In evangelism it can be easy to regurgitate Christianese taught in church, or even clear and simple gospel methods. What is not so easy is engaging in conversations. Far too often we listen long enough to find a point in the conversation where we can interject the gospel, hoping no one will ask any difficult questions. However, many times our conversations with people require attentive listening, as well as thought-filled answers.
J. P. Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff address this in The God Conversation, a book designed to help Christians wrestle with non-Christians’ tough questions through illustrations:
“The thoughts and questions our friends have about God and the Christian faith require careful answers. Our answers require study of the Scriptures, reading of Christian thinkers and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. They also require vivid illustrations to make our answers clear and memorable.” (Emphasis added)
Four purposes of good illustrations are mentioned in their first chapter:
1.) Illustrations make an idea clear and easy to understand.
Just because something makes sense to us does not mean it will make sense to another person. Sometimes an illustration is all it takes to make a point come alive. Whereas facts are understood with the mind, an illustration is understood with the heart.
2.) Illustrations make your point easier to remember.
Whether it is a funny story or one that brings tears, we remember stories and illustrations far quicker than facts. Get in the habit of using parts of movies, songs, books, or even personal stories to illustrate spiritual points in your conversation. Don’t draw a connection between items that don’t fit, but realize there are many examples out there that will fit.
If illustrations don’t come naturally, try this idea. As you watch a movie, take a moment to think about the major themes. Later, when you need an illustration, recall to your mind films with applicable themes.
3.) Illustrations allow for “repetition without weariness.”
Chances are I’ll stop listening to someone if a conversation gets too repetitive. It can seem like you are being preached at, or just simply get boring with no more necessary information. However, a good story can successfully repeat what a lecture or conversation cannot do.
4.) Illustrations help maintain the interest of your listener.
Picture this: You’ve been sitting for an hour, listening to a monotone speaker who lost your attention within the first five minutes. It goes without saying that you will remember little of any that was said.
Picture another scene. You’ve been sitting for a long time, but you are on the edge of the seat. The speaker started with a catchy intro, and sustained your interest through the use of illustrations. Which scene would you rather be in?
Though people forget much of what is heard, they are more likely to remember it if an illustration is used.
A good story involves more than the ear. As it comes alive the eyes of the heart will see it, and the mind will picture it.