No matter the age range of your class, there is an obvious need to illustrate the Bible truths you are teaching. Illustrations are windows that allow your students to see into the truth you are trying to communicate. We want our people to remember what we teach them. They are much more likely to remember a story or object lesson, so teachers know they must illustrate! Here are a few thoughts to consider.
The more of the five senses you can use in an illustration, the better. Many people think of illustrations as stories a speaker uses to drive home a point. Of course, a good story told by a good story teller can be very effective, but that method of illustrating only uses the sense of hearing. Imagine how much more effective an illustration becomes when you use other senses. You may use a visual to show the size of a mustard seed in relation to other seeds. You could even drop one seed into the hands of your audience and allow them to see and feel it. You might even find various pictures that could show the development of the mustard seed into a large plant. As more of the senses are used, the more likely your point will be remembered.
One teacher actually lit up a small propane torch in class to illustrate to adults how words can be used to scorch and burn the lives of others. You know he had their attention! A youth teacher regularly video tapes himself in humorous roles or uses the “man on the street” approach of interviewing people to illustrate major points of the lesson. Children’s teachers will frequently use various kinds of foods to illustrate a Bible truth such as heart-shaped cookies to illustrate love or fish-shaped crackers to remind the children of a particular Bible story. One teacher used a spray bottle to simulate the sea mist while teaching. Preschool teachers will select specific toys for the children or decorate the room in a certain way to help them illustrate a Bible thought. The point is that an illustration can be so much more than a story or quote you found in a book.
The more fresh and creative the illustration is, the better. Using a Shakespeare quote may be effective in some settings, but having the class use a lump of clay to form an object that is often related to a temptation, maybe better. Reading an illustration out of an illustration book may be fine, but it might be better to offer the class copies of the local newspaper and then tell them to find stories that demonstrate moral failure. Sharing what you heard a radio preacher say one time may communicate your point, but having the class-members act out a scene from the gospels might leave a greater impact, simply because it is more memorable.
The more you vary your illustrative methods, the better. Use video one week and try drama the next. Use case studies one Sunday and then try a craft project the next. It doesn’t take long for a certain method to become dry and predictable. The more you vary your approach to illustrating the Bible, the more likely the class is to remember what you are teaching. It takes a lot of work to come up with good ways of illustrating God’s Word. But remember that boredom is one of the greatest enemies of the Sunday School lesson, and illustrations are one of the most effective weapons against it.
Dave Frasure is CABA's Disciple-making Catalyst and pastors First Baptist, So. Lebanon.