Sermon Illustrations?

When you men find a good sermon illustration that was used by another preacher do you mention your illustration source when using that same story in your exposition?  How do you approach this topic?

John Kitchen’s response was so helpful (see comments section) that I am including his reply in this post below.

I have concluded that if it is a non-personal illustration that my people understand (whether consciously or not) that I must have gotten the information somewhere outside of myself. If it is a quotation I give the name of the person who said it. If it is a personal story from someone’s life (not mine) I do the same. But if it is simply a story which someone else repeated from somewhere else I might simply repeat it without verbal footnote (knowing my people will assume I heard/read it somewhere else) or I might say something like: “The other day I heard/read …” That lets them know it is not original with me.

I think that we need to let the people know when material is not our own. Yet in some cases that is obvious. In others we can indicate that fairly simply, as I’ve outlined above.

I think that the standard for “verbal footnoting” is somewhat different than when we are writing. The common denominator is that we need to acknowledge when material is not our own. But in the oral experience of preaching the precision/detail that we would use in a written footnote unnecessarily encumbers the communication process. In such cases we need give enough information to acknowledge when material is not our own, but I do not feel the necessity to give full bibliographic information. I should keep that information in my sermon file, but should not encumber the preaching event with that information.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Typically I say something like, “I was listening to one preacher the other day and he said….”

    But I don’t think it matters very much where the illustration came from. And I also don’t think that many of my parishioners would be familiar with the names I might throw around.

  2. Since most illustrations (non personal ones) come from outside sources I am trying to sort out if you have to say where you got your illustration from every single time you share an illustration in a sermon. I don’t know if I am making any sense here?

  3. I have concluded that if it is a non-personal illustration that my people understand (whether consciously or not) that I must have gotten the information somewhere outside of myself. If it is a quotation I give the name of the person who said it. If it is a personal story from someone’s life (not mine) I do the same. But if it is simply a story which someone else repeated from somewhere else I might simply repeat it without verbal footnote (knowing my people will assume I heard/read it somewhere else) or I might say something like: “The other day I heard/read …” That lets them know it is not original with me.

    I think that we need to let the people know when material is not our own. Yet in some cases that is obvious. In others we can indicate that fairly simply, as I’ve outlined above.

    I think that the standard for “verbal footnoting” is somewhat different than when we are writing. The common denominator is that we need to acknowledge when material is not our own. But in the oral experience of preaching the precision/detail that we would use in a written footnote unnecessarily encumbers the communication process. In such cases we need give enough information to acknowledge when material is not our own, but I do not feel the necessity to give full bibliographic information. I should keep that information in my sermon file, but should not encumber the preaching event with that information.

  4. Posted by Jesse on May 29, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Caleb-
    I find myself thinking through that often, and have concluded that I think too much like a seminary student, trying to footnote things. I mean after all, it is not just the illustrations that are not original, but sometimes the outlines and the observations. I think if you take one source’s intro/outline/illustrations, you are cheating and citation is the least of your worries. But if you are reading 10 commentaries, and have an illustration or two from over there, an outline from over here, a sentence from this one, and a few observations from that one, it would sound silly to cite all of those.

    One more thing, with illustrations, I often alter them to make them my own. A story from Dale Ralph Davis about the civil war gives me a category of things to look for in the news. A story about McGee’s family reminds me of something in my own family that fits perfectly.

    Warren Wiersbe said “preachers are called to use butter from many cows, but to make their own milk.”

  5. Jesse Johnson-

    You make some very good points; thanks for stopping by. I try and give credit where and when i can but also don’t want to take away from the flow of the sermon. I love the quote by Wiersbe.

  6. Posted by jarbitro on May 29, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    By the way, Wiersbe obvioulsy used milk from many cows to make butter, not butter to make milk. I, as you can tell, did not grow up on a farm.

    Jesse

  7. I guess you better not use that quote when preaching in the heartland.

  8. I usually say something like, “I was reading the other day and”, or “I saw this on the Internet”, etc. I also always try and give credit for direct quotes.

  9. Posted by Jennifer Ward on September 27, 2010 at 11:36 am

    I think you should definitely let people know that you got your sermon from somewhere else. If it’s a good sermon, it will still be just as powerful. I always make sure to cite SermonSearch.com for any sermon illustrations or sermons I use.

  10. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on September 28, 2010 at 10:51 am

    We do not encourage anyone to preach someone else’s sermon for a variety of reasons. If you do preach another man’s sermon and your church is ok with that you better let them know who wrote the manuscript.

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