Alliteration is defined by Webster as: 'The use of the same consonant or similar sound at the beginning of eash stressed sylable in a line of verse.' Alliterating takes time and patience. Most pastors do not have the time to give this style. That's why I'm here!
When I say alliteration
I am speaking of expository alliteration. Not the alliteration style sermon that uses verses picked out from Hosea, Matthew and Revelation and starts each line with the same letter. Those may have their place, but expository sermons force you to stick to the passage. I read one group of sermon outlines on the 'sermon on the mount' and half the verses for his outlines were outside Matthew 5-7. Why are those chapters not enough? Evidently those chapters did not contain enough of God's mind to get the point across. That is the lazy preachers way. A little secret for those of you who care: there are two classes of preachers: The lazy and the busy. The lazy preacher will not alliterate because it takes time, effort, study and work. What about those pastors who are simply too busy shepherding the flock to alliterate a sermon every Sunday. That is why I have done all this. This is my ministry not only for my Savior, but for my fellow preachers.
First of all I want to assure you that regardless of how discouraged and doubtful you become (and you will) it does get easier the more you do it. So hang in there.
[NOTICE THAT YOU DO NOT START THE ACTUAL ALLITERATING UNTIL "II." BELOW]
A little side note about detractors
of alliteration. Yes, there are a few problems in alliterating the Bible. The biggest is the time it takes to do a proper outline. The detractors (and there are only a few out there putting fear into the hearts of good preachers), harp on the inappropriateness of a word when trying to alliterate a verse. Well, duh! And there we find the key to alliterating the Bible.
No preacher worth his salt would or desires to cause a verse to take from or add to the meaning of said verse. Are we not warned about that? Of course. Then what is the problem? Detractors are usually teachers, probably ex-preachers, who did not or could not take the time needed to alliterate.
Let me make this clear: Alliteration takes time. There are no short-cuts.
If you are going to alliterate your sermon outline it is imperative that you make sure that you understand the passages first. I have covered all of this below, so let's get started.I. The Preliminaries A. Pray, Pray, Pray.
Start and continue to pray for the Spirit's guidance. Without this you will fail and with good reason. B. Read, Read, Read.
Start your study with a good overall view of the scriptures under view. In my case I had to have a fairly good knowledge of the scope of the entire Bible. C. Break, Break, Break.
Break down the scriptures into major then minor thoughts. Some good versions that give you paragraphs will help.
1. Break the paragraph down into sub-paragraphs. Continue to do so until you have exhausted all you can possibly do.
2. Put each thought into your own words, making sure you are being true to the passage. It is imperative that you make sure that you understand the passages before you start alliterating.
II. The Process
(Now start your alliteration process.)
A. Your Comforter.
This is your second most useful helper (the first being the Holy Spirit). Get a good thesaurus. One that is as exhaustive as possible. I use Roget's.
B. Your Computer.
Use a computer word processor that has a good thesaurus contained within the program. If it does not then invest in a thesaurus program.
C. Your Condensing.
Now summarize the thought into as few words as possible. Now that you have the thought put into your own words, but still true the text, you can start to condense.
D. Your Concentration.
1. Your Area.
It is always best to have a work area without the distractions of TV or people. If you have an office at the church make sure that you have a time set aside that people know this is your study time. If visitors come by with a need, of course you need to deal with that. This goes with the territory. However, if someone comes by and just wants to shoot the breeze, let them know tactfully but firmly that this time has been set aside for your study of God's word. They will understand. I found it useful to always suggest another time to get together.
2. Your Agonizing.
You will not be doing this for very long before you find what Bible scholars have long known - nothing comes without prayer and agonizing over the text. By agonizing I do not mean despairing. There were times when I just had to put it aside with the knowledge that it would come to me eventually. And the Lord never failed to bring the right thought to my mind.
3. Your Ability.
a. Your Spiritual Ability
Never believe your own press clippings. That simply means that you are not inspired, so don't start thinking you are. I have on my desk a plaque that states, "knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."
- 2 Peter 1:20,21. This is why we must depend on God to help us in this task. It is a reminder to me that God's word alone is inspired and anything I do is of much lesser importance.
b. Your Physical Ability
Keep yourself healthy as mush as possible. Your physical health allows your brain to function properly. Although by the end of my undertaking I had developed Type II Diabetes from contact with Agent Orange in Vietnam, I had, by that time, finished more than half the Bible in alliteration. Fortunately (PTL) I was and am presently working with a fantastic group of Christians who not only understand my physical limitations but actually encouraged and supported my efforts in alliterating the Bible. Many times they were interested in knowing the progress I was making. Try to find a church like this to work with. It helps immensely.
III. The Problems
Now a few (more) words about the common problems with alliteration. Expository alliteration is good because it forces you to deal with the text instead of going through the Bible cafeteria style and picking out what you like and ignoring what you don't. Not to mention that it relieves the stress of what to preach next. I knew months in advance. I also discovered a mini-phenomenon and that is when I alliterated a certain section of scripture, somebody would always comment, "Jim you sure stepped on my toes today." (By the way I always answer, "Well I was aiming higher!") Also, I have noticed through the years that I do not always get that result when preaching topical sermons. Sometimes, but not as often as expository.
I have listed four main things that will overcome any problems in alliterating.
A. Use Common Wording
Using words that are clear and common will speak to your listeners. One of my teachers in school was fond of saying, "Gentlemen, when preaching, preach as if you are talking to ten year old's and some of the adults will get it." I have tried to do that. In my outlines I had occasion to use big words I didn't understand, but resisted. If you don't understand it the probability exists that many in your audience will not either.
