Late last year my attention was drawn to a website called “Klout: The Standard of Influence.” The website gives you a Klout Score and defines it like this: “The Klout Score measures a person’s overall online influence on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the most influential. Klout’s system analyzes multiple social networks based on your engagement.” This is obviously a play on the term clout, as in “that guy has a lot of clout.” What it means is “social influence” (not a five piece, million-album-selling all girl band from South Africa in the 1970s).
Aristotle saw the significance of something very similar to our modern idea of clout; he called it “ethos.” Ethos is the perceived character of a speaker, and he would argue it is determined most significantly, not by how many retweets or interactions you have, but by the concern you show for your listeners’ welfare. Aristotle’s belief (which has been confirmed in countless modern studies) was that ethos is the most powerful component of persuasion.1
Just so you know that I am not basing my reasoning on the Greeks alone, consider these words in God’s love letter to us:
- “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Timothy 2:15–16, 22–24).
- “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:7–8).
- “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way” (2 Corinthians 6:3–4).
- “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:26–27).
- “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13).
An important word not to be missed in the definition of ethos is “perceived.” It doesn’t matter what your heart’s intentions are, or what you are actually like; what matters to people as they consider what you say is how you are perceived. How often have we heard that old adage, “actions speak louder than words”? The truth is for many of us our ethos or RKS (Real Klout Score) is not determined by what people outside of our home think of us. Chapell says, “True character cannot be hidden, although it can be temporarily masked.”2 We may be able to mask our character a bit when we are at church, so that those we preach to think we are wonderful; we may be able to exercise considerable authority in a business meeting surrounded by colleges; we may even have a considerable amount of people asking advice on social media with the safe anonymity of the Internet. But why doesn’t your spouse think your sermons are the most wonderful thing since Spurgeon? Why don’t your children stand in awe of the strategy for home cleanup you have just proposed? Why don’t your family members share that pearl of wisdom you just gave them with one another?
There are a number of ways to answer this question, but the one I’d like to point out today is your RKS, which is only as high as your clout with the closest person to you, because you can’t hide your true character forever with those closest to you. They know if you are lazy, dishonest, or bad tempered. They hear the complaints that others don’t, hear the whining and see the sulking. All of that decreases your ethos with them. If you are a minister this is a very serious thing.
Many preaching books will state rather explicitly that a close walk with the Lord is vital to powerful and meaningful preaching. I think that humanly speaking that translates into our RKS or ethos. The closer we walk with Christ, the more our character is changed. This is sanctification. If while reading this you feel bad or discouraged then do read a little more.
The one who called you to preach, teach, parent, run a business or whatever it may be, had a RKS of 100; his ethos was out of this world. The thief on the cross acknowledged that he had done no wrong. He suffered a physical death that is dwarfed in comparison to the spiritual suffering he endured so that you might have life. His RKS is so influential as to be irresistible, and when he spoke to you by the inward call of the Holy Spirit, you were made alive. You were severely influenced. Rather than trying to mask your character, see the one whose character is beyond perfection yet chose to interact with you! Would you not want to know him more? Friend, as you get to know him more, your character will be changed.
Thus, the key to getting a good RKS, or a more powerful ethos, is to see Christ more clearly for who he is, and grow in that knowledge.