Aristotle’s Advice to Church Planters

Aristotle and church planting may never have been mentioned in the same sentence … the same book … previously – I don’t know. Even though most leaders in church planting that I have known would probably admit in a moment of stark honesty that they “didn’t give a chili-dip” about Greek philosophers, I dare say that most have been influenced by the Aristotelian method  whether they were cognizant of it or not.

The leadership of church planters – or any vision-caster for that matter – could be quite positively strengthened by Aristotle’s insights. His works contain the earliest known formal study of logic. His body of work had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic and Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages. It continues to influence Christian theology, especially the scholastic tradition. His foundational tenets related to ethics, though always influential, gained renewed interest with the more recent birth of “virtue” ethics. All aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy continue to be the object of active academic study today.

The trifecta of the Aristotelian method of communication and persuasion consists of logos (λόγος: argument from reason), ethos (ἦθος: persuasion through convincing listeners of one’s “moral” character), and pathos (πάθος: persuasion by means of emotional appeal or putting the hearer into a certain frame of mind). For an engineer like myself, it is tough to accept that logos is in most cases the least effective way to begin the vital practice of vision casting. I mean, lay out the logic – period. Why wouldn’t everyone embrace it? Even a little bit of group awareness and humility will inform the vision caster that logos alone just won’t cut it. In fact, in so many words, the best vision casters I’ve known use a recipe something like this: Start with pathos and ethos. Add a dash of logos to work in the concept or viewpoint. Then bring it home with a dose of pathos.

Jay Heinrichs of Greater Orange, NH puts it this way: “First, change the tense to the future. Second, find the pith of your vision message. Third, create the halo meaning the image that represents the best of how we see ourselves going forward.” Heinrichs is convinced that of the three most potent weapons for vision casting and persuasion, ethos or argument by character is the most effective and the key. Agree?