Illustrations have been described as windows that add light into the sermon in order to illuminate abstract truths. If that is true, and I believe it is, then quotes are a good tool to have in your sermon arsenal. Except when they aren’t. Quotes can be used effectively, and they can be abused in the worst way. I want to point out the proper and improper uses of quotes in a sermon.
Good Uses of Quotes
Here are 6 reasons to use a good quote would be appropriate:
- Artistry: The writer says something more beautifully than you can say it yourself.
- Clarity: The writer makes the point clearer than you can.
- Impact: The writer says something in a powerful way to make your point.
- Pithiness: The writer says something in a memorable and “catchy” way.
- Depth: The writer says something with a profundity that you can’t seem to say yourself.
- Interesting: The writer says something that draws interest or excites the imagination.
Poor Uses of Quotes
Here are 8 reason you ought to think twice before using that quote in your next sermon:
- Quotes that are too good not to share, even though they have nothing to do with the main idea of your sermon. Just because you like it, don’t squeeze it in.
- Quotes that are not short and to the point. Two page quotes from a Puritan in old English aren’t helpful unless you are trying to help someone fall asleep.
- Quotes that are only an interest to a very specific audience. Just because you love reading Wallace’s Greek Grammar doesn’t mean you should quote from it.
- Quotes that you have to explain after you read it. It’s like a joke–if you have to explain it, it’s not funny.
- Quotes that can be stated in your own words easily.
- Quotes that are meant to carry a sense of authority, i.e., “The great theologian so-and-so says…” The Scripture should be our authority. Quotes of men may bring clarity, but they should not bear the weight of authority to prove our point.
- Quotes that you cannot verify or find the source. If we proclaim the truth, we shouldn’t be using quotes that may be false.
- Quotes that are shocking and controversial. This isn’t because they don’t work, but because they do. This type of quote might just derail your sermon if your audience does not recover from the shocking quote bomb you let loose.