Is Your Sermon Outline Doing One of These Two Things?


If you create an outline for your sermons, check to see if they do one of these two things.

First, do the major points in your outline urge your listeners to explore the preaching portion with you? Look at what the following outlines on Luke 22:19-30 (the dispute among Jesus’ disciples concerning which one of them would be considered the greatest):

1. The status we want (v. 24)

2. The status we need (vv. 25-27)

3. The status we’ll enjoy (vv. 28-30)

Notice that the main points are worded to lead us all to discovery. What is the status we want? Well, let’s look at v. 24. What is the status we need? That’s in vv. 25-27, etc. The points are worded in such a way that the sermon is needed to flesh out the answers.

This is my favorite form of outline point: “Find the answer with me.”

Second, do your major points teach all by themselves? Those that practice writing full-sentence outline points know this approach well. Look at an outline on Luke 22:31-38 (Jesus warning Simon Peter about Satan’s attack and His dangerous mission):

1. Satan’s attack (v. 31)

2. Jesus’ protection (v. 32)

3. Our naive overconfidence (vv. 33-34)

4. Our dangerous mission (vv. 35-38)

These main points teach us a vital truth contained within those verses. I find that many outline points are too brief to teach anything. The one above is the shortest I’ve ever used that I still felt accomplished the teaching goal I was looking for. The points are worded in such a way that the sermon is needed to expand their meaning.

This is my second favorite form of outline point: “Flesh out the meaning with me.”

Before Sunday, check to see if your outline is doing either of these two things. If not, you might want to rethink your reason for using an outline. Maybe you only want to create interest or make the points easy to remember (alliteration?). Besides order, unity, and progress, make your major points serve your goal of communicating God’s Word.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


You Need To Read: Reading Backwards


I’m always looking for books that help me preach Christ while maintaining the integrity of the meaning of the preaching portion. I’m also always looking for books that help me understand how the New Testament human authors reread the Old Testament and how their rereading affects the meaning of the Old Testament.

Richard Hays’ book, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, helped me do both (Hays did not intend for his book to do the latter).

You’ll enjoy and profit from the book if you do much preaching in the Gospels. Hays does a superb job showing how the four Evangelists used the Old Testament Scriptures to show the divinity of Jesus. And his commentary various passages in all four Gospels is extremely insightful.

For instance, there is much talk today about Jesus being the kinder, gentler God who is much more palatable to post-moderns. Hays writes, “The OT focuses our understanding of Jesus’ role as an eschatological prophet of God’s judgment. The sweet, infinitely inclusive Jesus meek and mild, so beloved by modern Protestantism, is a Jesus cut loose from his OT roots” (p. 12). So, while a particular Gospel scene might show Jesus being kind to sinners like the woman “caught” in adultery, that doesn’t mean that’s the only reaction He has to sinners, especially in the eschaton.

Anyway, I highly recommend the book. If you are as serious as I am about hermeneutics and homiletics, this is a good read. And, as I said at the beginning of the post, an important, probably unbeknownst-to-Hays benefit of the book is how his analysis leads to fresh insights about how to interpret the OT Christologically.

Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness

Preach well for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


How to Sweeten Your Sermons with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 5 Metaphor)


For the past few weeks I’ve been encouraging us to think carefully about the words we use when we preach. C.R.E.A.M. is a good way to think about crafting phrases that are enjoyable to hear and that communicate effectively. The concept comes from Humes (The Sir Winston Method) and stands for: contrast, rhyme, echo, alliteration, and, finally…

Metaphor. You could also use similes in this category. The Bible is full of metaphor: Isaiah 40:6 says, “All flesh is grass…” or Psalm 110:3 “we are…the sheep of His pasture.”

We are also very familiar with the use of similes. We say things like: “He as slow as cold molasses” or “She ran like a greyhound.”

