At an alumni meeting recently, a friend of mine told me about his greatest problem. He is the pastor of a large church in Los Angeles and, in addition to the regular weekly services, teaches five Bible-study groups. “I need at least twenty-five new illustrations each week just to stay afloat!” he confided.

Most pastors are dogged by the question, Where can I find timely, relevant illustrations? Books of illustrations are of little help. Their material is often dated, and at best they yield only one or two really usable stories.

But there are other more productive sources. Books in local college or public libraries contain a limitless supply of useful illustrative material. All we need to know is how to use these reference tools. Then, by setting aside time each week, we can draw what we need from these inexhaustible reservoirs of information. A little reflection on this factual data and we have our illustrations.

For a good source of current information, the New York Times Index is the place to look.

I will deal here with only two of these basic sources of material, the New York Times Index and Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS). Those desiring additional ideas might consult pages 253–56 of my book, The Minister’s Library (Baker, 1974), and note in particular how to use such works as The Annual Register of World Events and Facts on File. And those who need illustrative information for special occasions can read up on how to use The Book of Days, Famous First Facts, and other reference works dealing with the origin of the many events scattered throughout our calendar.

I use the New York Times Index for up-to-date, authoritative illustrations whenever I am preparing a sermon, getting ready to teach a Bible-study group, or writing an article. The Times boasts that if it does not record an event, “then it never happened.” Entries in the Index are arranged alphabetically by topic and are taken from the Late City edition of the paper—the edition that is microfilmed and becomes a part of the holdings of most institutional and public libraries. Each entry is accompanied by a synopsis of the article. Often the synopsis contains enough information that one need not look up the newspaper itself.

The sermonic use of current events has an appeal to listeners. They have a “handle” on this kind of information, because they have read about it in newspapers or news magazines or heard about it on TV.

Index sections on “heavy” topics like abortion, children, divorce, drugs, education, and marriage are overflowing with usable data, all there ready for us to take. In doing research for this article, I decided, however, to avoid these areas of great social concern and concentrate on more obscure subjects. I chose the danger of the commonplace.

Under “Accidents and Safety” in the Index, I found columns of facts, human-interest stories, and other information about the unheeded dangers that are all about us. These included not only incidents such as fires, pills inadvertently swallowed by youngsters, children getting hurt while playing in abandoned buildings or being asphyxiated in old refrigerators, but also information about the millions of dollars being spent in research by the Commission on Public Safety. But there was no mention in other parts of the Index of any special plans or commissions to safeguard the spiritual or moral well-being of our nation’s young people.

Included in the Index are statistical tables on topics such as alcoholism, crime, debt, divorce, family mobility, gambling, and population growth. In addition, in each annual volume there are capsule summaries of events that have taken place in the Middle East over the past twelve months—something that cannot fail to please those who preach on prophecy. And there is an abundance of material on sports, changes taking place in our life-style, the plight of minority groups, firms (“thumbnail” reviews), and so on.

The New York Times Index is published semi-monthly with annual cumulative volumes. It can become a most valuable resource tool for new illustrations.

A similar work is Public Affairs Information Service. PAIS contains entries on everything from abandonment to Zionism. Like the Index, it is arranged alphabetically by topic and is complete with information on all the issues of current concern. In contrast to the Index, the data in PAIS comes from books, pamphlets, reports of public and private agencies, and journals. In preparing this article I chose as topics old age and those themes that would highlight a series of messages on the Minor Prophets.

PAIS listed the kind of practical material one could use in challenging the members of a congregation with the needs of the elderly. Each entry carried a reference to a journal article or a publication. Most of the articles contained human-interest stories as well as a wealth of practical information on the everyday problems of the aged.

Anyone choosing to preach on the Minor Prophets will find his time spent with PAIS amply rewarded. PAIS is filled with information on social problems—the rich exploiting the poor, the perversion of justice, crime and corruption, and the like. Anyone who works with PAIS for an hour or two is likely to be ready to retrieve the writings of the Minor Prophets from the limbo to which modern neglect has confined them.

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The Times boasts that if it didn’t record an event, it didn’t happen. Entries are arranged alphabetically by topic from the Late City edition. For facts and figures on a myriad of topics, look there.

PAIS is published weekly. There are cumulations of the material five times a year, and the fifth cumulation becomes the annual volume.

The New York Times Index and Public Affairs Information Service are available in nearly every institutional or public library. The material they offer is timely and readily accessible, and far more rewarding than even the latest book of illustrations!—CYRIL J. BARBER, director of the library, Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology, Rosemead, California.

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