Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Preacher Mistakes 2

Another big mistake that many preachers make is using clever outlines.

The most common example is the use of alliteration in the outline (the key words all start with the same letter). Another device is using the first word of each point to spell a word (acronym). Another type of clever outline is where each point has the same basic structure with just one or two words changed.

Here's an example of the latter from The Maxwell Leadership Bible:

  1. Moses was alone with God.
  2. Moses was honest with God.
  3. Moses was hungry for God.
  4. Moses was broken by God.

These are rhetorical devices. They have their place in a stirring motivational or persuasive speech. But they are usually out of place in a sermon.

Alliteration is often used as a "memory aid," but it renders a sermon almost impossible to remember: "It was some word that begins with P."

Acronyms have the same inherent weakness. In addition, they usually require at least one of the points to be forced into the structure.

The outline with a strong parallel structure looks impressive as an outline, but it results in a sermon that is too "self-conscious."

I know that this last point is rather controversial and that I haven't made a convincing case for my position. I'm more than willing to discuss this in the comments. But the focus of the sermon should not be the outline, but the text itself.

Sometimes the first mistake and the second mistake are made together. The result is a complicated, cunning, convoluted cacophony.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"


Miss Bethany said...

When Daniel and I were visiting churches, we visited this awful one in which the speaker used the acronym SHAPE. I can't remember what it stood for, but just remember Daniel leaning over to me (while the speaker was on the letter H), saying, "I wish this was a shorter word." Hahahaha.

mark o wilson said...

The entire book of Lamentations consists of Hebrew alliteration. So do many of the Psalms.

Jesus, in the sermon on the mount said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit. . .
Blessed are the pure in heart. . .
Blessed are the meek. . .

Sounds like a strong parallel structure to me.

Pastor Rod said...


Thanks for taking the time to participate in the discussion.

Yes. There is a lot of alliteration in the Hebrew Scriptures, not so much in the New Testament. My point about alliteration is that it does the opposite of what it is intended to do (in a sermon). It is supposed to help people remember the content of the sermon. It tends to do just the opposite.

In poetry, the aim is entirely different.

Parallel structure works well for rhetoric, such as the Beatitudes. My problem is with using it for a sermon outline. There are two problems. The first is that the parallel structure tends to have the same affect as alliteration. Because they are so similar, it becomes harder to distinguish between the individual points.

The second is that the the cleverness of the outline gets in the way of the message the outline is supposed to communicate.

Again, what is appropriate for poetry is not necessarily appropriate for a sermon. Poetry, by its very nature, is artificial and highly structured.

Underlying these is what I believe is an even more serious misunderstanding of the purpose of the sermon. I hope to address this in a later post.

Thanks again for your comments.


Anonymous said...

Your response to Mark's comment demonstrates that this preaching tactic is more than a "mistake." It's a more fundamental misunderstanding, not only of the preaching task, but of Scripture. It's a hermeneutic that views the Bible as my personal inspirational handbook and preaching as the distilling of what's in the Bible for easy, mass consumption.

Just saying, it's more than a mistake because the people who use it can't just quit.