Writings on Christianity

How to Speak, How to Listen

I recently read through Mortimer Adler’s book “How to Speak, How to Listen.” I think there are lots of applications for pastors and preachers–we do a LOT of speaking and listening.

Drawing from Aristotle, Adler reminds us that effective persuasive speech contains the three elements of ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos is establishing a rapport with your audience: they can relate to you and they know that you understand them. Pathos refers to the emotional element: what you are saying has emotional weight and implications. Logos is the logical argument used to advance your claim: you are showing that your proposal is rational and reasonable.

I think a good sermon will also have these three elements.

ETHOS: our sermons ought to be spoken as coming from a posture of a fellow sinner saved by grace. We come as those also understand the hardships and difficulties of living in fallen world, as those who also submit to God’s Word, as those who also love God and want to love God more. Without ethos, we might come across as one who is “super-spiritual” or on another level of spirituality, or as someone who is has nothing to say.

PATHOS: our sermons ought to help our hearers feel what the text leads them to feel as we feel it ourselves. Our hearers need to see that we really believe what we are speaking and that it has shown itself in how we are emotionally impacted by it. The sermon has stirred our affections. Without pathos, the sermon will be dry or unconvincing.

LOGOS: our sermons ought to come across of reasonable and logical. Persuasive preaching will be logical and rationally persuasive.

In addition to these elements, Adler makes a good point about the speaker delighting in what he is presenting. A good lecturer [or preacher!] must show an interest or excitement in the content being delivered: “sense of novelty should be heightened by the sense that the speaker is discovering for the first time the truths he is expounding. The skill of lecturers in dramatizing the moments of discovery will draw listeners into the activity of discovering the truths to be learned.” (55)

Finally, I also found this quote helpful to the task of preaching: “For effectiveness in persuasion, it is not enough to be clear, cogent, and coherent, however desirable all these qualities are. The thinking you have done privately and are now publicly articulating in your speech must have emotional force as well as intellectual power. The minds of your audience must be moved as well as instructed, and their emotions, stirred by your own, are needed to do the moving.” (59)

Overall, I think this is a really useful book for pastors and preachers.

By Tom Schmidt

Christian, husband of Rach, Church Planter,musician,

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