Skip to main content

One Thing I Remember from Preaching Class

*Originally posted on Republished with permission.

One Thing I Remember from Preaching Class

by Kevin DeYoung

This has helped me. I pass it along to any young preachers out there looking for free advice.

When you come to a passage there are four things you can do: illustrate, defend, explain, apply. I rearranged the order from seminary class so the four points make a convenient acronym: IDEA. Most young preachers, and probably most preachers in general, gravitate toward “explain.” We do best at studying the text and communicating what we learned to others. If the passage is especially obscure or controversial, it makes sense to land heavy on the E. But sometimes the passage is relatively simple. In this case, don’t spin your wheels on endless word studies that basically repeat with synonyms what everyone can see immediately in the text.

Most preachers, myself included, need to incorporate the I, D, and A more often. One note on the D while I’m at it: it is rarely wise to spend a lot of time defending what your people don’t need defended. For example, in most churches you can probably skip the 15 minute intro on the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. Likewise, don’t waste time defending your interpretation against esoteric objections in the commentaries that no one in your church would ever think of.

“Illustrate” and “apply” are the hardest to do well. It requires a different part of your brain. You need to think creatively. You need to imagine what your people are or might be going through. You need to avoid the temptation to offer quick sermony points of application like “Don’t let money be your idol” or “Some of you need to trust God with your time.” Probe deeper. Use one good, personal illustration or one concrete point of application rather than firing application-buckshot with little imagination.

So remember, for every text and every point you can illustrate, defend, explain, or apply. It’s an IDEA whose time has come.


  • Jamie Hart says:

    Great post and good advice! This is something I’ll remember and use. Thanks.

  • Daniel Hartwig says:

    I’ve found Dr Doug Brown’s 5 steps most logical:
    1. Explanation: Explaining what the text is saying and giving reason for your point.
    2. Interpretation: Interpreting what the text is saying using the grammatical-historical meaning, including defining words and bringing in relevent external information that has bearing on the text.
    3. Illustration: Illustrating, not the text, but your point (important for maintaining the flow, otherwise people get confused).
    4. Application: Bringing the Biblical meaning into today’s world with concrete examples (Q’s work well to get people thinking about the implications for their lives).
    5. Exhortation: This step really is what sets preaching apart from teaching, for as a preacher you are to urge people to obey what the application of the text is asking of them.
    These 5 steps have been very helpful for me in developing a logical process in preaching, and I hope they will benefit others as well.

  • Dick Dayton says:

    It is important for us to remember, as you noted, that simply giving accurate information is not enough. Nehemiah 8:8 can be summarized by : What does it say ? What does it mean ? What does it mean to me ? II Timothy 3:16,17 encompases both the doctrinal truth and its practical impact on our lives.

  • David King says:

    Thanks Greg for passing this article along. If others of you have good preaching articles that you’d like to pass along please do so to I would greatly appreciate any good resources that we can pass along.

Leave a Reply