In a recent Pastors Today article—adapted from his book 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching—Wayne McDill points out: “Writers on expository preaching have for generations emphasized the use of four rhetorical elements to persuade the hearer of Bible truths…Each of the forms of development has a distinctive role to play as you enlarge on your sermon points—explanation, illustration, argumentation and application. The better you understand what each kind of material contributes, the better you will be able to prepare the balanced support that gives real impact to your sermon ideas.

“It is easy for the preacher to think that everyone is interested in the same aspects of biblical study that he is. What is needed is an appeal to the whole person—understanding, conscience, emotions, imagination, will, reason. That can be done with a balanced rhetorical appeal designed to influence the person in all these dimensions of his response.

1. Explanation. Your division statement needs explaining. You want to explain how your text is the basis for the principles you state in your outline. You may also want to explain further what you mean by your statement. You will go to the text and point to significant words and phrases. You will give historical background and other fruit of your textual study. You may resketch the narrative of your text. All of this is explanation. It is aimed at establishing the basic concept in the mind of your hearer.

2. Illustration. Illustration serves to clarify the textual truth in the mind of the hearer with images that appeal to the imagination. The word illustration is from Latin, lustrare, to illuminate. It means “to throw light on an idea, to illuminate it.” A sermon illustration is any word picture that gives the biblical truth a familiar enough image that the listener can see it in his mind. Illustrations are so important that we will devote the next two chapters to the skills needed for using them effectively.

3. Argumentation. Sermons are designed to persuade. But if you are to be persuasive, you will have to make a case for your ideas. You will have to demonstrate that your point is reasonable and worthy of belief, that what you are saying makes sense. Argument is that part of your support material in which you give reasons for accepting the principles you are presenting.

4. Application. Application presents the implications of biblical truth for the contemporary audience. It is a call for action, for putting the principles of Scripture to work in our lives. It deals with attitudes, behavior, speech, lifestyle and personal identity. It appeals to conscience, to values, to conviction, to commitment to Christ.” (Click here to read more.)

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