Ten Rhetorical Reminders . . . .

reminder 2

Down To The Last Fifty! — The aim has been to post an article every day for a year, Monday through Friday — and we are at #200, with 50 days left.  These articles on rhetorical techniques will be complete around July-2018*

There are 121 “in the hopper” – drafts – which are at the beginning stages. Some are just a kernel connected to a particular speech or message which I have listened to, and others are almost finished.

Meanwhile, I am repeatedly going back to some of the previous ones and adding to them.  Sometimes, I provide another example of a rhetorical technique or concept from yet others speeches and messages.  I listen to about 120 speeches and/or messages a month.  As I listen, I am often reminded of a technique which I previously attempted to quantify.  That causes me to go back to and to add another example — in fact, I am doing that today with “”I’m Not Buying It.”


The goal of writing and posting these articles has been to make the reader aware of what “Classical Rhetorical Theory” offers to those who speak and preach.  Classical theorist such as Aristotle (who wrote three books on public speaking), Plato, Qunitillian, and Cicero all inform modern-day practitioners about methods which are typically unknown to many teachers of homiletics.

While I have tried not to be repetitious, I realize that if you have not read some of the earlier or previous articles, you may well miss what is being “quantified.”  That is surely the case when it comes to “topoi.”  The articles highlighting a particular “topos” provide less and less “definitional information” as we move from the first discussion of “topoi” to #198 just this week.


Overall, here are “Ten Reminders” which highlight some of the key concepts I have both addressed and also sought to develop and expand upon throughout the 200 articles.

#1) The Nature Of Expository Preaching:

Expository preaching is not a verse by verse running commentary on a passage of Scripture.  That should be done, in the study, but is the preliminary step to preaching.  Preaching takes more than that and that is why there is a meaningful difference between a variety of men preach who preach on the same passage.   Some understand better than others as to how to drive the truth or Big Idea of the passage.

Preaching is not the same as writing a commentary.  Nor is preaching is the audio version of a commentary.  The essence of expository preach is that one has truly “exposed” the point of the passage.

“The people think of a running commentary on a chapter is expository preaching. I don’t think that’s necessarily expository preaching at all.”    — Dick Lucas


#2) Variety:

There are a variety of ways to structure a sermon, layout ideas, frame a truth or principle, explain, illustrate, apply, and connect with an audience.

Variety ought to be a conscious goal when it comes to “serial speakers” who are tasked with speaking to a “serial audience.”  It is the fact that most all preachers are “serial speakers” and their audience is a “serial audience,” that ramps up the need for variety.

The “serial audience” is well anticipating the way a preacher will begin the message, or structure the sermon, or illustrate a point, and/or is about to conclude.  The audience can easily go into a “mental cruise” and multi-task as they listen.

The various techniques examined in these articles offer a variety of ways to inject change, movement, color, contrast, emphasis, and/or harmony in a speech or message.

Note: Evangelists, revivalists, seminar speakers, and the like do not need to be as concerned with variety.  They have the unique privilege of learning how to “hone” in on the most effective methods of communication if they are keen on “hearing” the audience feedback over time!

Pastors who preach several services have that opportunity, but it is a very small window of opportunity for one particular message on a Sunday morning.


#3) Memoria:

“Memoria” is one of the five canons of Classical Rhetorical Theory.  It does not speak of “memorizing” a speech or a message.  It has nothing to do with “preaching without notes.”

Rather, it is about the retaining information, ideas, illustrations, arguments, topoi, etc. which can be called upon for later and repeated use.

For instance, being able to call up a simple biblical sketch of the dividing of the kingdom after Solomon, or a more expansive delineation of the Greek influence during New Testament days.


#4) Topoi:

Topoi are one of the most important concepts of Classical Rhetorical Theory.  They are mental places where one can go to develop, expand, create, and/or amplify a point.

The concept of topoi is basically unknown to today’s homiletics or pulpit speech teachers (and many a professor of public address).  It is an abstract concept which is hard to explain until repeated examples are provided.

It is an invaluable tool for pastors who do not have the advantage of being able to sit around a table with other members of the pastoral staff and “brainstorm” ways to preach and teach a passage.  If you are the “sole pastor” in a local church setting, a list of “topoi” can get your mind thinking about different ways to expand, develop, illustrate, begin, arrive at a way to state the Big Idea, etc.


#5) Quantifying Rhetorical Techniques:

It is possible to listen to other speakers and preachers and quantify what is being done —  rhetorically.   When one is able to quantify, he can then reproduce the technique —  not a repeating of the content but the technique!  It can then be applied to other passages!

We can not only think, we can think about our thoughts.  Likewise, we can not only hear something which was done effectively, but we can figure out what was just done.

That is the aim of listening to different speakers, and delineating what and how something was said which made it impacting.  The listener needs to go back and deconstruct and quantify what was done so that the pattern can be reused.  A “template” can be created for later usefulness!


#6) Non-Verbal Communication:

Non-verbal communication is often the unseen killer of ministries, pastors, and effectiveness in preaching.  There are clear non-verbal messages which are sent and received over time!  While a “serial audience” is initially desirous of giving a lot of room for possible misunderstandings and interpretations regarding the non-verbal, over time, the “potentially misunderstood” becomes what is read as “real!”

