Rhetoric & Homiletics: Becoming An Idea Generator!

What are you doing now to become

a better idea generator?


Not an idea generator in the sense that you are looking for ways to preach-teach your own ideas, but an idea generator for sermon construction — because there are different ways to communicate biblical truths and principles affirmed in the Scriptures

There are different ways to build, construct, design, arrange, approach, conclude, illustrate, clarify, introduce, explain, phrase, and apply a biblical truth(s) or principle(s).  


That is what makes
different preachers
distinct and distinctly effective.


That is what makes different preachers-teachers-speakers distinct, and distinctly effective — or ineffective!

“Good-to-great preachers” are separated from the “mediocre-to-poor” by their ability to construct a message.  What is the best way to “lego” the message so that it grabs the driving truth of the passage?  How can I so construct the message so that it connects with an audience?  

There is not one way to go about the task of design and construction.  The beginning “blocks” of biblical detail are the same for all preachers, but the finished process of construction is different.

For Example:

√  We all know what “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” is teaching.
√  We all have the same beginning “blocks of information” — stated in Luke 10.

⌈⌉  a student of the law asked a question
⌈⌉  question? —  what must I do to inherit eternal life
⌈⌉  the plan — to test Jesus
⌈⌉  question? —  how do you read it as a lawyer
⌈⌉  answer: love God & love your neighbor
⌈⌉  response: do it and live
⌈⌉  to justify himself – asks another question
⌈⌉  question? —  who is my neighbor
⌈⌉  parable:  designed to answer that question

⌈⌉  traveler mugged on way to Jericho
⌈⌉  three passerby-ers saw him on brink of death
⌈⌉ one helped! — a Samaritan
⌈⌉ here is how he helped

√  We all know the account.
√  We all know what it is teaching.
√  We all have the same beginning “blocks” of information.
√  In fact, the audience probably knows what the passage is teaching before we begin!

This is not hard!*

So why is it that different messages on
“The Parable of the Good Samaritan”
can be and are so different?

Because the actual construction process differs from speaker to speaker.  There is not one way to go about the task of design and construction.

While all Bible preachers have the same beginning “lego blocks” of biblical information, they do not all go about the task of building the finished message the same way.

Here are a few contemporary preachers who differ in their construction methods.  Each of them is marked by some different design characteristics which generally mark their sermons.

They take the same beginning “blocks” found within the passage and then go about building a message using yet other “ideas” in their sermonic construction.

Warren Wiersbe:
The ability to break down a passage with meaningful content headings marks individuals like Wiersbe — i.e. Genesis 3 — The Enemy / The Strategy / The Tragedy / the Discovery / The Penalty / The Recovery.  The headings are more than an alliterated delineation of the obvious, but meaningful word(s) which encapsulates the truths and impending application of the points.

Charles Swindoll:
Swindoll is a master wordsmith.  He knows how to frame an idea with an interesting word or phrase which captures the thought — i.e. “Hand Me Another Brick” — “The Lord is the Specialist we need for these ‘uncrossable’ and impossible experiences.  He delights in accomplishing what we can not pull off.”

Stephen Davey:
There are those who are able to pull in illustrations from everyday life which relate to the subject of the passage and acclimate the audience for what is ahead.  Time and time again Davey begins with an introduction which pulls up a story from life to set up the theme of the message.

Andy Stanley:
Sometimes a speaker understands how to pull an audience into the subject by a well throughout introduction — an introduction that doesn’t begin with — “Let’s turn to Galatians 5 as we look at the fruit of the Spirit.”  Stanley takes what some might think an inordinate amount of time in the introduction because he wants to relate to the real-life thinking and feelings of his audience.  This kind of introduction takes a lot of mental work, personal experience, and people interaction.

Tony Evans:
Some speakers are marked by the ability to call up or create an analogy that makes the point so clear and understandable.  Over and over again, Evans’ messages are marked by one or more analogical illustrations which just nail the idea!  You can hear the audience responding as he builds it because they are getting the connections as he builds it!

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
A wide historical and philosophical understanding mark some preachers like Lloyd-Jones.  His grasp of history and thought allows him to contrast or compare that with the biblical truth or principle he is addressing.  Lloyd-Jones preached during WWII and you can repeatedly hear him bring in the thinking and events of that era. 

John Monroe:
Others are masters at revealing the flow of thought within the passage in a way that the passage unfolds for the audience. The impact of the message is found in the ability to keep the ideas within a passage connected and the use of transitional phrases.  The passage’s connections are seen.  Monroe’s legal background shows up in his ability to work his way through a passage of Scripture and keep it connected.

Alistair Begg:
One of the “blocks” which Begg brings to the worksite is his love and grasp of modern culture and music.  Begg is known for his repeated references to pop culture and its music.  Begg’s use of modern musical lyrics from the 50s-60s-70s provides another method of illustrating the secular thinking of a society.   


It is not that these preachers bring a singular “block” to the construction process.  The point is that they bring other “ideas” or “blocks” to the building process, some which are used over and over and therefore seemingly mark their sermonic structure and content.

This short list of various preacher illustrates some of the varied building blocks which can also be used in the construction process.  There are creative ideas — additional “blocks” — which can be brought to the building process — which result in a different building.  “Ideas” — their “lego blocks” — which go beyond those given all of us within the biblical passage.

It all takes WORK!  Generating ideas for two, three, four Bible messages a week takes WORK!  Much of that work involves generating ideas — being an idea generator!

