On a Monday morning right before a meeting at work, I got the following phone call from my three-year-old’s preschool.
“Hi Mr. Acuff. This is Susan at Small Wonder. McRae ate some sort of fungus on the playground. We’ve got Poison Control on the other line and have saved a sample of what she ate. They don’t think it’s going to be a problem, but we need to keep an eye on her for a few hours.”
It turns out, there’s a white, clumpy fungus that grows in bark mulch called “dog vomit fungus.” While playing outside, McRae saw some and thought to herself, “Hey, free marshmallows!” and proceeded to eat as much as her little hands could grab. Then when they lined up the kids to bring them inside, the teachers saw McRae’s fungus-covered face and asked, “Oh sweetheart, what have you been eating?” McRae, blessed with her father’s heart of a servant, immediately answered, “I’ll show you,” and walked the teachers over to the bark mulch buffet she had been enjoying during recess.
That reminds me a lot of God. Not really, but I wanted it to. I tried to think of a way to write something bout sin and how it looks good at first but then, if we eat it, we end up throwing up all night and sleeping on the floor in our parents’ room. I looked and looked for a segue, but ultimately I realized that if I tried to connect that story to the Bible or God I would just be perpetuating a “fake sermon illustration.”
A fake sermon illustration is when a pastor is desperate to tell a story, but he can’t figure out a way to tie it back to his sermon. It’s something funny that happened to him, something silly his kids did, or maybe even a movie clip that really shook him up emotionally. But he can’t find the bridge between the illustration and the message, so he just tries to sneak it by you really fast and hope that you don’t notice.
I prefer the minister to say one of two things instead:
“Now let’s talk about God.” I have a friend who can hear a story about low test scores in high schools and then say, “That reminds me: I was thinking about eating sushi tonight.” What he means when he says, “that reminds me,” is not “here’s something related to what you’re talking about.” He means, “Now let’s talk about me.” I think pastors should employ the same degree of honesty. I told you a story about me. It was funny or sad or whatever, but “now let’s talk about God.”
Or: “That story has nothing to do with God, but it was awesome, right?” Sometimes it’s just fun to hear a good story. To laugh and shake off the week with something interesting and hilarious. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe it doesn’t need some intricately woven connection that makes the entire crowd say, “He started talking about bunny rabbits made of cotton candy, and we didn’t know where he was going, but now that he’s arrived in Malachi 1:3, I can see what he meant all along. Brilliant.” If you’ve got a good story, just bring it. Drop it off. Say, “This is awesome.” Then move on. We’re with you. We like awesome too.
What are some fake sermon illustrations you’ve heard at church?
(This originally appeared in the Stuff Christians Like book. If you want to pick up a copy, click here!)