B. Use Correct Wording
When faced with three lines that start with "A" and the only word for the fourth line in the outline is only, or is obviously a "B," then find "B" words for the first three lines. Just don't settle for less than the best. Why do you think it took me 28 years!? This is a large part of the reason. Oh, many times a word was "close" to what I understood the passage to mean, but that is not good enough for my Father's book.
Now before you go off and say, "Jim I read your outlines and I see a completely different meaning." Yippie! You now realize I am not inspired; and you can see that it is time for you to start your own outlining. I expect others to see it different than me. I hope and pray that before the next decade is up there will be many such works available. The more the better. Then others will be able to compare. They may be the one who finds the real or deeper truth. I figure when we get to heaven and compare notes that Jesus will have many occasions to say "Hah! You were all wrong. This is what I meant!"
[Just a litte side note here: One critic of alliteration said, upon reading an alliterated outline "He has not been true to the text!" My question and statement to him was, "According to who? I see where he is coming from and think he is right." You see, just because someone does not view the text a particular way, does not mean that he is the inspired one. That is arrogance and pride.
During the early sales I had a number of questions concerning which version I used (NKJV), and how I outlined certain topics. I have had e-mails and calls from almost every denomination. Each one wanted to know how I outlined certain scriptures to make sure I was "interpreting it correctly" - that is am I interpreting it the way THEY believe it! Some did not order because I couldn't and wouldn't guarantee the outline would teach their view. If I did that I would have to have about 100 different versions (hummmm). Also, just a side note to those who are of the "King James Only" persuasion, I have one question: Do you demand that the Chinese use the KJV? How about the Italians? Do they too need to be forced to use the KJV? According to your OPINION, they do. We all understand that they need an interpretation in their own language. Well, well, well. . . so much for KJ only!
I tried to stick as close to the text without letting any "special interests" sway me for whatever reason. If you want to write a book like this and use an interpretation according to yourself, have at it, but my Bible still tells me that the scriptures are of "no private interpretation." This effort is no more than a commentary on how I see the scriptures. It is no different than other commentaries. None of us is inspired. I know that there will be times when I will have to go back and revise my outlines. If I don't I am not growing. I never have claimed to be inspired. I bet everyone of those who e-mailed me have a dozen or more books in the office that they don't totally agree with. And yet they want me to bend to their view. Thanks but no thanks. And by the way, since you have now purchased this book you can make all the changes you want.] OK, back to the process of alliterating.
Please stay true to the meaning of the text in your alliteration. Alliterated preaching does not have to violate the Bible's intent. Come to think of it, I do not know a preacher, pastor or evangelist who wants to do this.
C. Use Core Wording.
By this I mean that we must make sure that Jesus is placed up front and in front of ourselves and our style. He is to be the center of all our outlines. As one well known pastor put it, "Jesus is in every verse of the Bible; if nothing else just standing in the shadows." What a great statement and what a great insight. Keep Him centered in your alliteration and he will be kept centered in the hearts of our hearers.
If you are preaching for show, please stop and get another occupation. If you are going to alliterate, see the point above about not believing your own press clippings.
Now that I have said that, I turn to the major truth - I have found only a few men who preach for fame, money or personal honor. Oh sure there are the charlatans. They are around to be seen and heard. But they are few and far between. For every fraud there are hundreds of men who pour their hearts and souls, yea their very lives into a better understanding of God's word and relaying that in the best way they know how to their listeners. They earn very small wages. If they put their education to work in the secular filed they could make a lot more money. They would live longer, stress-free, relatively peaceful lives. But they give all that up for the sake of God's word and His people. And what thanks do they get? Very little here on this earth, but, as someone so distinctly put it, we have a great retirement plan. So let the critics bewail how that alliteration is bad; let them cover themselves with glory in their attempts to stop men from making the word of God more clear and understandable. For we know who judges us and we will not be deterred.
D. Use Conversational Wording.
Many of my outlines could read like paragraphs. An example from Mark 4:
4. The Principles of The Kingdoms Parables - 4:21-34
a. Souls In The Kingdom - 4:21-25
1. Are To Be Lights - 4:21,22
2. Are To Be Learning - 4:23-25
a) By Hearing The Truth - 4:23
b) By Heeding The Truth - 4:24
c) By Harvesting The Truth - 4:25
b. Spirituality In The Kingdom - 4:26-29
1. Involves A Ministry - 4:26
2. Involves A Mystery - 4:27-29
a) Which Is A Puzzling Mystery - 4:27
b) Which Is A Private Mystery - 4:28
c) Which Is A Profitable Mystery - 4:29
If you look at the above outline it read like the two paragraphs below:
Souls in the Kingdom are to be lights. Souls in the Kingdom are to be learning by hearing the truth, by heeding the truth, and by harvesting the truth.
Spirituality in the kingdom involves a ministry and a mystery, which is puzzling, private and profitable.
See how easy that is. Not only that but your hearers will understand it because it communicates a message to them. Remember that outlines of any kind are only the bones. You have to put the meat on them. An understanding of the passage will give you the application and good illustrations will solidify the meaning in the hearts and minds of your listeners.
I use the old adage during a sermon: Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them. Your sermon should have one major goal that challenges the hearer to act. Your points should repeat the same thought, just in different ways. Preaching is repetition. In all of Paul's writings we can see him saying one thing to one church and the same thing to another - the same thing to another and . . . just in a variety of ways. Even God did this. Hebrews 1:1 "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,"
And what was his message? Jesus Is Coming! (Want the rest? OK:
I. Jesus Is Coning - Genesis thru Malachi
II. Jesus Is Come - Matthew thru John
III. Jesus Is Coming Again - Acts thru Revelation
Now there is a 3-point outline that will preach!
A good preacher will give his hearers as many ways of saying the same thing that his mind can conceive and the text will allow. We call them points and sub-points.