Before Sunday, look for places in your manuscript where you can use metaphors or similes to communicate vital pieces of information in your sermon. Of course, that presupposes that you are working on your manuscript as you study each day. Can you use metaphor in your sermon title (“Torn by God’s Thorn in the Flesh” from 2 Cor. 12:1-10; notice this also uses rhyming)? Check also for the key statements in your sermon. Maybe your main idea.

The pictures will help your congregants understand God’s Word better. Your listeners will appreciate the style of communication and the content.

Because of this series of blogs, I was reminded again of how much C.R.E.A.M. can be applied to preaching. Looking back over the last few sermons, I found that each manuscript included at least one of the elements of style. It’s my opinion that you can put too much CREAM in the sermon (unlike in real life on dessert!). Too much of it and you end up inadvertently drawing attention to the style and not the substance of the sermon. A little bit of CREAM, however, does sweeten the sermon for the listeners without sacrificing content.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


How to Sweeten Your Sermons with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 4 alliteration)


C.R.E.A.M. stands for contrast, rhyme, echo, alliteration, and metaphor. From a human perspective, they represent five ways preachers create words and phrases that are pleasing to the ears of those that have ears to hear. You’re working hard with the Spirit to understand your preaching portion. You’re also working hard with the Spirit to best communicate that meaning. Lord willing, your words will work and worship will occur.

When done subtly, alliteration can help you communicate God’s Word effectively. Alliteration is using the same letter repeatedly. Most preachers are familiar with alliteration as an outlining tool. It can also be used in a sermon manuscript to help listeners hear God’s Word and respond.

So, before Sunday, look at the sermon manuscript you’re building. See if there are strategic places where alliteration could help communication take place. Check your sermon title. How about your main idea? What about in the application?

Classmates have used alliteration effectively. David Deters preached Mark 4:35-41 and talked about Jesus, “the nobody from Nazareth.” Or, in his sermon, Ken Carozza described someone having been “numbed with novocain.”

If you’re so inclined to work with C.R.E.A.M., a thesaurus will help you immensely. It’s especially helpful when creating phrases that use alliteration.

If you read part 1 of this series, then you heard me talk about how paying attention to style (word-choice) was not a strong suit of mine. I have to work at it, but I’m still average at best.

It is my desire to effectively communicate in the power of the Spirit. I am vexed at times not knowing for sure whether working with words crosses the line into human-wisdom territory. That might be a great assignment for my next class (Does working with words violate Paul’s model not preaching with human wisdom? Defend your answer.). Not you, though, because you’ve got a sermon to prepare (*smile*).

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


How to Sweeten Your Sermon with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 3 Echo)


A couple of posts ago I mentioned my plan to spend an hour or so in class talking about the importance of using an effective preaching style. We were emphasizing word-choice, the way preachers use words to move listeners in the power of the Spirit toward acts of worship.

It assumes we’ll spend some time thinking about the words we use while we preach. That might mean working on specific words and phrases or working on a full-blown, word-for-word orascript (a manuscript written for the ear).

You realize, of course, that your congregants who listen or watch any media are bombarded by carefully crafted messages. Watch, for instance, how advertisers frame their sales pitches. Watch what journalist do with words to report the news.

C.R.E.A.M. is an easy way to remember five ways to create phrases that parishioners will remember and resonate with. So far we’ve briefly discussed contrast and rhyme. This week we explore the use of echoes, echoes, echoes, echoes… (sorry).

In Galatians 4:4-5 you could say that Jesus Christ was delivered into this world of sin so we could be delivered from this world of sin. Working through the Gospel of Luke recently, I kept reminding our faith-family that Luke wrote to help us be sure our faith is well-placed and well-executed.

Or, in Luke 22:3 we read, “Then Satan entered into Judas…” You could say, “Satan possessed Judas because Judas didn’t possess Jesus.

Notice that, in these examples, content isn’t sacrificed on the altar of cuteness. The goal is to enhance the hear-ability of the content by carefully selected words.

