Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: The persuasive preacher

Pastor's Pastor: The persuasive preacher

Young preachers were overwhelmed by the unintended messages their voices, appearance, and mannerisms conveyed.

Floyd Bresee is the Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.

Preaching is persuasion. That may sound too secular, too manipulative. Not so. Every time you stand up to preach, you are hoping to persuade people of some Christian truth, to persuade them of its value, or to persuade them to act on that truth. Preaching is persuasion.

So how do you persuade people? The Greeks, who first developed public speaking as a fine art, insisted that there are only three proper means of persuasion available to the speaker. The first is logoslogic, argument. Most preachers like that one, but too many mistakenly assume that solid reasoning is all that's needed to persuade people.

The second means of persuasion is pathosemotion, feeling. We preachers may grudgingly admit that people are more likely to do something because of feeling than because of reasoning. We are very conscious, however, that emotion is dangerous. Logic without emotion produces few results. Emotion without logic can produce disastrous results. What we seek is a logic that engenders emotion.

But there is a third way a preacher persuades people. The Greeks called it ethosthe character of the speaker as perceived by the audience. Let's focus on this third mode of persuasion, which preachers so often overlook the character of the preacher as perceived by his congregation.

We see all three means of persuasion illustrated dramatically in every political election. Invariably, each candidate tells us about his program (logos), then he wraps himself in the flag or kisses a voter's baby (pathos). But through it all, voters are listening for something else. "What kind of man is he?" "Do I dare believe what he says?" "Can I trust him?" Unless a candidate can get most voters to answer those ethos questions positively, he's unlikely to get elected.

If a politician must convince his audience he is a good man before they will believe his message; how much more true is this of the preacher. Don't misunderstand. It's not that preachers are in a popularity contest. Their goal is to at tract their listeners to Christ, not to themselves. It's just that nobody is led to Christ by a person he doesn't like. Thus good audience rapport is a must for the preacherbut it's not easy. Here's why.

The messages about ourselves that we think we are sending are not necessarily the messages our listeners are receiving. When video recording was just becoming practical for amateur use, I was in graduate school, and I experimented with it as a means of teaching preaching. Eventually, the school where I taught made a video camera available. Now student preachers could see themselves just as their audiences saw them! It was exciting and somewhat helpful, but eventually we turned away from it. Young preachers were overwhelmed by the unintended messages their voices, appearance, and mannerisms conveyed. The ethos mes sages they had thought they were sending were so different from the messages they saw in themselves that they could hardly hear their own sermons.

Imagine that you have on your pulpit a little black box. Oh the box are listed character traits, each with a button under it. Beside the hymn racks in front of each worshiper are other black boxes, identical to yours except that they have little lights instead of buttons.

As you preach, you want your Congregation to view you as a congenial, caring person, so you reach down to your black box and push the button under Friendly. You do so, of course, assuming that Friendly will light up on your listeners' boxes, but instead, Gushy lights up before most of them. Press Tender at your pulpit, and Weak or Effeminate may come on in the pew. Send Spiritual, and they may receive Impractical or Square. Enthusiasm may come through as Emotionalism, Brilliant as Cocky, Scholarly as Dull or Aloof, and Dynamic as Angry. They aren't receiving what you think you're sending.

Now, you will always have some in your audience whose black boxes are so poorly wired that they get different mes sages from everyone else's. We can only try to understand and love these people. But if too many are receiving wrong ethos messages, then you are sending the wrong messages.

In a later column we'll look at some ways preachers can create a good ethos with their congregations. Remember, nobody is led to Christ by a person he doesn't like.

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Floyd Bresee is the Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.

January 1989

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