Sermon illustrations


The Diversity of the Early Church

So if we want to get the church right, we have to learn to see it as a salad in a bowl, made the Right Way of course. For a good salad is a fellowship of different tastes, all mixed together with the olive oil accentuating the taste of each. The earliest Christian churches were made up of folks from all over the social map, but they formed a fellowship of “different tastes,” a mixed salad of the best kind.

A recent study by a British scholar has concluded that if the apostle Pauls house churches were composed of about thirty people, this would have been their approximate make-up: 

  •      a craftworker in whose home they meet, along with his wife, children, a couple of male slaves, a female domestic slave, and dependent relative
  •      some tenants, with families and slaves and dependents, also living in the same home in rented rooms
  •      some family members of a householder who himself does not participate in the house church couple of slaves whose owners do not attend
  •       Some freed slaves who do not participate in the church
  •      a couple homeless people
  •      a few migrant workers renting small rooms in the home

Add to this mix some Jewish folks and a perhaps an enslaved prostitute and we see how many “different tastes” were in a typical house church in Rome: men and women, citizens and freed slaves and slaves (who had no legal rights), Jews and Gentiles, people from all moral walks of life, and perhaps, most notably, people from elite classes all the way down the social scale perhaps to homeless people.

Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents, Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, Zondervan.

Eating With Sinners

Why did it disturb the religious leaders that Jesus ate with “sinners”? To eat with someone is an important symbol of fellowship. And in those days, the Jews had a rule: one is not to have such fellowship with outsiders until they are changed. If and when outsiders came to repentance, and when they had proven they were sorry by acting like insiders, the Jews could join with them and eat with them—and not a moment before.

After all, God’s people had no business mixing with unbelievers, right? Jesus appears on the scene with a new approach. He introduces a brand-new idea. He connects with sinners before they repent, before they change, so that they will change. He goes to those who need him even before they know they need him! He seeks out the least, the last, and the lost so that, hearing his voice, they can experience new life. Rather than keeping them at arm’s length, he embraces them.

David Schuringa, Today: The Family Altar, May-June 2002, June 2, 2002.

The Fig Tree

My mom studied horticulture and could make a dead stick grow leaves.  I do not have her genes.  So what I am telling you know comes from sources who do know about fig trees.  Here’s what they tell me.  Fig trees have a pattern in how they produce fruit. First, they sprout baby figs that have a bad taste and are really inedible.  After these baby figs sprout, then the tree grows leaves and as the leaves develop, the baby figs mature and become sweet and delicious…ready to be eaten by anyone, including a hungry Savior.

This botanical lesson is important because when Jesus sees the lush and leafy fig tree, what does he expect to be on it? Figs.  The leaves would mean that the tree was fulfilling its purpose, but in effect, all it was doing was looking like it had fruit on it.  It was pretending.  It was acting like a fruitful fig tree when in fact it was barren and not a single hungry person would be fed by it.

Now here’s why this is important on this Fig Monday of Holy Week.  Jesus knows that he is going to die and then be raised to new life.  But he also knows that after his resurrection, he’s not going back to the way things were, continuing his ministry of walking around Israel teaching and healing.  He’s going to hand this mission over to his followers and they need to know what the mission is and how to go about it.

The mission for followers of Jesus is to actually bear fruit.  In Jesus’ words in the gospel of John, he tells us that if we abide in him…if we live in union with him, then his life will flow through us into the world as we speak his words and walk in his ways.  One thing Jesus is trying to teach his disciples is that looking like you’re a follower of Jesus is just that – looking like, but not really being it.  As the Texans say: All hat and no cattle.

Submitted by Eunice McGarrahan


The ancient Greek word for intimate fellowship is koinonia. In the church, we can suffer from what might be called koinonitus: fellowship turned in on itself; cliques and enclaves and tight-knit groups that become little cul-de-sacs of relationship. The difference between the life-giving Sea of Galilee and the salty-enough-to-float-on Dead Sea is that the Dead Sea has no outlet for the life flowing into it. Intimacy without outimacy (church is something you are, out there) leads to stagnation and death.

John Ortberg, I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me: Getting Real About Getting Close (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2017), Kindle Electronic Version.

The Power of the Worldwide Church

It is a phone call no parent wants to receive. “Jerry,” Bethany said, “Catherine’s had a little accident.” “Accident! How bad?”

“She’s going to be okay. You want to talk to her? We’re in a kind of ambulance crossing the Andes, headed down to Quito. Here she is.”

My daughter Catherine and Bethany, one of her dear friends, spent the 2006-2007 school year in Central and South America, studying Spanish, traveling and serving in nonprofit organizations. They spent their last three months in Quito, Ecuador, working in a Catholic street ministry. During Mardi Gras weekend a number of volunteers and staff members, both Ecuadorians and Americans, rented a bus and traveled to the coast to spend a couple of days relaxing on the beach.

