Home > Mallinak, Preaching > The Preacher and His Rhetoric

The Preacher and His Rhetoric

October 14, 2006

There is no particular virtue to being seriously unreadable. – Charles Spurgeon

And we could say the same for the preacher. Preaching has no value if the people don’t get it. Some sermons go so deep that the listener would drown trying to get at it, or would get the bends coming back up. The preacher succeeds when the audience understands and is moved. A meal from the best cook, using the finest ingredients and prepared with the utmost care, still has no value until it reaches the table, and from the table to the plate, and from the plate to the mouth, and from the mouth to the belly.

So, the preacher must consider his audience. Some argue that only the text should be considered. Those preachers love the text, love the material, all very honorable and good. But God calls us to love one another as well. Certainly, the text gets the priority, but there are other considerations as well.

In fact, in every sermon there must be three considerations. The preacher preaches to a congregation. So, the three considerations would be the giver, the receiver, and the thing given and received. Every preacher should consider himself, his audience, and his message. Ancient rhetoricians referred to this as ethos, pathos, and logos. And Paul instructed Timothy to do exactly this —

1Timothy 4:16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

We Cannot Separate the Ambassador from His Message

We are ambassadors. The ambassador delivers the king’s message, a message of peace and reconciliation. Delivering that message is the ambassador’s calling. The king chooses the ambassador believing him to be respectable and trustworthy. When the ambassador stands before those to whom he is sent, he must consider himself. He does not consider himself like a peacock in a mirror, but as one representing the king. He takes heed unto himself for the king’s sake, and not his own. But there are other reasons too. He takes heed unto himself so that his audience will respect him and listen. The message must be delivered; it is of utmost importance. The audience must receive the message, and the ambassador’s own conduct will sway the audience. Thus, the preacher must consider his own ethos.

Paul had this in mind when he said,

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners (ethos). 1Corinthians 15:33

A man’s ethos is his character and reputation, not only in general, but also with the audience. God requires his preachers to be above reproach, and this with good reason. He proclaims the Word with his tongue, and with his life. We should remember that his life preaches as loudly as his rhetoric.

The preacher will preach the Word week after week, in some cases to the same congregation for forty or fifty years. In His infinite wisdom, God planned it to be this way. It would seem that the congregation would tire of hearing the same voice, the same presentation, the same applications made the same way. It would seem that the illustrations – the ones we have told countless times, would wear thin on the audience. But God has chosen this way for his Word to be preached. The way the people hear their preacher will depend very much on his reputation with his audience.

Ethical appeals are persuasive, and we see them used repeatedly in Scripture. Paul uses them with Philemon (Philemon 1:4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 19), with Timothy (I Timothy 1:7; 2 Timothy 1:1-5; 3:14-15), with the Galatians (Galatians 1:1, 6-24ff), and with the Jews (Acts 22:1-5). Paul used his well-earned reputation as capital to move his audience. The preacher can and should do the same.

Ethical appeals are enhanced by evidence of good character in the message itself. The preacher demonstrates good character in each and every message; they accomplish this by doing their homework. When the audience recognizes the evidence of hard work, both in your study and also in preparing your presentation, they appreciate that. When the congregation sees that you deal with the issue justly, they appreciate that. When the audience knows that you are faithful to the text, more so than your opinion, then they are ready to be persuaded.

The Ambassador Cannot Ignore His Audience

The ambassador must speak the language of his audience. His king ordained him to deliver a message. If his audience cannot or will not hear him, then he will not succeed. So, he must consider how best to reach his audience. How we reach a particular audience with a particular message will vary, even from message to message. And although the priority must be on the message, the preacher succeeds when his people get it. He wants this.

So the preacher must consider the congregation, something the Greeks referred to as pathos. As with ethical proofs, pathetic proofs are also persuasive. We derive several English words from the Greek word pathos, including apathy, sympathy, and empathy. Pathos indicates passion, and the preacher would do well to consider the passion of his audience on a given subject. He does not consider the audience’s passion in order to decide whether or not to address the issue, but rather how to address the issue. If the audience is apathetic, he must motivate them to hear. If the audience is hostile, he must win them over. If the audience is favorable, he must excite them further and move them to action.

Even in a good church, various messages will meet with these different responses. In approaching the presentation, the preacher would do well to analyze his audience, and develop an approach designed to meet them.

We also see this exemplified in Scripture. Consider the difference between Christ’s approach to the Pharisee’s, the woman at the well, the disciples, and the multitudes. Think about Paul on Mars’ Hill, Paul before King Agrippa, and Paul before the Sanhedrin. We must consider our audience.

Furthermore, the preacher appeals to the emotions of his congregation. God calls us to provoke one another to love and to good works. Paul purposely stirred up the anger of the Corinthians, and the shame of the Galatians. Paul encouraged Timothy. Preachers should seek to do the same. Extended pathetic appeals are a lawful, important, and sometimes a necessary part of preaching.

