One of Kurt Vonnegut’s rules of writing (Rule #5) is “Start as close to the end as possible.”
This applies to the way we tell our stories (illustrations) and the way we craft each sermon.
The temptation is to give more background detail than is necessary. There is a place for backstory in each sermon and/or illustration, but it needs to be quick, and only enough detail as needed to move the story forward.
Too much backstory spoils the illustration
I once heard a preacher use an illustration about a billing mistake on his credit card statement. He began the illustration by telling us how he had applied for the credit card years before because they offered 0.00% interest for six months, and how he mostly used the card for frequent flyer miles, and how he always pay the balance in full each month because he doesn’t want to take a hit on interest, and his wife usually looks at the statement, but this time he decided to …
And that’s where the story should have begun: “I opened my credit card statement last week and found a huge error in my favor.”
That’s what the story was about; his adventure in applying for the card and his habit of paying it off each month really had nothing to do with the point he was making.
Remember that sermons (and illustrations) are about the ending, not the beginning. Take out as much early detail as possible so that you can present the point of the story with greater impact.