Why pastors should use more historical illustrations in sermons

Written by on May 9, 2021

By Sam Rainer, Voices Contributor

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I once attempted to use an example from accounting in my sermon. No one understood me, and the accountants in the church said I mixed up my terms. Apparently, debits and credits are not as straightforward as I thought, which is why — I guess — accountants have jobs. 

Sermon illustrations are tricky. You try to be funny, but it falls flat. You try to be inspirational, but you’re cheesy. You try to be serious, and you have a booger in your nose. Sermon illustrations are the flavoring to the meat of the text. Without them, you’re bland. But too much, and you’re overbearing.

Most of us preachers tend to use real-life examples, current news, pop culture, or biblical examples more than historical illustrations. Likely, you need more historical illustrations in your sermons, not less. Here’s why: 

People are not as familiar with the past. Frankly, we don’t know our history like we once did — biblical history, family history, and our nation’s history. Preaching always has elements of teaching. Good teaching should include regular doses of history. 

History connects generations. When millennials understand the attack on Pearl Harbor, they can better relate to the remaining members of the Builder generation. When Builders get to know millennials, they can help put the 9/11 attack into perspective. When used properly, history is a bridge, not a wall.

History repeats. The adage is true. Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. The entire Old Testament is a case in point. Over and over again, the people in the Old Testament repeated the same offenses because they would not learn from historical sins. By the end of the Old Testament, you’re exhausted from reading it and ready for a solution. Thankfully, He is introduced in Matthew’s Gospel. 

The Bible is historical. Why care about history? The Bible is history!

History has roots. Personal examples in sermons are great ways to connect with people. However, they can be fleeting, if not shallow. Everyone laughed at the story of my son and the half-eaten cupcake, but — like the cupcake — it wasn’t sustaining. With historical examples, you tell an enduring story, one that has stood the test of generations and has been validated by time. 

People need to know historical theology. Historical illustrations shine light on the reasons why we believe certain doctrines. 

People need to know church history. What’s with the white cloth at the Lord’s Supper? Why does the preacher stand down front at the end of every service? Why do people wear crucifixes? How come we always need motions and seconds at business meetings? Why do the ushers pass a plate for the offering? History gives meaning to traditions. History gives purpose to church practices. Otherwise, you’re just going through the motions mindlessly.

If you’re a preacher, then you’re a teacher. One lesson the church needs often is history.

Originally published at Church Answers 

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.

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