No offense to my homiletics teachers, but they taught me almost nothing about most aspects of rhetoric--that is, how to say what you are going to say. A sermon outline or even an overall approach, as important as these are, will not have the most impact that it can without powerful rhetoric.
To that end, there is something about the number three that has power. In medieval times, the clergy attributed this power to the Trinity--that when things are done or come in threes, they reflect the Trinity, and therefore have power.
I am not sure that I subscribe to the Trinitarian explanation. But I do believe, for whatever reason, are minds are geared to think in terms of threes (and other odd numbers). In photography and video, people are trained to think in sections of three, for instance. Three points--or one or five points--are good, but two and four are awkward.
While most preachers have probably picked up on the rule of three and/or odd numbers for number of points, one rule of three can be missed: that a point can be driven home and raised to a climax by using three similar phrases all in a row.
This can be found in the above clip at around the 00:30 mark, where, in making the point about how the wall of Jerusalem was built in three days, I say this happened because
"everyone was pulling together"
"everyone was working hard,"
"people were bonding together"
but most especially because, "God made this happen." This has a 3 + 1 pattern--three very similar statements, then a slight connector, and a "finally" statement. Notice how I use hand gestures at each of these points to help drive the point home, and that there is a slight rise in my voice and a firmness as well. All of this, makes for this being a good "highlight" section of this sermon.
Just sharing things like this that I had to learn on my own over time, through trial and error. I am hoping that you have other rhetorical ideas to share that will make our preaching more impactful.
What do you think of the rule of three in rhetoric?
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Dr. James Nored (Doctor of Ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary) is a preacher, evangelist, church consultant, writer, and missional leader located in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
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