I have been working through the magnificent book Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantinga (which you can buy by clicking the link). As I said before, though Plantinga's book is designed for pastors, I find it useful for anyone who writes, teaches, has a platform or leads in general.
In chapter two, he encourages pastors to thoughtfully consider how to use illustrations from what they read. However, what Plantinga is actually doing is giving us a crash course on how to think critically and apply wisely what we glean from the books we read. The author warns us to not just read to find illustrations but to read to be "deepened and expanded by my reading" (pg. 22). Everything we read gets us a "little bigger" (pg. 23) and so we should read for personal development. That said, preachers (and I would suggest all leaders) should develop sharp eyes and ears, looking for illustrations in their daily life. Plantinga points out, "If she also reads widely she will multiply the number of eyes and ears out there working for her, spotting remarkable things she can use in her sermons" (pg. 25). So books function as our eyes and ears.
But how should we use books?
1) Be attentive to everything you read.
Plantinga illustrates that reading an ad in the newspaper that reads "WEDDING DRESS--Mori Lee, size 18, runs small, still has tags, never worn, Asking $50" tells a story that can potentially be used as an illustration. We are called to be attentive readers and find illustrations in the least likely places.
2) Look for sources to illuminate a situation, person or idea.
Plantinga, writing for pastors, encourages preachers to look for sources to illuminate biblical situations, persons and ideas but I think the leader is called to try to illustrate ANY situation, person or idea they come across. We must constantly look to make the context where we work come alive to those around us in new ways. Look for sources in poetry, biography and of course, theology.
3) Find Illustrations that Move the Heart
A well-placed illustration speaks to the heart and not just the mind. It moves us in ways we never imagined. This doesn't mean we use illustrations to manipulate our audience. However, we want to use illustrations to encourage our audience to take action.
I should also mention here that Plantinga states that we must be wise in which illustrations we use. Is it appropriate for our audience? What exactly are we attempting to do with our illustration? There is power in words--and so we need to be careful in what we use.
This is just a taste of ways we can use what we read. Reading For Preaching is loaded with awesome advice for readers who are searching for new ways to apply what they are reading to day-to-day experiences. Make sure to check it out!
Tomorrow, I will talk about chapter 3 in Plantinga's book which covers how reading should transform our speaking.
This post may contain affiliate links.
Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.