my hand," I started to leave. The experienced first-grade teacher stopped me a moment and said, "Pastor, I would like to have a chat with you." She then proceeded to say, "I wish we could have a church school Week of Prayer like we used to have years ago." This rather startled me, but I asked what was her point. She continued, "In those days when a minister talked with these young people you could sense the Spirit of Christ in the meeting. The hearts of the little ones were touched and a deep longing was created to be more like Jesus." This is about all she said. It wasn't necessary to prolong the conversation as I had gotten the point. As I drove away that day I thought to myself, Was I building myself as a storyteller and attracting attention to my ability, or was I pointing them to Jesus Christ the Saviour of children? For a while this episode wounded me, but it taught me a big lesson.
Every minister wants to be an interesting speaker. Some of us work pretty hard at it—too hard in fact. We try to do what the Spirit of God should be allowed to do. This does not mean that a man should not put his whole heart and soul into his sermon and seek to find the most relevant illustrations possible to nail truth home to the hearts, but how easy it is to use a story that tickles the imagination and that is about all.
A Concerned Mother Writes
Not too long ago a mother of two young children wrote a letter to one of our leaders which was passed along to me. She pointed out that many of our pastors have a youth or child sermon during the regular preaching service each Sabbath. She was all in favor of this, but she declared that there were times when she wished her children were not listening. Why did she feel this way? Let her tell her own story: "Often it is merely a story of a child in trouble and although it concludes well and a moral is drawn, the part a small child will remember is the naughty trick or bad part and the moral is lost."
On the other hand this dear sister had seen how stories can be used effectively. She declared, "One pastor we had did it very beautifully. He used an illustrated object lesson each time. It was short and to the point. It usually tied in with the adult sermon and the children were impressed.
"I realize this takes a lot of thought, planning, and experience. But my feeling is that it should be done well or not at all. In this age of wickedness and misdirected thought, we all need to do more as Christ did—-link divine truth with common things, and associate familiar objects with thoughts true and beautiful." (See Christ's Object Lessons, p. 7.)
I think she has a point, don't you?