Rhetoric & Homiletics: What Actually Is The Hard Part Of Preaching!

your mission shiuld you 3  See If You Agree At The End?

Can I suggest — and argue — that many times in the preparation of a sermon . . . .

 the hardest part

most of the sermonic work
some of the most intense brain work
the expenditure of mental energy
the greatest amount of time  . . . .

Begins At This Point

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It begins with laying out the body of the sermon, the main points, and goes on from there — to the hours before and even up to and including its presentation.

Generally, the time taken to know and understand what this-or-that Bible passage teaches does not consume near the time which these elements take:

how to build and/or structure the sermon
“writing” it
“re-writing” it
illustrating broad or individual points
thinking of applications
cutting parts out
adding other pieces in
anticipating possible resistance
revising – revising – re-writing
changing the way to go about . . . . .
deciding on an introduction
thinking it through — as a whole
visualizing the whole as it should go and flow
getting it generally down in our minds
generating ways or other ways to go about it
generating different ways to say or word this-or-that
visiting and revisiting how to conclude it all

It is these kind of elements of sermonic construction which will have the hands of the clock spinning – spinning unnoticed.

Let me argue that point!

The “exegesis” and/or the “exposing” what a passage teaches takes far less time (and the more if we have received a good-to-great seminary education) because of  five factors which are operating . . . . .

√  Stewardship
√  Training
√  Tools
√  Education
√  Simplicity

Stewardship:  We do not need to come up with the truths and/or principles.  We have been given the truths and principles to teach.  We are only “stewards” — the “postmen.”

In fact, that is one of the main differences between secular public speaking from preaching.

Training:  We can handle the theological.  That is what we are actually best at when it comes to Bible teaching and preaching.

In fact, in a way that can become a liability.  It is possible for full-time professional theologians to easily get into the weeds! We love the “kitchen” and “food preparation” so much that we want those in the dining room to understand and enjoy, what we have come to enjoy and appreciate, as much as us!



Tools:  More biblical tools are available today than at any time in history!

Have you ever wondered how some of the great preachers of the past ever accomplished what they did?  Some of them did not even have a concordance, a Bible dictionary, Vine’s book of Words, Bill Mounce’s books on Greek, Bible Manners & Customs — no less e-sword / Blue Letter Bible / Logos / or a seminary education!



Education: Little else will fit you well in the ministry than a solid biblical education.  Sitting under Dr. John Whitcomb for three years at Grace Theological for class after class fit me well for life!  During class after class, his desk looked like “ABC, NBC, CBS” —  like a press conference with cassette players and mikes across its front).

Taking the time to get a good seminary education, where you are taught by those you trust and believe what is being taught will fit you well in life.  Don’t spend time sitting in classes where you disagree.  That is not the first need in the pastoral ministry.



Simplicity: Most passages of Scripture far less complicated than we would like to make it times?  The basic biblical truth being taught is not that difficult to discern.

“Haddon Robinson said several times that there are basically variations on roughly ten big Big Ideas in the Bible. “1

Spreading Goodness
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Many have been taught that the “expository preaching” means that we talk through a passage, verse by verse — a running commentary on the obvious — “An Amplified Bible” —  but the audio version.

Most who are listening (and even the children) already know what this-or-that passage is generally teaching.  We believe and teach that — that God’s people can read the Bible and it does not require a “priesthood” to reveal what it is teaching!

A Resistant Indicator: Of course there are parts, portions, verses which are difficult and often misunderstood.  There is a reason for attending seminary, learning the original languages, and the gift of “pastor-teacher!”
Just saying!  We know that pastors can merely rehash what the audience already knows and has heard over and over.  There is a name for that — “boring.”


The basic biblical truth being taught is generally simple.
BUT how it is being uniquely argued in the passage and how to communicate that effectively
is not that simple!


There are two parts to sermonic preparation. 3


AND the “rhetorical” part . . . . .

•  is more prominent than most might consciously realize, recognize, or appreciate
•  takes a great deal of time
•  is real mental labor
•  is too often uninformed and/or learned by trial and error


AND the “rhetorical” side is what distinguishes preachers and preaching.  It is not that most preachers and teachers are teaching something different from this-or-that passage.

•  The Parable of the unforgiving servant is about forgiveness.
•  Genesis 3 teaches about Satan’s temptation and the Fall.
•  Psalm 23 teaches about our Father’s care for His flock.
•  I Corinthians 3 teaches that you should not fall in love with the postman, but the writer of the letter (Now we are approaching the statement of a Big Idea).
•  Philippians 2 is addressing the Lord’s thinking which accompanied the incarnation.
•  and . . . and . . . and . . . and . . . . What you are preaching on is about . . . . .?

