Examples or Metaphors - not both

At most conferences people who are giving speeches take the approach of sharing metaphors or specific examples of what they are talking about.  I have found this to be radically annoying and not helpful.  


When someone gives a few examples of how "this thing" works, they give a specific example.  The problem is it is generally too specific and people are curious, but quickly discount the example as "able to work there but that would not work in my setting."  So a couple of specific examples are generally flashes in the pan.  Cool to see, but difficult to cook with.  

Another 'write off' of a few specific examples is that people do not own that idea.  There is some program that works in some area, people are generally not able to sustain that idea in their context because they really do not own the idea.  This 'lack of ownership = unsustainable" idea is on display when someone tells you, "you know we should really be doing ______.  You should make that happen."

If, however, you were to give more that a couple of examples for an idea then you are onto something.  If you were able to give somewhere in the ballpark of 20 examples of where/how this "idea" is working, then you begin to shut down the thoughts of "that will not work in my context" because you give people the ability to see how their context can be navigated to implementation.  If I hear of a prayer program in schools in one location, I will discount it.  If I hear of 20 prayer programs in schools, I am more apt to get excited on how I can implement that in my context.  

On the other end of the spectrum of giving a few examples, a speaker will often give one metaphor.  However, these metaphors are often 'heady' and the fear is getting too heady without giving specific examples of how the idea looks on the ground.  Which is why speakers do not spend much time developing the metaphors too much and jump right to sharing a few examples.  Then we are right back into the problems of sharing just a few specific examples.  

However, if a speaker develops a metaphor deeply and fully then it will capture the imagination of people to problem solve their own context.  When we problem solve ourselves then we have ownership to the idea and thus up the chances of success and sustainability.  

Let me violate my comments above and give just one example.  

Recently I heard the metaphor of the church as an airport.  The speaker went on to say that airports are never destinations in of themselves.  No one takes a vacation at the airport for a week.  The only time the airport as a destination was a good idea it was made into a fictional movie with two big movie stars in order to sell the movie.  

That was all the development the presenter did on this metaphor and the metaphor was dead in the water.  The metaphor was too heady and too abstract and people forgot the metaphor all together.  If however, the presenter had developed the metaphor more it had the chance to capture the imaginations of people.  Perhaps he could have asked:
  • Where do people check their baggage?
  • Who is responsible for flying the plane?
  • Who is designated to work in the lost and found area?
  • What does a passport look like in your church?  
  • Do you have a security check point?  
  • Are you profiling?
And on and on.  This metaphor, when developed, leads to a number of ideas on how to do/be Church.  

When the metaphor is not developed in favor of giving a few examples, then both the metaphor suffers and the people listening discount examples and do not build the metaphor.  

So give me examples or a metaphor.  Don't try to do both.