So, before Sunday, look over your manuscript–I know you’re using one!–and see if there are places where echoes could help move your listeners to worship.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


How to Sweeten Your Sermon with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 2 Rhyme)


One of the ways I work with words during sermon development is by implementing C.R.E.A.M. The letters stand for contrast, rhyme, echo, alliteration, and metaphor.

These five approaches can be applied to the sermon in two ways.

First, you can sprinkle phrases built from these approaches in strategic places throughout a sermon. Work with the key words in your sermon.

Second, you can create a quotable quote surrounding your major theme. If you have that one point that you want to state and restate, that’s a good place to apply C.R.E.A.M.

In both cases and places, listeners’ ears will pick up on these well-crafted phrases and statements.

Last week we began with “C” for contrast. This week it’s the “R” for rhyme.

Before Sunday, see if there are any strategic words with which you can rhyme.

Just this week I responded to an email with: “Christians often experience bouts of doubts.” I could have said it differently, but I felt bouts of doubts sounded better than periods of doubts.

In Romans 8 Paul lists the entities that are groaning as they wait for final redemption. So, in a sermon I went with a synonym to create “a choir of sighers.”

I just watched a creative YouTube ad for Bertolini Sanctuary Seating entitled: Pastor Piper in Great Preaching…Gone Bad. The ad ended with: “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”

While I don’t spend a lot of time on this kind of packaging, I do try to be aware of how the Spirit of God might use my words to help those who have ears to hear hear even better.

Preach well for God’s glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


How to Sweeten Your Sermon With A Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 1 Contrast)


Lord willing, this Wednesday and Thursday (April 15 and 16, 2015) I will enjoy the privilege of teaching PAS 513 Advanced Homiletics for Lancaster Bible College’s graduate school. Besides spending time making sure we preach with accuracy, I am planning to spend some time making sure we preach with an effective style. I’m especially interested in the aspects of a preacher’s style that deal with word-choice.

My plan is to introduce the students to Humes’ C.R.E.A.M. concept. Years ago I learned of this approach while reading Humes’ book, The Sir Winston Method. In that book Humes records the results of his research into the communication method of Sir Winston Churchill.

The Sir Winston Method: The Five Secrets of Speaking the Language of Leadership

C.R.E.A.M. is one way for preachers to work on their words. It’s a way for us to create quotable quotes or packaged persuasion. It’s about finding just the right way to say what God is saying in our preaching portions. It’s about using language in the power of the Spirit to drive home God’s message.

C.R.E.A.M. stands for:






Let’s start with “C” and using contrast. The old preacher, Vance Havner once said, “Too many of our services start at 11 sharp and then end at 12 dull.”

An ad for the Radisson Plaza Hotel said, “Modern convenience. Historic charm.”

A county-western song contained the phrase, “the city put the country back in me.”

Yesterday during our current in-between-book-studies series, Well-Versed, I preached on Romans 8:28-30 which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” My first thought block in the sermon was defining the kind of person who could claim that promise. It’s the person who loves God. It was easy to work the contrast between being a God-lover and a God-hater: “All things work together for bad for those that hate God.”

Before Sunday, see if you can create contrasts to communicate key concepts in your sermon.

Preach well for God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. If you enjoy reading some history about an important figure in world history and gaining some insights into effective communication, you’ll enjoy Humes’ book. It’s certainly one of my top five non-Christian books on communication.

One of Preaching’s Primary Goals: Preparing Parishioners for the Return of Christ

NCAA Duke Wisconsin Final Four Basketball

For the record, my wife, Michele, does not approve of this post. She is a Carolina grad which automatically means she strongly dislikes Duke. But that’s not important right now.

What is important is thinking about what we’re accomplishing when we preach. These two coaches have spent the last couple of days preparing their teams for tonight’s championship game. They will have their teams ready. They always do. That’s part of the reason why they are in the position they’re in.

In some ways, that’s what we do every Sunday. We make sure our parishioners are ready for the return of our Lord. In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Marshall writes, “We cannot ‘live carelessly until the End…and then reform ourselves at the last minute.'”

