This also means we need to pay attention. If you have read and studied your text early in the week, think of yourself as flypaper for the rest of that week: anything that could link this text to the lives of these people should stick to you. An exchange with the server at lunch. A magazine article on change management. A song on the radio. Another passage of Scripture. A great quote on social media. As the week goes on, write these things down. Even if it is only remotely connected to what you’re preaching about, record it. You never know how the Spirit may use it.
A Word of Caution
One important note: Always ask permission. If Ben says something in Bible study that catches your attention, mention it to him afterward and see if he’s okay with you using it and if he wants credit. Say something like, “I loved what you said about verse 5. I may be able to use that on Sunday—would it be okay if I mentioned your name?” Don’t promise that you’re going to use the illustration. We all know that what looks perfect Wednesday morning may not fit when we are finishing the sermon on Saturday night.
We also know that some brilliant illustrations hit us at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, and we don’t always have time to check with the person before we preach. But if they don’t know you are going to use them, don’t use them. The use of others in illustrations is an opportunity for us as pastors to care well for people. We want them to look good in illustrations, and we want them to feel safe at church. Respect their wishes if they do not want to be used, or offer to change their name or the details of the event if that makes them more amenable to the idea. But if they decline, honor that. Think of your use of illustrations as an opportunity to build trust with your congregation.
Mary S. Hulst is the college chaplain at Calvin College. She previously served as a professor of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary and as senior pastor of Easter Avenue Christian Reformed Church. Taken from A Little Handbook for Preachers by Mary S. Hulst. Copyright 2016 by Mary S. Hulst. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com