“All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, He said nothing to them without a parable” (Matthew 13:34).

I have been thinking with my preaching students about the use of parables in our preaching. Almost all of us have heard the old adage that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. To my way of thinking, there probably never will be a more succinct definition of a parable.
Hans Finzel, in Opening the Book (Victor Books), lists five easy characteristics for parables in the gospels:

1. A story with a plot.
2. A story that is not historical.
3. A story that is true-to-life in the author’s day.
4. A story given only to teach a truth and not to entertain.
5. A story with a series of comparisons.

By parables, of course, we mean more than the wonderful parables Jesus used. When we preach using modern-day parables or illustrations, we are in good company for we are following the preaching example of Jesus. Illustrations can help make us all better preachers. Good illustrations can…

1. Make your point more clear.
2. Relax your congregation and help lower resistance to what you are saying.
3. Make your truth more impressive.
4. Make your preaching more interesting.
5. Help the people remember your sermon.
6. Persuade people to buy what you’re selling.
7. Take the boring out of repetition.

In Birmingham, Ala., there is a statue to Brother Bryan, once-upon-a-time pastor of Birmingham’s Third Presbyterian Church, now pastored by Richard Trucks, with whom I attended seminary. Brother Bryan’s statue carries the caption, “Religion in shoes.” It speaks of Brother Bryan’s faithful and practical approach to the gospel. In a very real sense, our illustrations put shoes on our preaching. They make real what some might otherwise think are great ideas but hard to practice.

A good illustration puts shoes on our preaching. It can be likened to a parable in that it adds color (within the lines, of course!) to a child’s coloring book. Or we can think of it as adding skin to sermon bones and sinew.

As we go forth to preach and to motivate people to take up the cross and follow Jesus, we can apply this seven-point test to our illustrations:

1. Does this illustration make my point more clear?
2. Does it have the potential to relax the congregation and help lower any resistance to what I have to say?
3. Does it make the truth I am called to preach more impressive?
4. Does it make my message more interesting?
5. Will it help the people remember what I am saying to them?
6. Will it help persuade the people to buy what I am selling?
7. Will it remove the boring from my repetition?

When I can answer any of these questions with a firm yes, it is a good illustration. If my illustration does none of these things, I should save it for another time.

“He said nothing to them without a parable…” If parables could bring life to Jesus’ preaching, they surely can be important tools in your sermon tool kit to bring life to your messages. 

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