That is not to say that we can stir emotions any old way we please, seeking what we want ourselves. The Word must be used to do the stirring, and emotional appeals must come from and be based on Scripture. The preacher should remember that the Word itself, when fully expounded, will stir true believers to respond.

The Ambassador Must Deliver the Message

The preacher must deliver the message faithfully. This requires that he be faithful to the message. All things considered, the logos takes priority. The preacher can have a carefully polished ethos, can speak in a way that is very appealing to the audience, and will still fall short if the logos is abused or neglected.

Logos is one of those rich words that really cannot be adequately summarized in one word. it basically means “reason.” Christ is the logos. God’s Word is the logos. We get our word logic from this Greek word. Fundamentally, logos refers to everything that can be said about an issue. The preacher’s priority must be the logos. God gave the preacher a message he must deliver; that is the logos.

So, the message has preeminence, not the preacher, and not the audience. Misplacing the priorities leads to many of the errors that plague us today. When the preacher has preeminence, the audience gets treated to fine displays of rhetorical fireworks, showmanship, and theatrics. When the audience gets preeminence, entertainment becomes of primary importance. The service features bands, dramas, fifteen minute “talks,” and theatre seating. The Who plays over the fine speaker system at the coffee shop in the lobby, while members kick back in couches sipping cappuccino and doing Thomas Kinkaid puzzles. Purpose Driven Drivel® is all around.

But the fact that the message takes priority does not insure against misplaced priorities. Within the message, the rhetoric can easily displace the message. Presentation is important, necessary in fact. But the presentation is not the message. The Word is the message. By all means, we must deliver THAT. The Captain of our Salvation gave us the message. We must deliver the message He gave. That would be His Word, and not our opinion about the message. We are ambassadors. We cannot speak for ourselves.

So, the preacher must preach the Word as it is and not as he wants it. He must take time to prepare his presentation of the Word, preparing it in such a way that his audience will be moved. We all know that vegetables are healthy. So why not simply throw them all in a blender with a little water, and drink? Presentation is important. We should neither garnish a plate of twinkies, nor serve up bland servings of health food. Cook the meat, flavor it, and then serve it to the people. And don’t forget the sides. We want the sides too. Corn and all.

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Categories: Mallinak, Preaching
  1. October 14, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    I’ve got a serious comment later for sure, well, unless the rapture takes place and I’m brought to the huge puzzle room. I’m not going to tell you the last time I saw a Kinkaid puzzle. We don’t have any around here. We have Patton and Iwo Jima puzzles, puzzles put out by the NRA of famous guns; you know soft, flower petal stuff.

  2. October 15, 2006 at 9:31 am

    That’s so NICE…

  3. October 15, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

    2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

  4. October 16, 2006 at 9:58 am

    All the dogs in Thomas Kinkaid’s world are the poopless variety. — Joost Nixon

  5. October 16, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    I agree with this article completely, and it had an almost perfect balance. Audience considered, preacher considered, but most of all the message considered, not leaving out the first two, but emphasizing the third.

  6. October 16, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    “poopless variety.” …I laughed till my gut hurt!

  7. October 17, 2006 at 11:14 am

    My wife and I decided to get a Thomas Kinkaid dog. We are tired of cleaning up after ours. So, we are looking for a dog with that special light in its eye…

  8. Bobby Mitchell
    October 17, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    The difference between Maine and California:

    Kent has puzzles about guns.

    We’ve got guns.

    And we know how to use ’em!

    P.S. We use Kincaid puzzles for targets!

  9. October 17, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    Bobby, You should have come to our family camp.

  10. October 17, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    Many of the Thomas Kinkade paintings I saw in the puzzles in Utah were of scenery in Maine. He must feel welcome in that state.

  11. Bobby Mitchell
    October 18, 2006 at 10:30 am

    Maybe Maine has Kinkade scenery, but you have San Francisco.

    Case Closed.

  12. October 18, 2006 at 11:38 am

    I think your tone needs a check, pal. We only get nasty around here with nasty people, and I think you’re getting nasty. So I am too. We want warm, glowing light seeping out of this blog, all over the place. We want you to have warm, fuzzy feelings about San Francisco.

    Besides, Bobby, you left off the Nah-Nah, Na-Nah, Na! on the end of your post. Definitely a no-no here on the blog that prefers chunks to chips.

  13. Bobby Mitchell
    October 18, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Oops. I forgot to put the little smiley at the end. Didn’t we all learn from SI that you can pretty much say whatever you want as long as you put the “big-cheesy-grin” smiley at the end?

    I agree 100% with all of you!

    Some of my friends like Kinkade and some of my friends don’t. I agree with my friends.

    Is that better?

    I’m starting to sound like a Young Fundamentalist!

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