Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Preaching Personal

My parents were sitting in their large mega SBC church not too long ago, when their pastor - to make a point - began to tell a story that happened to "himself", only to realize they had read that VERY same narrative in a book of a well-known Christian author!

Seen in a comment at this place.

At another very popular blog (in fact, one of the most popular), there is a comment thread where nearly everyone is fine and dandy with preachers plagiarizing sermon material.

Awesome. The Church is in great shape. :-)

What do you all think about the preacher's use of himself in messages? I'm assuming you think truthfulness is a non-negotiable.
What are your feelings about personal illustrations/examples?

One of my all-time favorite preachers routinely uses himself and his family as illustrations. In fact, that's pretty much all he uses. And they are 98% positive. At some point, I want to say, "Okay, I get it. You're an awesome dad/husband/pastor. We should all try to be like you."
It's annoying, but he's still one of my favorites. It's not a reason to stop listening to him and stop profiting from his preaching.

I refer to myself somewhat occasionally in my messages, but I am pretty conscientious to use "negative" or self-deprecating illustrations/stories. I don't feel like it's my job to set myself up as an example of what my folks should be like, but when I reference myself or something I've done/said, it should be to communicate something I learned from screwing up or to communicate that I'm no better than anybody else. In that sense, my personal illustrations are more confessional than "inspirational."

But I also sat under a preacher who talked about how he used to be a drunk and wanted to commit suicide at least 3 times a month. He was being confessional, I guess, but at some point, it started to smack of self-indulgence. It grew tiresome.

Would love to get some feedback on this. I know some people think a preacher should never use illustrations from his own life.
What say you?


Don said...

I think that it grows tiresome after a while, but it appears that it is the way that they are taught. Sometimes their stories seem to be a stretch to try to link an application to the main point. Maybe they think that it helps people to relate.

Osteen always uses himself and his wife as the positive subject of his stories. Nobody is that perfect.

I'm not sure why they can't related back to someone in the Bible. That way, they're disconnected from the story.

Preachers, as you pointed out, can go to the negative extreme as well, constantly pointing out their flaws so that the congregation can supposedly related better to them. How does that give anybody hope.

In any event, if all of the examples are about them, they're probably not preaching enough Christ.

David Rudd said...

i try to use myself and my life in stories because it demonstrates that i have at least attempted to personalize the passage i'm speaking about. i aim for a 50/50 negative/positive split, but know that i lean more toward self-deprecating stories.

on another note, not too long ago i heard a preacher preach a message on abraham and sarah that i had just heard mark driscoll preach. while some of the content was changed, so much of it was word-for-word that it was a clear copy... frustrating that some some one would presume to teach others when they were too lazy to do the hard work of getting into the text themself.

my rule of thumb is that i cite way more people and source in a sermon than most people would prefer. that way it's clear that i've worked on the text, but am also leaning on others.

nhe said...

Jared - I'm surprised you like this guy who you say is always positive - on the surface, that would drive me nuts, but then again, I suppose Piper is always pretty positive when he talks about himself/his family, and I like him.

Self-deprecating is endearing to me, as long as its not overdone....My favorite preachers (Keller for one) are the ones that preach from Scripture rather than topically, and with regard to illustrations: they're bouncing from something they read in a high-brow commentary - to something they saw in a Bridget Jones movie - too something they read in the New Yorker - to something wonderfully self-deprecating about themselves - variety is the goal I think - sprinkle your own life in, but constantly pull in other sources.

Jared said...


if all of the examples are about them, they're probably not preaching enough Christ.

And this is general why I don't use that many illustrations to begin with, about me or anybody else.

I once sat through a message that began with a 20 minute "illustration" about a painting followed by a 10 minute illustration about the guy's dad that expounded the first illustration. 30 minutes in and there wasn't any mention of Jesus and no citing of Scripture.
The remaining 15 minutes or so weren't much better.


i aim for a 50/50 negative/positive split, but know that i lean more toward self-deprecating stories

I think that's a good rule of thumb.

i cite way more people and source in a sermon than most people would prefer.

My conscience won't even let me use other people's phrasings or stories. I tend to always say "I stole this story from..." or "I heard this from..." b/c it just pains me to try to pass someone else's stuff off as my own.

And my folks deserve to have their pastor do the work of preparing a message for them himself.

Luke said...

I sat under a pastor who routinely said, "the story goes" or something like that. I don't really like illustrations that are meant to tug at the heart strings, as I think it too easily produces an emotional response. Working with students like I do, I have talked to hundreds whose only response to the gospel was an emotional one after some sentimental story or some scary one about hell.

I think personal stories make people connect with you, but like everything else it must be in moderation.

Martin said...

I agree with the balanced views presented here. Just wanted to add the suggestion that the more challenging/convicting your sermon the more you need your listeners to hear you say "not that I've already obtained all this". I say this to avoid the twin dangers of people either putting you on a pedestal as their 'priest' or 'functional' savior on the one hand or giving up on the other because you've made it seem unachievable to weak people like they know themselves to be when compared to someone like you who seems to them to be so godly, got it all together, etc.

Of course, noe of that is any substitute for how the sermon should end, i.e. by pointing them to Christ, who did it for them so they don't have to struggle, etc.

Gospel blessings,

Rob said...

I think there's a place for everything honest, in moderation. (Which includes, I agree with you, always giving credit as to where you got something from.) Personal stories can be very effective, if they're effective stories (and not too long), if not, or if they're TMI, do something else. (And yeah, try to keep it 50/50; too much self-praise or self-deprecation is bad either way.)

Anonymous said...

for me.... Paul the Apostle seemed to have a great balance... at times referring to himself and/or Timothy about the struggles they endured proclaiming the gospel... and real-life situations he/they experienced... but without fail... the true focus of his sermons/letters/preaching was Jesus, the Gospel and what it means to be a follower of Christ...

Never having had to "preach"... I've always shared stories with believers and un-believers about my personal experiences because the truth of how Jesus pulled me from the pit of hell onto the road of salvation headed towards eternity is something I know and don't have to make up or borrow from anyone... hopefully not embellishing "my story" in anyway as to over-dramatize or emotionalize what happened to me...

In that way, I think my story is valid enough to share... but really more one to one... and when I've been granted divine appointments with my fellow man... I'm sure it would certainly become boring, tired or annoying if I told my story every Sunday... but I think it's interesting how the Gospel (the story of Jesus) never gets boring for me.... time and time again I enjoy hearing about HIM.... much more than about me or someone else... and the Bible is rich with compelling stories linked to or permeated by the Holy One...

Perhaps the Gospel is or should be enough... as Jesus is... for most folks... and much ado is made about things that really have no true relevance to His story... in the course of sermonizing throughout the Church...

- I just can't wait for this week's video about next week's video featuring references to past videos that never seem to bring the perfect picture of Jesus into focus...

I'm a sucker for reruns and sequels... I suppose... : -)


Songstress7 said...

I like it when my pastor uses personal illustrations - mostly because even if he ended up doing the right thing, he tells us what his actual thoughts were, and they're usually exactly what I'd be thinking... and they way he relates these stories is hysterical.

He doesn't use them excessively - not even every week - but when he does, it's fresh, funny and makes most of us relate better to him. Some pastors/preachers overuse personal anecdotes or they're so overwhelmingly positive, sappy, or self-promoting that it makes everyone else feel discouraged or want to gag.