One of the things you can do in preparing your sermon, is spend some time coming up with good rhetorical devices to use. Rhetorical devices are certain linguistic techniques a speaker can use to draw attention to something or to convey a meaning. Their main goal is to make you more persuasive, but they have the added affect of bringing a bit of drama, changes in rhythm, diversity and even humor into your sermon.
Of course it’s not about stuffing your sermon to the max with rhetorical devices. They’re a tool, not a goal in itself, and they should be used with moderation at the right places to spice up your sermon. If you overuse the, rhetorical devices will only irritate your audience…not quite the result you were going for (and that’s an understatement 🙂 )
There are many rhetorical devices but not all of them are suitable for using in a sermon. Some of them are more suited for written words that are being read for instance or are simply too clever to be used, so as not to appear studied or forced. Here are 7 less-known rhetorical devices you can use to spice up your sermon (and you can forget about all these technical names, just apply the device itself!):
Repeating the same words at the beginning of several sentences is called an anaphora. Famous examples are Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream speech’ and Churchill’s ‘We’ll fight’ talk. This is one I use quite often to stress something. You can also do the same at the end of a sentence, then it’s called an epistrophe.
Example: I tried getting up early to have a quiet time with God. I tried doing it just before I went to bed. I tried silent prayer. I tried devotionals. I tried keeping a spiritual journal. Nothing I tried made me actually want to have quiet time.
Using several short descriptions or phrases without connecting words (also known as conjunctions, like for, because, and, but etc) is known as an asyndeton. Again, this is one I use quite often, also in my blog writing by the way. It brings speed and rhythm to your sermon as well as a bit of a dramatic effect.
Example: I’ve tried reading, praying, talking, listening. Nothing worked.
An antimetabole is a repetition of the same words or phrases, only in reverse order. You can use this very well to compare two outlooks and stress the second, better viewpoint. When done well, it has a motivating effect.
Example: It’s not about how much you do for God, it’s about how much God has done for you.
This means describing something that is unpleasant with softer words to make it sound better than it actually is. This is a great way to put some humor into your sermon as well, because if you put a bit of thought into this, there are quite some funny euphemisms you could come up with.Make sure the intended meaning is still clear though!
Example: ‘first base‘ is a euphemism for kissing and ‘I’m gonna go powder my nose‘ is one for going to the bathroom.
A hypophora is a rhetorical question that you answer yourself. It’s a great way to pique curiosity in your audience, to consciously create a gap in their knowledge and make them want to close it…and thus pay attention to what you’re saying. So don’t forget to actually answer your hypophora!
Example: So if all those things didn’t make me want to have quiet time, what then was the trick you ask?
When you use a paralipsis, you specifically mention that you don’t want to talk about something. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s all aimed at stressing the importance of something.
Example: I don’t need to tell you how important prayer is.
When you compare two things with each other and specifically use ‘like’ or ‘as’, it’s a simile. Similes can bring a bit of poetry into your sermon, it’s a chance to use beautiful imagery to explain an aspect of your sermon. It may take you some time to come up with good, original ones, but they’ll be well worth your time.
Example: Our lives are like clay, carefully formed and molded into what we are supposed to be.
Which ones do you use in your sermons? Do you have any other rhetorical devices you like to use?