Broadbrush vs. Finer Pen. . . .

big paint brush It Covers A Lot Of Territory, But . . . 

As I was listening to a message from Don Wilton this week, he caught my attention and mind at a particular point in his message.

As I have stated before, that is what you look for as you are listening to the general movement of content — What all breaks up the general flow and grabs your attention.  When that happens, I go analytical to see what was done so that I can use, not the speaker’s words or particular thought, but the technique. Midst the general flow of content, there are techniques a speaker can consciously employ to develop a point, an illustration, a concept, a truth, a principle, an application, etc.

The Rhetorical Technique:  Broadbrush vs. Finer Pen

At times an audience will focus or refocus on what you are saying if you go from a “broad-brush” to a “finer pen.”  When a speaker breaks away from broad references to more specific identifiers, an audience will often engage or re-engage . . . .

  • to see if “they” will show up in your specific references.
  • to determine whether you are including them in your thinking.
  • to resolve that you feel or care about their life situation.
  • to find out if you understand where they might be in life.


General, broad-brush, encompassing references are usually . . . .

√ generally address the world, or “a specific world” of people (economists / athletes / Christians / those who know not Christ / mothers / families), or the lost world, or the church)

“This is what you will see in the church today . . . .”


√ or use universal identifiers —  “all” / “everybody” / “every person”

“We need to realize that all of us matter . . . .” 


A speaker can better identify with the audience by using a “finer pen,” by thinking through the specific individuals or specific individual situations within that “world” or “all.”

Andy Stanley does this often in his introductory portion of his message, which usually makes it a long introductory portion of the sermon.  He does this because he also wants to draw his audience into the relevance of the message – “me – we”.

Don Wilton, in a message titled “Nineveh’s Story, demonstrates this same technique in a shorter, yet still profitable manner.  He does this two different ways in his message.

One way is to include the “finer pen” after an adjective and allow the second word to be the specifier.

“Everybody matters, because everybody to matters to Jesus

  • Every life
  • Every circumstance
  • Every family
  • Every issue
  • Every hurt
  • Every pain
  • Every wedding
  • Every funeral
  • Every sorrow
  • Every sickness
  • Every trip to the hospital
  • Every phone call
  • Every word

Everything matters . . . .”

— Don Wilton, Nineveh’s Story August 2017 (around 8 minutes into it)


Another way is to use the different “this-and-thats” to lay out the specifics.  Wilton highlights various specific activities in the local church — “Because, what you do matters . . . .”

“God uses us  — to matter

It might be something as simple as . . . .

  • shaking a hand
  • opening a car door
  • teaching a class
  • serving as a deacon
  • a life group leader
  • singing a song
  • being in the orchestra
  • singing in the choir
  • going on a missions trip”

— Don Wilton, Nineveh’s Story August 2017 (around 10 minutes into it)


People listen differently when you become more specific because they are looking for the category they fit into or come close to fitting into, within the list of possibilities.

Over time, it is useful to create various lists that you can flip to, and over time your mind will add to and use and reuse the various specifics of that list when you are speaking.


For instances, create a list of life situations . . . . Let me give it a try and I am certain that you will be able to add to it as you think about the various people, families, and life troubles of your congregation.

Some here today have sought for that peace God’s promises His people — as they were going through . . . .

  • the loss of a job — may be a job that you thought at one time would be long-term, but now
  • a serious illness, after hearing the bad news that day from a doctor, or
  • a divorce —  which just unraveled your life
  • a broken, may be shattered relationship — you thought you might marry and spend your life with him or her, but
  • a wayward son or daughter – you didn’t see this one coming — or you did see this coming and were hoping to navigate around it but that didn’t happen and now you find out . . . .
  • alcohol – drugs – and addiction that had taken over your life and you are only now back on your feet and have lost a lot of ground which you are seeking to make up
  • a terrible legal battle after an accident or business deal or partnership or financial decision
  • the news that their child was the victim of the twisted thinking of someone at school, or in that community program . . . and now you find yourself
  • etc.


The Lord knows your . . . .

  • thoughts
  • words
  • deeds
  • sorrows
  • needs
  • devotion
  • frailties
  • uprisings / downsittings
  • hurts


Our list includes . . . .

  • our sins of omission
  • our sins of commission
  • our foolishness
  • what might have been had we not
  • what would have been if we had
  • what should have been if we chose to



Here is Howard Hendricks running a specific list of possible people in the audience.

He’s given you everything you need.

  • So many guys are in business and may be struggling in it
  • some of you may have addictions some of that you’re fighting like crazy
  • some of you’ve got a marriage that’s only held together by the patience of your wife
  • some of you have kids going around hell raising — and putting their finger to their nose — to you —  every time you talk about Jesus.







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