The best definition I’ve ever heard of a “sermon illustration” is the statement by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:15: “Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life….”
An illustration is an everyday story that: (1) helps capture or retain the interest of listeners, and (2) becomes an example — a sort of snowglobe in which they can see the truth of the sermon working in miniature. It is vicarious application of scriptural truth on neutral ground.
Let’s say that I’m preaching about anger. When I tell of an occasion when I struggled with my temper, or I relate a story from someone else who blew his stack, that story becomes a kind of laboratory in which people can see the practicality of the scriptural truth I’m trying to get across.
Someone once said that a good story is a window that lets light into the sermon, but it’s also a mirror in which listeners can see themselves.
Always be looking for a few good stories! “Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life…”
PS – Several years ago I compiled many of my favorite sermon stories in a rather large volume that is currently published under the title “Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations.” Check it out here.