Candidly and simply, “the reality” is what the speaker is actually saying non-verbally, regardless of the words which are verbally spoken!

Effective speakers and preachers are keenly aware of the non-verbal messages being communicating to his audience.

He also understands that the volume of the non-verbal messages he is communicating only increases over time by repetition!


#8) Preaching Is About Relationships:

If you fall into the category of a “serial speaker” who is heard by a “serial audience” your relationship with the audience will seriously impact the reception of your message.

If you are a “hit and run” speaker, which falls into the category of evangelists, visiting speakers, seminar or workshop leaders, or special meeting preachers, then your relationship to the members of the audience are far less significant.  The audience will make decisions more on your ability to speak, than your personal relationship to them.

However, serial preachers have no such advantage.  When you don’t have a relationship with your listeners, or you damage your relationship with some or many of them, you have stepped onto the road of ineffective leadership.

Without a relationship with the “listeners” in a local church setting . . . .

  • you will struggle with impacting lives
  • you will have to use your position and/or authority to move and motivate
  • you may well find yourself resorting to brow-beating and guilt to get people to respond
  • you will create a small circle of “friends” which will tell you what you want to hear
  • you will create a circle of “friends” who will not tell you what you really need to hear, and is being said by those outside that circle — the church
  • you will create a small circle of “friends” who cannot hurt you, but also who cannot help you in times of crisis.
  • you will isolate yourself rather than excite others
  • etc.

Preaching to people without a relationship with them is sterile and it shows itself in many varied and numerous ways.


#9) Vocal Variety & Eye Contact:

Vocal Variety and eye contact are often missing elements of homiletical effectiveness in the earliest years of speaking and preaching.  In such cases an audience excuses it, realizing that “they are young” or “new at this.”

Nevertheless, it becomes more and more inexcusable if an audience is required to listen to such speakers over time.  There must be a fairly fast and reasonable learning curve when it comes to this early tendency!

Vocal variety and eye contact are related and do go together.  Reader’s typically lack vocal variety.  That is why you can even “see” a speaker reading a message as you listen to only an audio version of a message.

If you believe that your audience wants to be read to, or does not care whether or not a speaker has good eye contact, you are tragically mistaken!

There is a reason that some speakers attract a “crowd” (maybe not build a church – but attract a crowd — I understand).  However, there is a reason they draw people to hear them, and it is not that they are boring in tone or presentation.


#10) You Are Not As Good As You Think You Are:

When it comes to public speaking,

there is one factor which kicks into overdrive

and it can prevent public speakers

from any real improvement!

  • Ego
  • Pride
  • Arrogance
  • Position (“I’m the pastor”)
  • Promotion
  • Recognition (people’s compliments)
  • Eliticism (not found only in politics)
  • Self-satisfaction
  • “Insulation-ism” (life in a bubble)

There is plenty of blame to spread around as to the cause of a speaker’s lack of humility and teachability.

When it comes to public speaking, there is a unique, and inherently strong resistance to change and criticism.  A lack of humility and teachability really shows up when it comes to the preaching.

Nevertheless, if this critical dynamic, which is at play, is not seen, grasped, and addressed, our growth and development in public speaking will be severely affected.

“Criticism” is not well-handled by public speakers and pastors.  Interestingly, the same dynamics which operate and apply to “criticism” also plays into becoming a more effective communicator.  The ability to listen to legitimate and/or illegitimate criticism affects a speaker’s ability to become more effective in communication and preaching!**

Pastor — You are not as good as you think you are!  

You need fair and unfair criticism!

[Read “I Wish You Bad Luck” by Chief Justice John Roberts]


*Technically, I am ahead of schedule having begun October 1, 2017 – and originally planned to end September 30, 2018.


**There is constructive criticism!

Whether we ever hear legitimate or illegitimate criticism, may be more of a reflection of our willingness to hear it.

#1) We do bear a responsibility for people not coming to us personally and expressing it.  We can communicate (verbally and non-verbally) that when someone expresses it, it is “over for them” — which comes in the form of numerous costumes.  The threat or use of a pastor’s power (a lot of discretionary powers) will shut down fair criticism.

#2) We as pastors also bear a meaningful part of the responsibility for communicating (verbally AND NON-VERBALLY) a sense of openness.  We as pastors may be “saying” to those who listen to us, week after week, that we are stubborn, unresponsive listeners.  Most people do not hold a “hand-grenade” more than once — twice at the most!

There is a shared responsibility which we as leaders all bear in the communication process.  “Speaking and Listening” is a two-way street!  Pastors cannot just dismiss criticism because they either wrap all criticism into one lump and/or because it was not said to them personally.

Pastors are a little too edgy about criticism!  There are comments all of us make to others (close friends, fellow pastors, spouses, other church leaders) which are honest attempts to get a handle on whether we are thinking wrong or right about this-or-that.  All of us need a helpful and faithful sounding board to help us sort out our thinking, to help understand, balance, evaluate, and/or gain clarity about our thinking and evaluations.  Not all of our “critical” concerns need be, nor should be, a cause for a conversation or confrontation with those who are the subject of the criticism.  After sharing legitimate or illegitimate concerns, a critic may get a different perspective and might even dismiss those critical concerns.  That happens to you, and it happens to others!  Relax pastors!



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