Preaching Dilemma: Information or Illustration?


As I was preparing for a sermon this week, I came across a dilemma. The passage assigned to me was Colossians 2:6-23. It’s a great passage that forms the theological crux of the letter. However, the text is also quite lengthy and filled to the brink with theological points and cultural references. I realized that if I wanted to preach this passage in its fullest, I would need about an hour and a half to explain all the details and make the sermon applicable.

Unfortunately, preaching for an hour and a half would be unacceptable (our services don’t even last that long!).  Ideally, I would split the passage into two sermons. However, we have a preaching schedule to keep and I didn’t want to throw off the rest of the dates. I could also attempt to speak at the speed of light which most people will not appreciate (by the way, there’s a lot of talent that goes into doing that).

The dilemma came about when I wanted to include a good illustration to make a key point concrete and memorable. Would it really be wise to spend time telling a story when there were so many verses that could be explained further? In short, do I make the point memorable or do I continue to dish out more information? I chose to tell the story and here’s why:

(1) I want people to remember the key points.

People will not remember most of your sermon (I hope that doesn’t hurt your feelings). And so preachers will need to be selective with what they want their congregations to take home with them. At the very least, people should take home the key points. Stories will greatly help in making those points memorable.

(2) I want people to apply the key points.

Logic simply dictates that if your audience can’t recall the key points, they won’t be able to apply them. Remember, the end goal of preaching isn’t to transfer knowledge (though it can be important). The end goal is to change lives.

(3) People can delve into further details on their own.

We give our congregations too little credit. They’re intelligent and there are plenty of resources available to help with further research. Since I had only 30 minutes to preach, I couldn’t crack open every nook and cranny in the passage. This becomes a great opportunity to invite the audience to study the text in greater detail on their own time.

Let me end by saying this: information and explanations are important. We won’t be able to fully understand a passage without them. However, we are forced to be selective with how much information we can dish out in a single sermon without compromising the message and its application.

I wonder what you would have done: information or illustration?

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