As a pastor, I prepare and deliver public speeches on a weekly basis, and I love it! There is little that brings me more joy than to teach and preach God’s word and to see people radically changed by its truth. I was 12 years old when I preached my first sermon at a little church in Richmond, Virginia. Barely able to see over the wooden pulpit, I glanced around the room, refusing to make eye contact. My knees were knocking, my mouth was dry, my hands were shaking, but with a rush of energy, I lifted my squeaky, high voice and preached about the need to share Jesus with others. I’m sure it was a terrible sermon! But hey, everyone has to start somewhere! Since then, I have preached over a thousand times, in hundreds of different churches, and in various settings.
In a summer ministry, I had the honor of coaching ministerial students how to preach effectively to teenagers. It is so rewarding to see a person go from being boring, awkward, and stiff to engaging, confident, and dynamic. Another teacher of teachers, Aristotle, used five rhetorical appeals to train his students in the art of persuasion. In many ways, the current literature on public speaking can be traced back to an Aristotelian school of thought. Here, I give Aristotle’s rhetorical appeals but in the context of a Christian speaker.
Ethos | The Speaker
Ethos is the Greek term for ethics. It is an appeal based on the speaker’s social status and knowledge. It came to represent the credibility of the person delivering a speech. Ethos is established through various factors, including the speaker’s education, experience, presentation, credible research, awareness, appropriateness, and endorsement. Ethos is vital in establishing trust between the speaker and his audience.
Christian ethos is, first, a life worthy of the gospel under the lordship of Christ, and second, a life that displays the discipline of studying the scriptures and carefully expositing them (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-4:3). Paul told Timothy “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching (1 Timothy 4:16).” A person that speaks on God’s behalf must possess godly character if he is to maintain credibility.
Questions to ask: Did I do anything that diminished my credibility as a speaker? Was my content accurate? Did I establish trustworthiness through eye contact and confident gestures? Did I come across as humble or arrogant? Did the audience feel comfortable with me? Did I cite appropriately any sourced material?
Logos | The Message
Logos is the Greek term for logic. It is an appeal to a person’s sense of reason. It came to represent the credibility of the speaker’s message through a carefully-crafted, well-reasoned, and well-researched presentation. Good Logos-based rhetoric possesses excellent content and is well-organized. Logos is used to convince the audience that what they are hearing and seeing is reliable and is worth their time.
A Christian communicator’s goal is to give a message that is not only clear and cohesive but that also follows the logic and emphasis of the text of scripture (2 Timothy 4:2). Our responsibility is to explain what the text meant to the original audience and how it applies to our current context. The scripture is forthright about the responsibility of the teacher to communicate God’s truth carefully (2 Timothy 4:1, James 3:1, 2 Timothy 2:15).
Questions to ask: Did I teach the passage faithfully? Was my presentation clearly and logically presented? Did I transition well between points? Was the speech cohesive?
Pathos | The Audience
Pathos is the Greek term for passion or emotion. It is an appeal directed towards the audience’s sensibilities. It represents how the audience feels or how the audience experiences a message. The rhetorical appeal is to evoke an emotional response that persuades the audience to act based on what was communicated.
The Christian teacher’s goal is to communicate not just the text but also the tone. Compelled by Christ’s love, we seek to persuade our audience to respond to God’s word in faith. Biblical preaching urges, encourages, provokes, rebukes, and exhorts with patience (2 Timothy 4:3, Hebrews 10:25).
Questions to ask: Did I communicate the tone of the text effectively? Did I connect with the audience? Did I lead people to the appropriate response persuasively? Remember, God changes the heart.
Telos | The Purpose
Telos is the Greek term for fulfilling the purpose of something or someone. It is an appeal that makes clear the desired end of a speech. Having a clear telos will help the audience understand what they are listening to and how they need to respond to the information given. In current discussions about public speaking, many will state the necessity of having a clear telos by communicating that every speech needs a clear proposition. The speaker should not only know the proposition, but he should also state it in his message. If the speaker cannot clearly and succinctly state the telos of his speech, he is not ready to give it.
For a Christian communicator, the telos should be discovered within the passage being taught. In other words, the speaker doesn’t need to devise the telos; he simply needs to deliver it with clarity. The purpose of the passage should be the purpose of the message. If a speaker misses a detail or two but conveys the purpose of the text, the message can still be successful. But if he covers the details but fails to make the purpose of the passage clear, that message was a failure. Good teaching drives home the telos! A skilled speaker learns to craft the proposition in such a way that it is both simple and memorable. It is also important to note that the Bible has an overarching telos that points to Jesus, and good teaching works to make sense of the immediate passage in light of the whole of scripture (Luke 24:27, Acts 8:35).
Questions to ask: Did I communicate the point of the passage? Did I bring the message to a clear conclusion? If I ask a congregant what the point of the message was, could they state it confidently? Did I connect the immediate passage to the meta-narrative?
Kairos | The Setting
Kairos is the Greek term for appropriateness of time, setting, and place. The ancient Greeks had two words for time: Chronos (χρόνος) and kairos. The former refers to chronological or sequential time, while the latter signifies a proper or opportune time for action. The speaker should tailor the speech to fit the setting appropriately. He should consider the topic, the length of the speech, the audience present, and the overall setting.
According to Proverbs, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver (Proverbs 25:11).” This speaks to the immense value and memorable beauty of words used skillfully. The Proverbs also speaks about the refreshing quality of a timely word. Skilled speakers learn to craft their message appropriately to the audience and setting. They learn to hone their message so that every word counts.
Questions to ask: Was my sermon appropriate for the setting? Was my message too long? Was there any unnecessary content?
Next time you have the opportunity to speak, be sure to consider Ethos, Logos, Pathos, Telos, Kairos.