That is why you chuckle when someone asks you . . . .

“What do you do all week?
Do you get paid for just speaking on Sunday?”

Public speaking takes a lot of work.  It requires a lot of mentally generating ideas. 

Are you an Idea Generator?  


Effective preachers are actively greasing the skids

to generate new and different ways to go about

preaching and teaching.

Tony Evans  [Audio Link]:

Well it’s you use a great word, and that was the word “philosophy” because I assume something  – OK – and the assumption is everything is an illustration.

And because I operate with that assumption — it’s kind of hard — sometimes I do it’s when I’m with preachers — I tell them — point to point out something in the room, and they’ll just point out anything  — and I’ll immediately turn into an illustration.

 And maybe some of that is personality,  but it’s also philosophy

because I assume that everything created has been created by God or is in opposition to God and therefore has a spiritual, theological framework it can illustrate something in the spiritual realm

and because I’ve operated that way I see illustrations all the time

so I have some planned, and some come on the spot

and some events happen while I’m a while I’m preaching — something happens then it becomes an illustration at the moment — but the practice of that turns it into a mental orientation that that flows out because the more you do it — the better you get at it.

Lance Witt:

No pastor ever coasted their way to great preaching.

Let’s imagine that you and I sit down and have a cup of coffee together.  And during our conversation, we start talking about preaching and how to keep you preaching fresh.  If I could give you one piece of advice for keeping your preaching fresh it would be this . . . . Be an aggressive and curious learner(sic).

Have an inquisitive mind. Ask a lot of questions.  Learn something every single day.  Take lots of notes.  Find lessons from every circumstance and situation.

I recently had a friend mention to me that preaching was a lot like cooking.  He went on to say that he had the mindset of constantly stocking the pantry.  Every day he was filling his mind and heart with Scripture, insights from what he was reading, and illustrations from daily experience.  He is constantly stocking the shelves of his preaching pantry.

Then, when he sits (sic) down to craft his message, he simply cooks from what is in the pantry.  The problem with a lot of pastors is that the aren’t putting anything in the pantry.  And so when it comes time to write a message, they don’t have anything in the pantry to draw from. — Lance Witt – Replenish Ministries


I might also suggest to stock that pantry with a broad variety of “ideas”  — a broad variety of  . . . .

ideas as to how you might intro a message
possible word choices
ways to state a point which also captures its truth
the kinds of illustrations
contemporary thinking, culture, music
historical perspectives
current events
areas of life that are far removed from theology — “Article of the day
rhetorical concepts — i.e. topoi
congregational experiences
ways to close out a message
dictionaries / thesauruses
hymn lyrics
secular and sacred poems
effective commentators-communicators
random words**
lists — transitional phrases, related words, possible analogies
real-life, present-day stories of life and living
“Word of the day” / This Day In History / 
analyses on contemporary events from a Christian world-view

All these will give the speaker more potential “building blocks” — more “ideas” — which he can bring to the worksite.  They all become yet other “lego blocks” which change-up how a message is put together and what it looks like at the end of the construction process.


The more . . . .

knowledge we possess
experiences which mark our life
exposure to people facing real-life difficulties
curiosity we have
secular books we have read
we have listened to those in far different professions
questions we have asked
magazine articles we have read
events of life we have experienced
Bible commentators we have examined
educational opportunities we have pursued
sermons we have read or listened to (i.e. recent example)
newspapers headlines we have read

. . . . the easier it is to generate ideas which can contribute to the construction of a message.

Interrelating, patterning,** associating, connecting, using, and/or weaving this-and-that piece of knowledge into the construction process creates fresh ways to think about designing and building a message.

Oh, yea — It Is Work!

* P.S.  The easiest part may be knowing and understanding what the biblical passage teaches.

In an overwhelming number of cases, what the passage teaches is much more simple than some make it out to be — in the study and in the pulpit!

We expect laymen/women — in fact children — to be able to read the Bible and understand what it is teaching and to apply it to their lives.

Are there actually that many different commentators who disagree as to what this-or-that passage is teaching?


** Go to a random word generator or drop your finger on two or three random words in a dictionary and ask — how would this be related to what I am speaking about.

For Example:  The Parable of the Good Samaritan — The words which came up using this random word generator were . . .


Okay — Here goes!

Explain: When we are guilty of doing that — I am sure that we can explain why we did what we did.  And we probably have fairly good explanations which all seemed reasonable until those reasons are used by others to explain why they could not help us.

Studio: ugh??? How about — Let’s go to that artist studio in our minds and paint that picture and what it would look like today — in the 21st century.

Dilute: What the Good Samaritan did in helping this stranger was “dilute” the pain of all that has happened.  You see when you “dilute” something, you lessen the nature of what it is in the natural.

In these examples, you are taking totally diverse thoughts which are found in those three random words, and allowing those words to force you to think in some different directions — all for developing an explanation, clarification, and/or application.

Might you have thought of similar ideas without grabbing these three random words?  Sure.


*** When I speak of “pattering” I am not at all referring to repeating what another writer or speaker has said.  When you go analytical, when you ask — “What did they just do that caused me to respond this-or-that way? — you can deconstruct it and reuse it in a completely different context or message.

If you get really good at it, you can listen to a message that is totally unrelated to what you are talking about or to the passage you are using, and generate new ideas as to how you could develop a point or layout the legos.

It is called “lateral thinking.”

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