A Real Three-Point Sermon (Preaching Point #19)

This entry is part 19 of 21 in the series Preaching Points

Over the years I’ve taught preaching in university courses and mentored a number of preaching apprentices and preachers-in-training.  This series summarizes some of the most basic yet most useful preaching points I’ve emphasized in these settings.

I hope you’ll join the fantastic Jim Martin and me as we teach “Preaching That Connects” at Harding School of Theology (Memphis, TN) Feb. 28-Mar. 7, 2013.  This D. Min. course promises to be practical and inspiring.

Preaching Point #19: Each sermon should utilize strategies that point toward ethos listeners, logos listeners and pathos listeners.

Traditionally it was said that a sermon should have three points.  In reality, a sermon should point toward three kinds of listeners.  Ronald J. Allen (“How do People Listen to Sermons?” Preaching 21:1 (July-August, 2005): 52-55) found that, ideally, a sermon should take into account at least three different kinds of listeners.  After interviewing over 260 people who regularly listen to sermons in 28 congregations, Allen found that different people listen for different things when it comes to evaluating sermons.  Allen asked questions regarding how listeners’ responses to sermons are affected by perceptions of the character of the preacher (ethos), the content of the sermon (logos) and feelings stirred by the sermon (pathos).  He found that different people identify one of these as the key for making the sermon a good sermon. That is, for some ethos is what makes a good sermon; for others logos, etc.

Ethos: the person who listens through ethos settings experiences the sermon through his/her perception of the character of, and relationship with, the preacher. This listener will respond positively to preachers who demonstrate they labor on the congregation’s behalf, demonstrating care, diligence, and integrity.

Logos: the person who listens through logos settings is most engaged by the content of the sermon.

Pathos: the person who listens to the sermon through a pathos setting must be stirred at the level of feeling. Without a pathos experience this listener does not feel that she or he has heard a complete sermon.

Thus, for a sermon to have an optimum opportunity to connect with a maximum number of listeners, a preacher should include material that speaks to all three settings.  Preachers will need to stretch outside the settings they are comfortable with in order to get a hearing from some in the congregation.

How about you?  How do you preach for listeners who filter the sermon through ethos? Logos?  Pathos?


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