Sermons are hard, and we’re not here to pretend otherwise. They’re much harder than people give pastors credit for. Keeping your congregation not only engaged, but actually interested, learning, challenged and inspired for a whole sermon is no mean feat.”Afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted” takes a rare, spiritual talent, and we’re grateful for any preachers who do it well.
A helpful illustration is part of being a good preacher — taking something difficult to understand and putting it tangible terms that are easier to grasp is not only helpful for complex spiritual truths but can also just make for a good story on its own. And hey, who doesn’t love a good story? that said, there are some unfortunate patterns that continue to pop up again and again in church sermons — and it’s time to retire them.
1. Chewing Gum
This sermon illustration was especially popular in purity talks, where youth pastors desperate to encourage teenagers to flee sexual temptation stressed what would happen to their souls if they failed. The idea is that any premarital violation of conservative sexual ethics would render you a wad of chewed up gum — more or less worthless. To take the illustration to its logical conclusion, remaining a virgin until your wedding day makes you a brand new piece of unchewed gum. That’s supposed to be …better?
In any case, the illustration is ugly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a startling lack of grace.
2. Neo Analogies
Matrix 4 was appropriately titled Resurrections, which probably had pastors around the world salivating at the prospect of a fresh round of Neo-oriented sermons. That didn’t necessarily happen, but Morpheus’ old red pill, blue pill dilemma made for understandably tempting sermon fodder v the early ’00s. There are a lot of reasons to rethink them now. For one thing, Neo’s unique abilities mostly manifested as being able to shoot guns really well, which may give the wrong impression in church. More importantly, the whole “red pill” thing has been subsumed by radical groups with deeply bad ideology. Not really the idea you wanna communicate.
3. Football Analogies
Now, admittedly, sports analogies have their place. Even non-sports fans can admit that. There’s nothing wrong with drawing from sports for some good sermon drama. But it might be time to rethink football analogies, given the ethically fraught place football abides in culture. From clashes around taking a knee during the anthem to ongoing controversies around the longterm impact of football on athletes’ brains, football isn’t exactly the neutral territory it once was. For the sake of the people who’ve experienced the downsides of the football industrial complex, tread lightly.
4. Workout Analogies
No matter how appropriate your workout analogy is, your audience will almost undoubtedly be thinking “we get it, you go to the gym.” That’s probably not what you’re trying to communicate, so steer clear. And if it is, on some subconscious level, what you are trying to communicate …all the more reason to steer clear.
5. Smokin’ Hot Wife Analogies
The Smokin’ Hot Wife analogy hardly needs more time dressing down here than it’s already gotten in Christian Twitter Meme discourse, but the analogy has continued to evolve and escape extinction. You see variations of it in the wild, and it must be stamped out. Look. We are all rooting for pastors to love and cherish the people they married. That’s terrific. And to be sure, there’s nothing wrong with drawing on your marriage for sermon illustration material. The problem with smokin’ hot wife analogies is that they aren’t really an example of loving your wife or an example of drawing on your marriage for sermon illustration material. It just looks like typical locker room boy bragging about who’s got the biggest antlers in the herd. And you’re not fooling anyone, not even your smokin’ hot wife.