Lecture 8 – Vocal Powers

Back to Lessons

Audio  |   Video  |   Lecture Outline

C. The preacher’s vocal powers and their employment in the act of preaching

1. The relative importance of the vocal powers in preaching.

a. In relationship to the vital, consistent, and growing Christian character of the preacher, the vocal powers are of secondary importance.

1) Explanation

It is a well known truism that “What you are and what you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear a word that you say.”

It is for this reason that the primary biblical requirements for the office of an elder are those that point to the necessity for a vital, consistent, mature, and balanced Christian character.

1 Tim. 3:1-7
Titus 1:5-9
2 Cor. 4:2b

2) Application

Whatever we may be constrained to do after these lectures in order to exercise and develop our vocal powers, such disciplines must always take second place to the command of Paul to Timothy in 1Tim. 4:7-“exercise yourself unto godliness.”

b. In relationship to the content of our preaching, the vocal powers of the preacher are also of secondary importance.

1) Explanation

If our view of preaching is taken from the Scriptures, we are persuaded that the clear, accurate, proclamation and application of the Scriptures is of the very essence of preaching.

2 Tim. 4:2
Is. 8:20

Our job description is succinctly stated in

2 Tim. 2:15

Bad content, well delivered, can only advance the cause of error and ignorance.

Rom. 16:18
2 Pet. 2:18

2) Application

It is absolutely crucial, that you constantly remember that everything I say from here to the conclusion of the next lecture rests down upon these first two qualifying principles concerning the relative importance of the use of our vocal powers in relationship to the life of the preacher and the substance of what he preaches

If we fail to keep in mind the relative importance of the voice in relationship to the preacher’s life and to the measure of truth he proclaims, our motives and endeavors in vocal culture will leave us vulnerable to soul-destructive deviations from biblical norms, both in our lives and in our labors, and in our hearers.

Always remember the simple little principle, that with respect to preaching, “Character and content take precedence over voice.”

Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), pp. 152-153. (Quote from page 291 is found on page 153)

Rev. James Stalker, The Preacher and His Models, (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Sons, 1891), pp. 167-168.

Robert L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), p. 261.

c. Relative to the actual activity of preaching, the vocal powers are of supreme and critical importance.

John A. Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005), p. 483.

Although physical action or animation ordinarily constitute a vital part of effective preaching; although eye contact and sensitivity to the mutually generated current between preacher and congregation are also a vital part of effective preaching; none of these things can displace the use of the voice from its position of primacy of importance in the activity of preaching.

Charles H. Spurgeon, “On the Voice” in Lectures to My Students, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), pp. 125-126.

John C. Ryle, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), pp. 201-202.

2. The moral necessity for having a conscious concern for and practical engagement in the deliberate cultivation of our vocal powers as preachers of the Word of God.

a. I have wrestled much and pondered long before using the words “the moral necessity” in connection with this concern of cultivating our vocal powers.

b. I am conscious that the words “moral necessity” bring us into the theater of the human conscience and its function to declare our actions either right or wrong – sinful, or virtuous.

c. Fully aware that to touch the conscience with anything other than the revealed will of God, is to be guilty of a grievous sin-the very sin for which our Lord condemned the religious leaders of his day – namely, “binding burdens grievous to be borne,” and of ” teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

d. However, in this hour I am unashamedly attempting to make you feel Holy Spirit conviction and truth-based guilt if you have no conscious concern about the use and cultivation of your vocal powers as a preacher.

e. Furthermore, I trust that God will bring you to a place of thorough repentance and reformation in this area of seeking increased ministerial usefulness, all to God’s glory and to the spiritual benefit of your hearers.

f. Consider with me then a threefold case for the moral necessity to cultivate our vocal powers.

a. The moral pressure of the Golden rule

Mt. 7:12

Apply the text to this matter about the use of the voice.

Ask yourself the following questions: Do you like to hear the Word of God preached to you by a man who having made himself aware of the various elements of his vocal powers is consistently cultivating them and assiduously employing them in order to make his preaching as edifying, gripping, and pleasing as possible?

Eccl. 12:10
1 Cor. 14: 8-9

Do you like to listen to a preacher who is constantly using a nervous “uh,” or who is constantly dropping his voice to the point where you cannot get the full predicate of his sentences- or who engages in an irritating sustained roaring that causes pain to your ears- or a man who speaks in a garbled, and articulate, poorly enunciated pattern of speech?

Surely, brethren, as you would not be spoken to in this way, do not speak to your hearers in such a manner. I hope you feel the pressure – the moral pressure – of the Golden rule upon your conscience. Remember, that the “Golden rule” is the sum of the moral and ethical demands of the entirety of “The law and the prophets.”

b. The moral pressure of the mandate to seek the maximum edification of our hearers.

In Paul’s treatment of spiritual gifts- and especially the gifts of tongues and prophecy- both gifts of utterance, the over arching and dominant concern is expressed in 1 Cor. 14:12 and 1 Cor. 14:26b.

Now within that overarching and primary concern, nothing is more critical than what is said in verse nine. The central issue is that of speaking in such a way that we will be easy to be understood.

That demand relates directly to the use of our vocal powers. Such things as volume, articulation, pacing, vocabulary, etc. are all involved in speaking in such a way that we are “easy to be understood.”

Therefore, if I am passionately committed to the exercise of my gifts in such a way as to be conducive to maximum edification, I must have a conscious concern for, and be practically engaged in, the deliberate cultivation of my vocal powers!

c. The moral pressure of general revelation

General revelation is just that. It is revelatory data – it contains truths concerning God, man, and the world about us and the world within us. These are the things that constitute the “stuff” of general revelation.

Romans 1:18 ff.

Romans 2:15.

So clear and morally binding is the data of general revelation, that it leaves men who have never had special revelation utterly “without excuse” and lying under the judgment of God when it is violated in those ethical demands imprinted upon our very constitution.

Hence, Paul’s words -1 Cor. 11:14, “Does not nature itself teach you?” Or again, Paul’s words in Romans 1 that men are condemned because they “Do that which is against nature”, and his words in 2 Tim. 3:3 “Without natural affection.”

What are the valid principles of elocution but the dictums (dicta for all Latin buffs!) of general revelation-dictums which the giver of that revelation demands that we receive and consciously respect when engaging in oral public discourse?

William Russell, Pulpit Elocution, (Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1878), p. 18.

Joshua H. McIlvaine, Elocution: The Sources and Elements of Its Power, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895), pp. 180-183.


God has given to every preacher, three great instruments and tools to accomplish his task. One is his head, another his heart, but the third is his tongue or his voice.

Would you want to be ministered to by a man who used only one half of his head or one half of his heart in that ministry? No, you want a man to minister to you who has engaged his whole mind in his preparation and now in his preaching. You want a preacher who engages all of his heart in his preparation and his preaching. However, many of us settle for only half of the use of our God-given faculties of speech. We are robbing God of one of the demands of the First Commandment; namely, that we are to “love the Lord our God with all of our … strength,” even the strength inherent in all the mysterious powers of speech.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top