Chapter 141

Power of "Everyday Disciples" Illustrations

What kind of examples influence hearers most?

One of the filters in the illustration search engine is called Everyday Disciples. What kind of illustration is this? Why do you want to use Everyday Disciples illustrations in your sermons?

Let me give you an example from our database and then explain. Dave Goetz writes:

My wife, an experienced nurse, recently switched jobs. The change had been a long time coming. Jana was excited to join up with two doctors whom she had worked alongside previously. She was back with "family"; she had come home.

Her first evening at the clinic a young mother came with her 18-month-old son. He needed his final shot for a routine immunization; his mother came for a physical. Both patients were new to the clinic.

Jana gave the boy his shot, and his mother took him back to the waiting room, where his sister and grandmother sat. The mother then went back to the room for her physical. When Jana went to record the vaccination on the boy's chart, she noticed that the seal on the vial inside her lab coat was unbroken. Quickly Jana realized that she had given the boy the wrong vaccine.

She had given him a shot from a different vial—a routine vaccination for children, but the boy had already completed that series of shots months earlier. Jana told me she gasped when she realized her mistake and then went into shock, physically numbed by the fierceness of what raged within. Here is the sequence of her thoughts, according to what she told me later:

"No one will ever know. No harm done."
"I can't tell the doctor."
"This is my first day on the job."
"The doctor will think I'm incompetent."
"It can't hurt him, can it?"
"It doesn't hurt to be immunized twice for the same thing."
"But he needs the right vaccine."
"What will the mother say?"
"But I will always know, and so will God."

Meanwhile, the doctor was examining the boy's mother. Jana weakly paced outside the room.

When the doctor walked out of the room, Jana told him her mistake, almost vomiting her confession. "Whoa. Let me think about this for a moment," he said. After a few moments, he walked back in the room, told the mother what happened, and asked her to schedule another time for her child's immunization. Jana's anxiety released, she was now free.

(Click here to view the original illustration in our database.)

Notice six characteristics of this Everyday Disciples illustration:

  1. The essence of Everyday Disciples illustrations is that they give an example of how to live the Christian life. They let people see how to obey a particular Scripture. They flesh out a virtue. After hearing an Everyday Disciples illustration, a person should think, Oh, that's how I put that Scripture into practice, or That's what humility is. The above example illustrates honesty and integrity.
  2. Everyday Disciples illustrations don't necessarily show someone doing it right, as Jana did, but if the person stumbles, the illustration can show how he or she learned through the experience. In fact, Everyday Disciples illustrations should not have a "hero" story feel to them. The story of someone deciding to sell everything and become a missionary has a valuable place in preaching, but most people also need to see ordinary people living for Christ in everyday circumstances. People have trouble identifying with someone doing everything right because their own lives are a churning jumble of doing right and struggling and sometimes blowing it.
  3. People must identify with an Everyday Disciples illustration. For that reason, most Everyday Disciples illustrations will be contemporary, not historical. On rare occasion a historical illustration will work if it doesn't feel dated and is in a setting people can relate to.
  4. For the sake of identification, Everyday Disciples illustrations will most often be about a noncelebrity. If the story is about a celebrity, it must be in a situation that normal people face. We can identify with a story about Steven Curtis Chapman overcoming temptation while watching a TV show; we identify less with him as he struggles with the temptation to be proud as he sings on stage before thousands of people.
  5. Everyday Disciples illustrations will be stories, not an image, quote, or statistic. Stories give the most compelling examples.
  6. The stories will be applied literally, not figuratively as a metaphor. The story about Jana is a literal one about honesty. It would not be an Everyday Disciples illustration if we used it figuratively, as in: "Just as Jana knew she had made a mistake when she saw that the seal was broken on the vaccine vial, so life gives us signals that we have sinned."

And so, Everyday Disciples illustrations are literal stories that hearers can identify with, that flesh out what it means to follow Jesus. Your preaching will gain power to change lives as you use illustrations that share these characteristics because they will show—not just tell—people how to obey God, in ways that are relevant to hearers.

We currently have 32 Everyday Disciples illustrations in our database. That number will increase over the summer as we go through our 6,300-illustration database and label appropriate illustrations with that filter. (Click here to browse our collection of Everyday Disciples illustrations.)

That number will also grow as you help us. Please send Everyday Disciples illustrations for us to consider for use in the Weekly Illustration Update. Aim to tell the story with the same sort of detail as Dave Goetz did above, in 300 words or less. We pay $35 for any illustration we publish. Send to: