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Understanding Ethos

Recently I was discussing leadership with a friend in the gym (not during the workout, of course; that’s gainzzz time!) and he told me of an experience he had that might sound familiar to you. Apparently, a while back this friend took a leadership seminar from a man who he knew was a poor leader. Not surprisingly, it didn’t go well. Whenever we see a disconnect between the character of the speaker and the content of his message, the teaching falls flat.

In the first sermon in our Resilient series on 1 Thessalonians, Pastor Mike spoke of the classic three elements of rhetoric—or persuasive speech—which explain the phenomenon my friend experienced. As summarized at PathosEthosLogos.com, Aristotle taught that persuasive speech would include logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos was the logical appeal, pathos was the emotional appeal, and ethos was the ethical appeal (that is, the appeal to the character and credibility of the speaker). Under this framework the failure of the seminar my friend attended was essentially a failure of ethos.

Because of the contemporary usage of the word training, we might think that training resources, like the ones offered on this page, should be skill-oriented. Indeed, if you view the resources on the page, you will see many posts that touch on disciple-making skills. However, as authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne indicate in their fascinating book The Trellis and the Vine, when the word training occurs in the New Testament, the heart of the matter is growth in godly character. For example, Marshall and Payne cite 1 Timothy 4:7, which says: “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness” (ESV).

While we might not make an explicit appeal to our own character when sharing a message, our character and integrity speak without words and are either consistent or inconsistent with what we say. This syncs well with the concept of training primarily as development of godly character, not mastery of skills or techniques. Skills are very important, but they aren’t the foundation of disciple-making. Without a heart surrendered to Christ, the disciple-maker’s life undercuts his message and presentation.

As a result, we want to make sure our training resources help develop godly character as well as ministry skills. In that vein we present below two penetrating questions to help you assess how well you are being trained, in the biblical sense:

  • “If the people I’m investing in relationally could instantly have the character I have, in what ways would this be an upgrade for them?”
  • “What areas of my life are becoming more aligned with the message I share?”

Take some time and prayerfully consider these questions, and if you feel led to leave a response in our comment section below, please do!

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5 Responses

  1. Juan says:

    Terrific piece. Challenges me to make sure my ethos is top notch!

  2. Nathan Miles says:

    Beau,

    Great blog. I have read the Trellis and the Vine I would highly recommend it. Bottom line many ministries are happening but how many focus on heart of the matter is growth in godly character. This is the challenge and one to put prayerfully before the Lord.

    • Beau Stanley says:

      A helpful book, indeed. Activity does not equal Gospel growth. May we bear that in mind and have the wisdom to act accordingly.

  3. Zac says:

    This is great Beau! Make those gainzzzz

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