Anyone who has heard me preach knows I love a good story. Love to hear it, love to tell it. So, when the speaker launches into an illustration, he has me on his side. I want him to do well. However....

Recently, in a meeting I was attending, a beginning preacher--not a kid, but a mature man in his first pastorate--told story after story in his sermon. In so doing, he committed two errors, the kind usually attributable to young preachers.

--First, too many stories can make the sermon as ineffective as none. Try to avoid skyscraper sermons. You know, one story on top of another.

--Second, his last story took fifteen minutes to tell. He and his wife took a long trip with friends and visited two churches in two cities. The contrast between the two churches was the point of his message. As an audience member, I liked the points he was making and found them well-stated. He was not boring at all, and I stayed with him all the way. However, he turned the sermon into a travelogue, and it eventually lost all semblance to a gospel message and became simply a tale of two churches.

The remedy is twofold: practice telling the story to your wife and listen to it played back on a recording. Your wife will tell you to cut out much of the clutter, and your own mind will do so when listening to the playback.

5. When a story is appropriate or wrong; when it is needed or not.

Not all points in a sermon need to be illustrated with a story. Not all stories are appropriate for that message, that point, or that church.

Veteran preachers sometimes err here. I still grimace at the memory of one man of God who told his large convention audience a tale about his daughter, about what a dumb blonde she was, and then at the conclusion, finished by telling us it was just a joke and didn't happen at all.

What in the world, I wondered, did he mean by doing such a foolish thing? Had he taken leave of his senses? What damage did he inflict on his daughter? And was he aware that no one heard a thing he said for the next five minutes for thinking about that truly bizarre joke?

The shorthand remedy for this is: Ask your wife. The Lord gives us spouses who see things differently from us for good reason. Ask her and respect her answer. If you disagree with what she says, take it to heart, then take it to the Lord and ask Him.

I'm betting the Lord is on her side.

6. When to carry notes with you into the pulpit.

Recently, I sat in an audience where a representative of the children's ministry in that state Baptist convention was delivering a report to the congregation. According to his own testimony, he had worked for that agency for years and was now retired. He told a couple of stories and made a pretty fair plea for support. But....

What I could not understand was the cards he carried into the pulpit with him. He glanced at them from time to time, and shuffled them as he got further into the message.

The man was speaking about something he had given his life to. So, why in sam hill did he need notes?

It's as though you asked me to get up and tell about my grandchildren, and I had to rely on cue cards. Bizarre.

7. When to shut up.

Plainly put, the uninitiated layperson who stands to speak usually has no idea how to end his message effectively. I suspect it's because he has had too many dull preachers as his role model, men who said "Finally, brethren" a dozen times before they closed it down.

I'm in the audience, I hear the layman (or beginning preacher) speaking, and I think, "Right there! That was a great line. End it there, and you will have us walking out of here in your corner."

But he doesn't. He almost always drones on and on. In most cases, he just fizzles out, sometimes apologizing for his ineffectiveness or lack of preparation.

This speaker needed a friend, someone who would listen to him and offer sound feedback.