Some preaching portions make this a no-brainer. In Luke 21:34 Jesus says, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life…” Regardless of your eschatology, it’s hard to miss the fact that Jesus is preparing us for His return (in an earlier post I mentioned being careful to allow the Bible to inform our theology and not only the other way around, especially in these kinds of Texts).

But, in general, think of every sermon as contributing to this goal. Every preaching portion contributes to the goal of preparing our parishioners for the return of our Lord. Great coaches are known for getting their teams prepared. They have a reputation for making key adjustments at halftime.

Faithful shepherds enter their teaching times with the similar goal of making sure their congregants are prepared. Our goal is to create people who will be able “to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).

Before Sunday, see if you can identify how the purpose of your preaching portion connects with this purpose of creating a prepared people.

Preach well for God’s glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Two Things to Remember When Preaching on Money

Photo of a Collection Plate

If you preach through books of the Old or New Testament, eventually you will preach about money and giving to God. For instance, in the Old Testament, there are approximately 1400 occurrences of the word, “offering,” in about 800 verses.

While preaching on Luke 21:1-4, the narrative of Jesus commenting on the poor widow who put “two small copper coins” in the offering box (v. 2), I learned two things that should make their way in any stewardship sermon.

First, take a moment to remind everyone why Christians give money to God. In the narrative, both “the rich” and “a poor widow” gave their offering to the Lord. Luke doesn’t tell us why. But, it is important when preaching about giving to tell everyone that giving an offering is a way of acknowledging God’s authority. It’s a way of showing that God is greater and I am infinitely lesser.

When faced with this perspective, it is virtually impossible for any professing Christian to refuse to give and still claim to worship God.

Second, when we got to the place in the narrative where Jesus said, “she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on,” I asked, “What must she have believed about God in order to give everything, even what she needed to live on?!” Again, the Scripture doesn’t say. What’s left unsaid is crucial for the faith-family. She was trusting completely in God to take care of her.

The poor widow’s example is an excellent opportunity for us all to evaluate how our giving habits reflect our faith in God to provide. Over the years I’ve heard many parishioners say, “I can’t afford to give more to God.” My reply has been, “You can’t afford not to.”

Before Sunday, if your sermon contains some aspect of giving to God, remind everyone why Christians give and show them how their giving reflects their faith.

Preach well for God’s glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).



Add Another Facet of Saving Faith


Throughout the Gospels and, also other Old and New Testament narrative sections, look for phrases that add to your congregants’ understanding of saving faith. These phrases provide an opportunity to explore what saving faith is and what it does. Like a cut diamond, saving faith and genuine Christianity contain many facets.

For instance, in Luke 20:27-40 Sadducees approach Jesus to ask Him about what life is like “in the resurrection” (a concept they don’t believe in). In the middle of Jesus’ answer, He states, “but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead…” (v. 35).

That phrase is one way to describe a genuine Believer or follower of Christ. This is what genuine saving faith creates: a person who is “considered worthy to attain to that age…” Saving faith takes people “of this age” (v. 34) and transforms them into those “considered worthy to attain to that age…”

It is tempting to spend the majority of sermon time on Jesus’ cryptic description of life in the resurrection. It demands much attention because any exposition has to come to grips with the revelation Jesus provides in vv. 35-36. Jesus corrects the Sadducees’ understanding. He wants them to know that “the dead are raised” (v. 37) and that God is “not the God of the dead, but of the living…” (v. 38).

Leave room, though, to answer the question Jesus doesn’t answer: How does a person become “considered worthy to attain to…the resurrection from the dead…”? That question inevitably delves into what saving faith is and does.

Before Sunday, see if your preaching portion contains any phrases that explain a facet of genuine faith and Christianity. Over time, the cumulative effect of this kind of exegesis will help limit the number of surprises at the Judgment.

Preach well so God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).