Lecture 9 – Employment of Vocal Powers

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3. An identification and description of the various vocal powers


1) Negatively stated: None of the God- given dimensions of our vocal powers should be omitted or poorly regulated in the act of preaching.

2) Positively stated: All of the God-given dimensions of our vocal powers ought to be wisely employed in the service of God’s truth.

a) I am not about to identify all the parts of our physiology that are involved in the act of preaching.

b) Different writers on this subject list a different number of organs and bodily parts which ought to be fully engaged in all effective public speaking. One author I read named up to 30!

c) However, no list of such organs and bodily functions involved in the discipline of public speaking would omit the stomach muscles, the diaphragm, lungs, larynx, nasal cavities, tongue, teeth, and lips as essential parts in anything approaching effective oral discourse to a group of people.

d) What then are those basic elements wrapped up in our vocal powers?

e) Well, while not claiming any technical expertise in this field, the things I have gleaned from my reading, observation and experience lead me to identify at least seven such elements.

a.  Volume or force

In addressing this aspect of the use of our voices, I can do no better than to quote R. L. Dabney.

 Robert L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), pp. 304-305.

The excessively sustained loud volume of some men, not only hurts the ears of their listeners, it also dulls the mind to any real impression of the truth that ought to be pondered.


Broadus wisely and a bit sarcastically remarks: “Long passages of bawling, relieved only by occasional bursts into a harrowing scream, are in every sense hurtful to all concerned” (page 493.)

Likewise, the excessively sustained whisper is irritating and dulls the mind to the impression which a well-placed and sufficiently vocally sustained “stage whisper” ought to make upon one’s hearers.

The “stage whisper” of a consummate actor is heard with clarity by the last person in the last row of the theater.  My good friend Pastor Jack Seaton once wrote an article entitled “Please, Preacher, Don’t Whisper.”

Is. 58:1; and Jn. 7:37

Charles H. Spurgeon, “On the Voice” in Lectures to My Students, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), p. 131.

b. Compass or Range

This refers to the ability of the human voice to go from high to low tones and back again.

Generally speaking, the upper range most often expresses emotional excitement, while the lower range generally expresses more somber or reflective thought.

ILL. Two waiting rooms: good news in one, bad news in another.

c.  Melody

This refers to the movement of the voice from one range to another.

It is the opposite of the older computer voice.

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

d. Emphasis

In this, I am referring to the coloring or highlighting of words.

It may be a combination of volume, pitch, or pacing.

ILL. Mary had a little lamb.

e. Distinctness

By this I mean giving to each part of a word its due pronunciation, and enunciation.

I refer as well to the separation of words by pronouncing all the consonants. Words must not “piggy-back” one another in garbled, indistinct succession.

 Robert L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), pp. 305, 306.

Anyone committed to speak with unmistakably clear distinctiveness will soon find out that he must bring to the service of speaking, not only his tongue and his teeth, but also his lips as well.

See Isaiah 6 and many verses in Proverbs where “The lips “are a metonymy for the whole speech process.

Listening to some men in the way in which they pour out indistinct speech, one would think that they had professional training in a school for ventriloquists!

Charles H. Spurgeon, “On the Voice” in Lectures to My Students, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), pp. 140-141.

f.  Speed or Tempo

We must seek to ascertain what I would call our “median efficient speed.” Having determined that, we may speed up or slow down, and yet still be within the range of being heard with pleasure.

This “median speed” should not be frustratingly slow, or discouragingly fast.

ILL. The pace of a drugged elephant plodding through thick trees/Contrast the pace of the preacher Spurgeon described as a man speaking at the speed commensurate with a “horse who has a hornet in his ear!!!”


g. Intensity

This is a dimension of verbal communication that is hard to define, but is very obvious when we encounter it.

 Robert L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), pp. 312-313.

Give the example by using the sentence: “I cannot and I will not deny the truth”.


    1. I urge you my brothers, to think of these seven elements of your vocal powers and to ask yourself, “Am I cultivating all of these marvelous powers so that they will come to my aid and serve me as I serve my Lord in the preaching of the Word?”
    2. Ask yourself, “Who made us with the capacity to express these seven aspects of oral communication? Who made us so that our ears can discern these different dimensions and nuances of speech and to respond appropriately to them?”
    3. I am not suggestg that we enter our pulpits with a seven point checklist, and think of these things in the actual act of preaching.
    4. Rather, I am urging you to engage in an honest evaluation of your rhetorical strengths and weaknesses while outside the pulpit.  Having done this, I am urging you to make conscious endeavors to increase and maximize your native and acquired strengths, and
    5. labor to diminish and correct your native and acquired weaknesses.
    6. Since we live in the advent of recorded sermons, listen to yourself with these things in mind and enter into honest self-criticism.  Periodically I still do this after 58 years of preaching. Is it a humbling exercise? Of course. But, it is helpful.
    7. Dabney has wisely stated the issue in this way: “Perpetual vigilance is the only condition of right rhetorical action.” He wrote these words at the end of the section of his lectures on the use of the voice in our preaching.
    8. Ask a discerning brother to help you in this process of self-criticism.


4.  Practical guidelines for the regulation and cultivation of our vocal powers

a. General Counsels Concerning the Use of the Voice

1) Avoid all vocal affectations.

Charles H. Spurgeon, “On the Voice” in Lectures to My Students, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), pp. 126-127.

2) Correct all vocal distractions where possible.

Some things in your vocal mannerisms that may be very “natural” to you, may well be very “naturally irritating” or distracting to others.

The effects of sin have penetrated the totality of our humanity.  The result is that there are “kinks” in all of our faculties. Some of them are manifested in our vocal patterns.

It is our privilege and responsibility to seek to work out those kinks to the end that we may have a maximum measure of usefulness in the preaching of the Word of God.

3) Cultivate sufficient volume so as to be heard commandingly and comfortably.

1 Cor. 14:9

Recognize the fact that this speech is not pillow talk, or parlor talk but it is public speaking.

ILL. The difference

4) Cultivate a variety of tone, pace, intensity and of volume.  At this point I can do no better than to let the Prince of Preachers speak to us in his inimitable way, bringing together these very issues.

Charles H. Spurgeon, “On the Voice” in Lectures to My Students, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), pp. 131, 132.

5) Cultivate distinctness of enunciation and correctness of pronunciation.

Explain the concept of enunciation.
Explain the concept of pronunciation.

Specific issues:

1. The consonants-

Charles H. Spurgeon, “On the Voice” in Lectures to My Students, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), p. 141.

2. The vowels-

Robert L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), pp. 305-306.


b. Specific Suggestions for Continuous Vocal Culture

1)  Attempt to give 15 minutes a day for specific voice culture.

2)  Engage in some good cardio-vascular exercise regularly.

3)  Practice increasing your lung capacity.

4)  If you minister to a relatively small congregation in a small building, do not use voice amplification. Use a microphone only for recording so that you may become fully aware of your vocal powers and become accustomed to using them to their full potential.


c. Concluding exhortations

1)  Do not spare yourself the real labor of fully engaging all the faculties connected with an effective use of your vocal powers.

Stomach muscles
Tongue, teeth, and lips

2)  Welcome the input of competent critics and engage in the practical disciplines essential to continuous progress in vocal efficiency. Remember that your constant goal is expressed in 1 Tim. 4:15

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