Continued from Part 1 where the discussion was about computer programs that are helpful to the modern minister...
Besides the Scripture, good illustrations are the bread and butter of sermon preparation. An apt illustration can do more than fifteen minutes of explanation and raise the attention level in the process. Having a store of collected material from which you can pull is a great plus. Your sermons will always be interesting if you tell relevant stories while you preach. There was a time when I had many illustrations kept in what I defeatedly called my "pile system" which consisted of stacks of newspaper and magazine clippings stacked in this corner or that. Though I collected good material, it was useless to me because I couldn't locate it when I needed it. I recall one occasion when, exasperated at having so much useless printed material, I filled several 32 gallon trash cans and hauled it all to the local landfill! I nearly cried as I drove away, but really, the items were useless to me because they weren't organized. Today all my sermon support material is kept in one file cabinet and one computer database designed especially for sermon illustrations. The database is Parsons' Bible Illustrator. It originally came with 2500 stories, quotes, and anecdotes. Today mine contains over 60,000 items. I collect illustrations like some people collect stamps. It is a hobby that pays great dividends when it is time to do serious sermon preparation. The search capabilities of the program make finding material easy. Cutting and pasting to and from the Windows clipboard saves much typing. (Note: A trip to the Parson’s website revealed at this writing that the Bible Illustrator program has been replaced by a new product called SermonBuilder. I have no experience with the new program but will consider purchasing it. They say on the website that the files from the previous program may be importable. Rounding out my illustration collection is a modest assortment of the typical illustration books most preachers manage to gather. I seldom use them because the computer is much more effective and convenient. With a growing database of over 60,000 illustrations in digitized form, who wants to turn the pages of a book? Though I began my early ministry struggling, it is probably true now that I could sit down with most any passage of scripture and prepare a sermon in a reasonable amount of time. That kind of confidence comes from experience and a good collection of helpful material. I encourage you to work on your own collection. Your confidence will grow as your resources grow. Today it is easier than ever to collect and file good material.
To some this item might seem optional, but to me it is critical. I regularly check words I'm not sure of before I use them. This helps with accuracy and just may provide some freedom from embarrassment. It also builds my vocabulary. The thesaurus function is invaluable when I'm seeking to alliterate an outline or vary my words. I use The American Heritage Talking Dictionary on CD. (Sorry, I don't have a good link.) Other good ones are available. The "talking" function helps when checking pronunciation. (Note: This program has some limitations. Even the latest version 5 uses Windows 3.1 technology. Also, the “voice” part of the program requires that the CD be inserted into the drive in order for it to work correctly. A little research might provide a lead to a Dictionary program without these limitations.) Other Programs I use Microsoft Powerpoint and a video projection system to make presentations to go along with my sermons. This, in conjunction with a laptop computer, can enhance public presentations.
Electronic versions of Microsoft Encarta and Encyclopedia Britannica are great help for checking accuracy of facts.These and other encyclopedias are available on CD and are more reasonably priced than their paper counterparts. These also help can provide some interesting illustrations. For instance, in the intro to a certain sermon, I told the fascinating story of the Pony Express, gleaned from an encyclopedia article.
I keep random sermon thoughts, outlines, and ideas in a program that stays loaded on my computer at all times called MicroLogic Info Select. It is a freeform database that works magic on random bits of information that would typically be lost because they don't fit easily into categories. You could effectively file sixteen odd socks in this program and never lose one of them. Typing in the search term "John" might bring up three outlines from the gospel of John, the address of John Doe, the recorded result of an interview with John Smith, a quote from John Brown, and yes, even the number of the drawer where you put John's odd sock. I did say random, didn't I? (In spite of the duration of its existence, Info Select continues to be rather expensive. If it weren't so useful, I might say too expensive. You be the judge.)
Perhaps my greatest research tool has become the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser, which comes bundled with the Microsoft Windows operating system. More material is coming online every day providing a wealth of information available right at your fingertips. Explorer (and other similar browsers) allows you to browse the World Wide Web. Time spent learning to search and locating pockets of valuable information will be returned to you in greater awareness and knowledge. Microsoft Frontpage is my tool of choice for publishing on the web. I use it primarily to maintain my website, The Preacher’s Study.
A good email program is a useful tool as well, allowing you to contact people who can be helpful in research and subscribe to the many mailing lists where preachers gather. I use Microsoft Office Outlook, but there are many good email programs available. We live in marvelous and exciting times. The potential for streamlining sermon preparation has never been greater. Get busy learning how.
More coming in Part 3...
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