As a pastor’s kid I have listened to roughly 87 million sermon illustrations. More than that, I’ve actually contributed to several, with the nonsense I got into as a child. And that’s fine with me, because my dad would pay us a dollar for every time he name dropped me and my siblings in one of his sermons.
But I realized recently that despite having heard a lot of sermon illustrations, I’m still a little unclear about what makes a good one. Does it have to be funny? Does it need to just intro the sermon and then leave the sanctuary like that guy that pretends he’s going to the bathroom but never comes back or do the best ones weave themselves throughout the whole message like a poignant tapestry of adjectives? How do you rank and rate them so that you know you’ve just received a quality, high end sermon illustration? If only there was some kind of sermon illustration score card.
The Stuff Christians Like Sermon Illustration Score Card
1. Sermon illustration contains a cute dog or cat. = +1 point
2. Sermon illustration contains a cute dog or cat and so does the pulpit, a fact that is revealed ten minutes into the sermon when the dog bites the pastor in the ankle. = + 2 points
3. Sermon illustration compares boiling a frog slowly in water to how sin works. = – 2 points
4. Sermon illustration references a famous professional athlete that beats tremendous odds, thus inspiring us all = +2 points
5. That same athlete gets arrested outside a strip club in some sort of melee or “donnybrook” the next weekend. = – 1 point
6. Pastor calls his wife on stage and they tell the illustration together. = + 1 point
7. They use some sorts of “dancing ribbon” and an acoustic guitar to tell the illustration. = – 5 points
8. The pastor uses his own kids as examples of spiritual awesomeness during the sermon illustration. = +2 points
9. Everyone in the church knows those kids are actually punks. At least the oldest one whose name might start with J and end with “on Acuff.” = – 3 points
10. Sermon illustration calls to mind a world event that happened within the last month. = + 1 point
11. Sermon illustration calls to mind a world event that happened within the last week. = + 2 points.
12. Sermon illustration calls to mind a world event that hasn’t happened yet but eventually does. = +spooky
13. Sermon illustration involving wild animal goes awry and eventually animal control is called in to remove the panicked beast from the baptismal. = +2 points
14. During the previously mentioned animal rampage, pastor swears, animal control handlers decide to give their life to Christ and someone’s toupee is wrestled off by the frightened creature. = +22 points
15. Sermon illustration came straight from the pages of Chicken Soup for the Soul = no points
16. Sermon illustration came straight from the posts of Stuff Christians Like = +bajillionty points
17. Sermon illustration is clearly about one particular person in the church, but the pastor thinks that by saying “someone told me recently” that he has provided an adequate blanket of anonymity for the now greatly embarrassed person. = – 4 points
18. Pastor uses some branch of knowledge that he clearly knows nothing about, is using words that sound weird in his mouth and tries to play if off as “so I was reading about sub particular atomic cold fusion studies the other day as I’m prone to do in my free time.” = – 3 points
19. Sermon illustration is so perfectly crafted that you can repeat it at the watercooler on Monday morning at work and 47% of the people in your office become Christians on the spot. = + 10 points.
20. At the beginning of the illustration you think, “I have no idea where he is going, this can’t tie back to God” and at the end you think, “that makes perfect sense.” = +3 points
21. Sermon illustration contains one sports reference. = +1 point
22. Sermon illustration contains a complicated mix of sports references, “e.g. God wants us to hit it out of the park so that we score a touchdown and win the race.” = – 1 point for each reference.
23. You get the distinct feeling that this illustration came from a 2 minute search on google for “sermon illustrations about mountains.” = – 2 points
24. Despite having used the same sermon illustration every year for the last 14 years, the pastor still says, “So the other day I was talking with my wife.” – 2 points
25. Sermon illustration contains one of the following phrases: “my only option was to fight the cobra with my bare hands,” “and that’s when I knew there were too many ninjas on that boat,” or “so that’s when I decided to buy cotton candy for the whole congregation.” = +5 points
26. The sermon illustration is actually an urban legend that could have been proven false with a 14 second search on Snopes.com = – 3 points
27. During the middle of the sermon a prop connected to the sermon illustration (a wall, a pole, a ladder, etc.) falls over and hits the pastor knocking him out cold. = no points
28. While he’s out cold none of the worship band standing on stage is willing to give him mouth to mouth and a nurse has to scale the stage from the crowd to revive him. = – 10 points. (for shame, worship leaders, for shame.)
29. Your pastor actually died during a sermon series called Reaching Higher/Daniel/Mounting Up Wings Like an Eagle when a ladder fell on him/lion broke free of its handler/mechanical eagle he was riding into the sanctuary fell out of the rafters and I now feel horrible. = – 100 points for me.
If you or the pastor at your church scored more than 30 points, congratulations, that’s SIM country. (Sermon Illustration Master.) If you scored under 30, keep reading, keep writing and eventually you’ll get there. If you scored under 10, you need some serious help and I’m going to say two words that might solve all your sermon illustrations: Komodo Dragon. People love Komodo Dragon stories.
That’s today’s list, but surely I missed some.
What’s your favorite sermon illustration story?