The rhetorical side is what often distinguishes one preacher-teacher from another, far more than a different grasp or explanation of what is being taught in a particular biblical passage. 2


The rhetorical side is what often distinguishes one preacher-teacher from another.


The ability to effectively communicate what most “pastoral theologians” agree is being taught in this-or that passage, distinguishes preachers.

Rhetorical ability is what often distinguishes one preacher-teacher from another.

Those preachers and teachers who are known across the evangelical culture are known, not because they have a different understanding of various biblical passages.2  It is because they know how to make that truth hit home, unlike many and most others.

That is not to say that effective speakers know what makes them effective.  They may or they may not.  That is why a professional golfer may not be effective as a golfing coach-instructor.  That is why you can be a professional golf instructor but not have your name on a PGA’s Masters Leaderboard.  An effective teacher need not be as effective in practice and someone effective in practice may be a terrible teacher.

Nevertheless, a good number of preachers are excellent communicators.  Their effectiveness may have been . . . .

•  the result of giftedness
•  learned by experience
•  developed over time
•  acquired by a pursuit of knowledge
•  furthered by a mentor(s)
•  due to an openness to criticism
•  absorbed by listening and reading
•  improved upon by being well-read
•  due to listening to their father in ministry
•  furthered by an education in this-or-that connected discipline
•  the result of God’s unusual and unique placement and blessing

Whatever the cause for their effectiveness, I know and understand this as a fellow preacher-teacher . . . .

√  there are two sides of preaching
√  a meaningful part of preaching involves the rhetorical
√  devoting time and study to the rhetorical side affects at least  half of our effectiveness
√  unless we work at our effectiveness as a life-long practitioner who lives in the world of words, we might experience a great deal of pastoral frustration.  Part of the reception of our leadership leans on our ability to effectively communicate.



1. Peter Mead is actually confusing about biblical themes, not “Big Ideas.”  It was poorly stated by Mead and you can see that because Mead prefaces his comment with . . . .

Every passage has a unique main idea.  But are there thousands of completely different main ideas in the Bible?  Haddon Robinson said several times that there are basically variations on roughly ten big Big Ideas in the Bible.”

Haddon Robinson did not teach that there are only 10 -12 “Big Ideas” in the Scriptures.

There are those who would like to think of “Big Ideas” as a simply stated theological truth — i.e. “God is faithful.”  That is a theological truth, but not the statement of a passage’s Big Idea.  That kind of supposed big idea could be found throughout the Scriptures, but as God shows His faithfulness to Joseph, versus Naomi and Ruth, or David, or Daniel, or Shadrack-Meshach-Abednego, or His own Son — all have a more precise, unique, and specific “compliment” that accompanies the statement of God’s faithfulness.

“Every passage has a Big Idea.  Some even closely mirror others, but may well be distinct upon examination.  But are there thousands of completely different Big Ideas in the Bible?  There are basically variations on roughly ten biblical themes throughout the Bible.” 

10 Biggest Big Ideas – 1. God


2. There are individuals who are so knowledgeable in a particular biblical area that they are distinguished from most others because they bring their wide and deep grasp of an area of expertise:

— Evolution — Ken Ham
— Creationism — John Whitcomb
— Prophecy — Thomas Ice
— etc.


3.  Peter Mead did an article on Preaching where he employed the idea of preaching “a half message.”  “A Half” message reflects that there are two sides to a sermon.  “Explain it” and not “Applying It” is #10.  You can know and explain what the passage says, but fail to do what the passage does not do for you — and that is — apply it.

That takes mental rhetorical work!  The applications are surely not found in the biblical verses, but are generated in the mind of the speaker as he considers his audience, the culture, the communicating and arguing for present-day examples, etc.

Peter Mead:  10 Ways to Half Preach A Text” — November 2011 Biblicalpreaching.net

10. Explain it, but don’t apply it.
9. Commentary it, but don’t proclaim it.
8. Preach a plethora of cross-references.
7. Preach a preferred cross-reference.
6. Impose a sermon structure instead of letting the text’s structure influence your message.
5. Use the context, but ignore the content.
4. Use the content but ignore the context.
3. Preach a generic message or idea from what could be any text.
2. Preach from the details, but don’t figure out how they work together to give the main idea.
1. Say just enough about the text to introduce what you want to say.


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