I recently saw this little quote on Twitter.
I think the general sentiment is true for preachers in that a bigger point is being made. We need to ensure that the voices heard and examples used in church are not limited to narrow group of people within the church. Do we use illustrations about women? Do we draw on examples and make application pertinent to a variety of cultures? Do we take into account single people as well as couples, those with children and those without.
So Dani Treweek makes this observation about sermon illustrations.
I might add that if you follow her advice then you’ll also be thanked by your embarrassed teen kids too!
However, whilst recognising the general point made, I want to take us off on a little tangent. You see in terms of quotations, my advice would be “don’t use them at all.” Or at least, don’t use them in working class and multi-cultural contexts away from universities and graduate communities.
Why? Well, I think there are two reasons for this and these actually fit very closely with the point being made above. You see, there tend to be three reasons for quoting someone in a talk, lecture, article or a book. The first is that the quote supplies new and original information that you have been dependent on research for. Now, in such a case, you’ll want to ensure that the source is appropriately cited and acknowledged. We should not plagiarise in our sermons. However, you might want to first of all make sure that this information if not directly obvious in the text is essential for the talk. Secondly, you might want to consider putting the quote into your own words.
The second reason is to lend authority. We assume that our audience will respect and pay attention to the words of such and such a person because of their expertise and reputation. A celebrity may be listened to when talking about the failure of fame to satisfy, a historian or scientist may lend weight to an argument for apologetic reasons and your favourite commentary will support your exegesis of the text.
The problem is that his assumes that your congregation have first of all heard of the particular authority and secondly that if they have heard of them that they respect their authority. Remember that we are not just thinking about long term, well read existing congregations but the new people we are hoping to disciple. Now, whether or not we like it, few people in the pews these days have heard of or particularly care what Calvin, Hodge, Hendrickson, CS Lewis or even John Stott and Nicky Gumbel have to say. As much as that might hurt our sensitivities, it is good to remember that this doesn’t matter because most of all, we want them to hear Christ.
The third reason we quote people is because we believe that they’ve put something better than we could. There’s a risk of false modesty here. Who is the best person to communicate to a local church? Surely it’s the preacher from that church and believe it or not, people are looking forward to hearing you speak because you know them and they know you. Now, here’s the thing. I also advocate for interactive preparation. In other words, I personally find it helpful to be sharing my notes and drafts with others. I like to chat through things. So, if you are looking for someone to quote, why not quote (with their permission if you name them) someone from within the congregation who everyone knows?
I need to be honest as well that a fourth, less so good reason why I find myself quoting is the temptation to be seen to be well-read. That’s a temptation we need to kill.
So, let’s make more use of natural stories that are relevant to the congregation but don’t quote me on that!