A Confession About Illustrations

A confession:  Illustrations have been my downfall.  I used to use a story about myself that brought the house down but I began to see that I was showing off.  I was making my speaking about me.  It took me a few years to give it up because people loved it. Once I did, I was relieved.

I find the platform intoxicating. Maybe that’s because I grew up being the family clown in an alcoholic family.  I made everyone laugh so we could forget how much pain surrounded us.

So over the years, I’ve let the Spirit lead me into letting my own self stay “hidden with Christ in God” on the platform.  I ruthlessly edit out illustrations, anecdotes and stories that a) I want to use partly because I know they will get a laugh;  b) bring me and my family into the limelight; c) are good stories and will be remembered, but don’t seriously illustrate the important point I want to make.

I haven’t gone as far as my friend Dallas Willard who says that stories aren’t helpful, and that a good question does much more good than a story.  But in our performance-driven, entertainment-oriented (Christian) world I feel terribly convicted that I have pushed myself forward with certain illustrations and stories. I want to work hard to stay away from performance and entertainment. I try to stick with two other things Dallas has told me:

  • “I just go and talk to people” (instead of trying to impress anyone);
  • “Do your best, but don’t trust your best.”

I’ve also learned not to make judgments about what other teachers/speakers/preachers are doing with stories. I find all this difficult so I stick to trying to stay current in my conversation with the Holy Spirit about this.

Join the Conversation

Have you found yourself tempted to tell a story just to feel good?

What helps you to stay simple when speaking?

Jan Johnson:
Jan Johnson is the author of twenty books including Invitation to the Jesus Life and Abundant Simplicity and a thousand articles and Bible studies. She speaks at retreats and conferences, and teaches (adjunct) at Azusa Pacific University and Hope International University. Also a spiritual director, Jan holds a D. Min. in Ignatian Spirituality and Spiritual Direction. She lives with her husband in Simi Valley, California. You can visit her at JanJohnson.org.  

2 Comments


  1. Thank you for this post! I have struggled with the same issue. I don’t want the central stage, that’s for Jesus. Yet everybody talks about the importance of stories and illustrations. So refreshing to hear that Dallas Willard has said that they’re not helpful. Maybe I need to reread some of his stuff. I think it takes God-given talent to express wisdom simply. Thank you so much. Abundant blessings!

  2. Jesus used story telling, without focusing on himself. So it is possible. However, since I am not perfect, I guess I’ll have to work at keeping God in the limelight rather than myself. The place it can get sticky is in a testimony.

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