Rhetoric and Homiletics: You May Be In It Alone!

brainstorming   Using Your Own Mind

Rhetorical & Homiletical theory intersect.  There are a good number of classical rhetorical concepts which can help as one constructs a message.  One is called “inventio” which does not speak of inventing ideas which are not true or real, but the creative aspects of public address.

While there is a clear difference between preaching and other forms of rhetorical endeavors, there is still a level of creativity connected to the construction process involved in preparing a biblical message.

In fact, that is what makes . . . .

different writers different.
different preachers different.
some writers very eminent.
some preachers very effective.

If you are one of those pastors-preachers who is the “sole-pastor” of a local church ministry and do not have others around you to help bounce ideas off of —  it’s you, and that is about it, then this article might help.

Many preachers do not have “others,” or other staff members who can brainstorm with them to consider some other ways to drive home or clarify the truth or principle of the passage — structurally, illustratively, argumentatively, explanatively, or clearly.

Nevertheless, there are some ways to work around the absence of a mental-helpmate.   In fact, even if a pastor has others who can and do help out mentally when working on a message, there are some classical rhetorical helps which can be used to get the mind thinking down avenues it has not previously considered — some useful and some not so useful.

As we have stated, there are mental “topoi” — or places where the mind can go to think anew or differently.  One topos is called “What it is not.”   And there are others which we have examined in various articles on RhetoricandHomiletics.org .

Here are some other mental helps which can help generate ideas about what you are working on.  They are “mind or mental generators” for those . . . .

•  who work by themselves
•  who have no one available for a group session
•  who do not have people who want to join a brainstorming session
•  who have others available, but they are not that helpful
•  who want to brainstorm but a small issue
•  who find most people around uninterested in such an activity


#1) Thesaurus-Dictionary:  Grab a thesaurus and look up the word that focuses on your main idea.  Getting a good or different kind of thesaurus is invaluable.  Some have been previously suggested — the online power thesaurus is a great such tool, along with a Dictionary of Related Words.

For instance, if you were working on the life of Joseph, or Proverbs 25:22 / Romans 12:20 — look up the word “revenge” and find such words as . . . .

get even
get back
tit for tat
settling a score

You could even look at a “Pictionary” kind of dictionary, and the picture might set off your thinking about how to make a point.


#2) “S_C_A_M_P_E_R”:  There are ways to use what you have, but to do different things with what you have.  These have been put into a brainstorming anacronym called “scamper.”  “Scamper” also works with other kinds of leadership problem-solving situations.

Put To Another Purpose

What can a person do to substitute righteousness for revenge?
What is revenge often combined with?
How have people adapted the methods for revenge?
Some people modify revenge, and it comes out as . . . .
Put ???????
Just eliminate that spirit of revenge, don’t try to go at it another way with it.
Reverse Revenge to kindness.



You can’t substitute (this) for (that).  There is no substitute for . . .
It requires combining together. . . . .
You see, Joseph adapted by doing this . . . .
Maybe Paul should have modified his approach to John Marc, or Barnabas
Use that zeal for another purpose – like Paul
Don’t eliminate that which is good.  Bring it into your Christian life.
It is not bad, it is just not arranged the way it should and could be.

#3) Role Play: 

What would it look like if you were a ______ (job) _______ ?  — Orchestra Conductor / Parole Officer / Librarian / Bellhop / Chiropractor / Landscaper

What would a church look like if they were acting like _______ (activity) _____? — store detectives / farmers / roofers / cleaners / jewlers / amusement park attendants


#4) Probortunity:  What is really an opportunity which looks like a problem?

Solve this in the probortunity, and you solve the rest.
The broadest way to look at the problem is . . . . . .
What part of the problem is the most difficult part to solve?
The crux of the problem is . . . . .
What fact causes the problem?
What is the best example of this kind of problem-opportunity?
Where  / When does this probortunity come up most often in the Christian life?
How often does this probortunity come up?
Is it a probortunity for certain kinds of people?
Why do people see probortunities differently?
Are there probortunities within the probortunity?
What part of the probortunity is the most difficult to solve?


#5) Create A New Word:  You can combine words and create a new word that will crystallize an idea for you, as well as for your audience — just like “probortunity.”


#6) “False or Funny Rules”:  Think up a false, phony, or funny rule in relation to the content of the message — “Can you imagine if it worked this way?  That when you ____.

i.e. — “Revenge requires that you have the wherewithal/ammunition to carry out the “assault” otherwise don’t start “shooting.”

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