Brian Bill is one of my favorite preachers. I say that because a) I have know him for almost 20 years, b) I have seen his pastoral work up close and personal, and c) I read his sermons every week. Brian serves as pastor of Pontiac Bible Church, a growing congregation located about 80 miles south of Chicago. On his sermon page you can find over 400 full-text sermons. And each week he sends out his Sunday sermon to a large and growing email list. He generally begins his sermons with a funny story, the sermonic equivalent of a friendly handshake. And his sermons are sprinkled with contemporary references. This week a fellow pastor asked him where he got his illustrations. Here is his answer:
As far as illustrations go, I do a couple things.
1. I map out my sermon series 3 to 5 months ahead and I make a manila folder for each sermon in the series. Then, when I read or hear of an illustration that pertains to that topic I simply throw it in the file. That way when I come to the sermon preparation I often have several illustrations in the file already.
2. I read a bunch of blogs everyday and look for stats, illustrations, etc.
3. I love to read books as well. I find many stories there – Ortberg, Lucado, even Thomas a Kempis. I’m also reading the #1 bestseller book by Eckhart Tolle.
4. I read a lot of sermons pertaining to the text I’m preaching on. Much of them are on SermonCentral. I scour them for illustrations.
5. I’ve just started listening to sermons via my iPod. This is cool. I catch some Swindoll this way, James MacDonald, Alistair Begg, etc. I also listen to 60 Minutes each week when I’m working out.
6. I read a lot of other sermons from some of my favorite expositors – Piper, MacArthur, Pritchard, etc.
7. I also read Newsweek, CT, World, our regional newspaper, our little Daily paper and the Chicago Tribune on Sundays.
8. I like the Drudge Report online and have CNN as my homepage.
9. I also listen to talk radio in the car.
10. I’m finding my most effective illustrations come from real-life stuff that happens. My family often will say something like, “Oh no, he’s going to use that on Sunday…” I also get their permission first.
I was struck by the simplicity of this list. Any preacher could do these things. Procrastination is the enemy of good preaching generally, and especially of the search for good illustrations. All preachers have had the experience at 10:30 on Saturday night of almost-but-not-quite remembering that wonderful quote you read on Tuesday morning. Brian’s first point is probably the most important. By starting several months in advance, you generally end up with more than you can use.
Good preaching doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because you work at it, plan for it, pray about it, and then you keep your eyes open all week long. Since all good preaching depends on God, we honor him by paying attention to what we see and hear leading up to Sunday. I contend that every week he will give us what we need in order to bring his Word to our people. Brian believes that too, and that’s one reason his ministry is blessed with a growing impact around the world.
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