You have it! The perfect illustration. It’s fun. It’s memorable. You can pull it off. It’s absolutely perfect.
You might feel tempted to force that illustration into your next kids lesson no matter what. Or perhaps even to design a talk around it. It’s so good!
I know you mean well and you are excited about the potential impact of the illustration, but we cannot allow illustrations to drive our teaching. God’s Word, and God’s Word alone, should do that. Illustrations illustrate core truths of the Bible. Don’t flip this and make the Bible illustrate an illustration. Beyond that, if you force the illustration where it doesn’t really fit, you lessen its impact. Don’t turn that “10” illustration into a “7” or “8” because the connection is shaky.
So what do you do? Add it to your database.
You don’t have a database of illustrations? Then this is the time to start. It’s one of the easier things you can do in ministry, but it has a huge payoff.
First, choose the medium for your database. You could go the simple route and use a word processing document or spreadsheet. Or, you can go the more elaborate route and use an app like Evernote. Then, you have the over-the-top route of an app like Scrivener that would also help you write your lessons, sermons, and so forth, too.
Once you have your medium, start dropping in all of the illustrations, jokes, quotes, and stories you have jotted down on sticky notes through the years. Beyond that, consider spending some time searching the Internet for more. Just be sure to attribute the sources.
You will also want to create a tagging system to make it easy to find the illustration you need. Create tags based on themes—e.g. money, anger, family, Christmas—and also Bible passage. If you are using a word processing app or spreadsheet, you might just want to put each tag in brackets and then search the document or sheet for that bracketed tag, such as “[love]”. If you use an app like Evernote or Scrivener, the ability to tag is built right in.
Once your database is built and going, you would then add content as you come across it. This is when it would help if the database is accessible on your smartphone. If you see an illustration, you can open it right up and drop it in.
When you use an item from the database, make a note of the date it was used so you avoid reusing the same content repeatedly. If you teach or speak to different groups, you might want to also add a note of how well the content worked in your talk. That might help you refine it and make it even better for the next time.
One final note is worth mentioning: sometimes the best illustration is the one you don’t use. There are times when an illustration—any illustration—actually hinders teaching rather than helping it. For example, any illustration attempting to explain the Triune nature of God is going to hurt more than it helps. They all quickly and easily lapse into theological error. Using any of them—eggs, water, roles of a man—will make a wrong teaching of the Trinity clear. Exactly what we don’t want: error sticking in the minds of our kids. Illustrations often help, but not always. Sometimes it is best to let the more challenging teachings of God be a little more challenging.
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.