Not surprisingly, the beach was packed with people. Catherine decided to go for a swim to escape the crowds…Swimming in deep water far from shore, she noticed a speed boat fast approaching her. The driver did not appear to see her. She yelled and waved as best she could, but to no avail. The boat continued on course. She finally decided to dive head first to get out of the way. She waited a split second too long. The prop caught her on her lower back. She knew immediately that she had been cut badly and would probably drown. Two thoughts immediately came into her mind, both quintessentially Catherine. The first expressed a sense of surprise, as if the accident were an irritating interruption. I wasn’t planning on dying this young, she said to herself. The second was a pleasant thought, borne out of the experience of losing her mother. I get to see my mom!

As it turned out, here first thought was the more accurate. Two young Ecuadorians witnessed the accident from shore and frantically swam to her reaching her in just enough time. Once on shore, she was rushed to a medical tent where an EMT began to work on her. He stopped the bleeding, cleaned out the gaping wounds and stitched her up as best he could. However nauseated, Bethany stood by her through the entire ordeal, holding her hand, praying for her and singing hand, praying for her and singing hymns to her. Another friend secured transportation back to Quito, the trip took roughly seven hours, much of it over gravel roads. Once in Quito, they took her to a missionary hospital where a plastic surgeon removed the provisional stitches, cleaned out the wounds and then sewed her back up with over a hundred stitches.

Over the next week, Catherine discovered what it means to belong to the worldwide church. As word spread, people in the U.S. contacted Christian friends in Quito, who began to visit and help her.  A retired missionary doctor, for example, stopped in to see her every day and took personal responsibility for her care. People sent letters, emails, flowers, and gifts. Though complete strangers, they treated her like a dear friend and showered her with attention and affection. She felt like a celebrity. Over the course of the next month she kept telling me about it, “I just can’t believe it Dad. Those people loved me for no other reason than that I needed to be loved.” “It’s the church,” I responded. I told her that when the church is functioning at its best, there is simply no community on earth that can rival it.

Gerald L. Sittser, Love One Another: Becoming The Church Jesus Longs For, InterVarsity Press.

A Relationship Among Fellows

Did you know that the history of the word “fellowship,” is, rather simply, a relationship among fellows? The idea of a fellowship being that two or more people have been bonded together in some significant way.

For obvious reasons, this idea of fellowship, or “koinonia” in the Greek, came to signify the life of the early church. Why? Because of the unique power of the bond of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. This bond made through Christ enabled deep roots and ennobled the community of faith to the kind of rich, sacrificial life that Jesus himself modeled in the gospels.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic book on Christian community, Life Together, argues that Christian community is unlike any other community because of this unique bond, a bond that exists between each of us through Christ. When Jesus is at the center of our fellowship, the world is radically transformed. So, may the church be a relationship among fellows, a fellowship bound not by ethnicity, social class, or status, but by the redeeming power of Christ at work in us through the Holy Spirit.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Three Ways to Make a Salad

There are three ways to eat a salad: the American Way; the Weird Way, and the Right Way. The American Way of eating a salad is to fill your bowl with some iceberg lettuce or some spinach leaves, some tomato slices and olives, and maybe some carrots, then smother it with salad dressing — Ranch or Thousand Island or Italian or, for special occasions, Caesar. The Weird Way is to separate each item in your salad around on your plate, then eat them as separate items. People who do this often do not even use dressing. As I said, weird.

Now the Right Way to make and eat a salad is to gather all your ingredients—some spinach, kale, chard, arugula, iceberg lettuce (if you must)—and chop them into smaller bits. Then cut up some tomatoes, carrots, onions, red pepper, and purple cabbage. Add some nuts and dried berries, sprinkle some pecorino romano cheese, and finally drizzle over the salad some good olive oil, which somehow brings the taste of each item to its fullest. Surely this is what God intended when he created “mixed salad.

Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents, Showing the World Gods Design for Life Together, Zondervan.

Welcomed Guests

For Christians, to share in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, means to live as people who know that they are always guests – that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted. It is, perhaps, the most simple thing that we can say about Holy Communion, yet it is still supremely worth saying. In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ tells us that he wants our company.

Rowan Williams. Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, Eerdmans Publishing Co.

What is Fellowship?

What is meant by fellowship in this verse? Gossip? Cups of tea? Tours? No. What is being referred to is something of a quite different order and on a quite different level. “They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life, and break bread and to pray. A sense of awe was everywhere. All whose faith had drawn them together held everything in common…and, breaking bread in private houses, shared their meals with unaffected joy as they praised God” (Acts 2:42-47, NEB)

…The Greek word for fellowship comes from a root meaning common or shared. So fellowship means common participation in something either by giving what you have to the other person or receiving what he or she has. Give and take is the essence of fellowship, and give and take must be the way of fellowship in the common life of the body of Christ.

Christian fellowship is two-dimensional, and it has to be vertical before it can be horizontal. We must know the reality of fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ before we can know the reality of fellowship with each other in our common relationship to God (1 John 1:3). The person who is not in fellowship with the Father and the Son is no Christian at all, and so cannot share with Christians the realities of their fellowship.

From James I. Packer, Your Father Loves You: Daily Insights for Knowing God, Harold Shaw Pub, 1986.


See also Illustrations on Belonging, CommunityFriendshipHospitality, Presence, Relationships

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Fellowship. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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