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).


Preaching Theology From Jesus’ Hyper-Humiliating Birth


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This past Sunday I reached the zenith of my creativity. Some of you know that’s not too high. But anyway, I outlined Luke 2:1-20 using Christmas hymns:

1. O little town of Bethlehem (vv. 1-7)

2. While shepherds watched their flocks (vv. 8-9)

3. What Child is this? (vv. 10-12)

4. Angels we have heard on high (vv. 13-14)

5. Go, tell it on the mountain (vv. 15-20)

I know some of you creative folks are laughing, but this was a huge accomplishment. But, that’s not important right now…

Luke’s version of the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life–the incarnation–highlights Mary’s statement in 1:52 “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” For instance, in Luke 2:1-2 we read of mighty rulers who will soon lose their thrones. In v. 4 we read again of Nazareth, the town with a nasty reputation according to John’s gospel. In that same verse we read of Bethlehem, which, according to Micah 5:2, was too little to be the birthplace of a ruler. Both Nazareth and Bethlehem are examples of the exaltation of those of humble estate. And, then, of course, we have Jesus being laid “in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7).

In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Yancey writes, “it seems that God arranged the most humiliating circumstance possible for His entrance.” Rarely, if ever, does one celebrate humiliation. But we do these weeks! Jesus laid in a feed box, possibly a depression in the cold ground in a cave or stable. You can’t get any more humble estate than that! The highest level of mercy took the highest level of humility.

And, then, there’s the presence of shepherds. I don’t know of any other class of people more despised in Jesus’ day, but more adored in our day during Christmas time. It’s not unusual that they were working the graveyard shift that night; it is highly unusual that God saw fit to send the Angel of the Lord to them. Another example of God doing what Mary said in Luke 1:52, exalting those of humble estate. And besides making sure we all believe the message of the angel of the Lord and the Christmas angels, the shepherds provide an example for Christians to follow. They heard God’s message, believed it, and shared it. Who else could God have told who would have responded like the shepherds? Imagine God sending His messenger to royalty, announcing that a Savior, a Lord was born? Imagine august Augustus’ response. No, it’s best for us to take our place with “those of humble estate.”

What Keeps Your Sermon From Fragmenting?

I recently returned from a wonderful week with doctoral students enrolled in Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry track, Preaching the Literary Forms of the Bible.  We met on GCTS’s Charlotte, NC campus.  One of the things we talked about was keeping our sermons from fragmenting.  Fragmentation happens when I (1) fail to follow the flow of thought created by the Author/author or (2) I choose to replace the existing flow of thought with my own deficient presentation.  We noticed a tendency of not clearly stating the logical connections between moves or thought-blocks in the sermon.  What is clear in the mind of the preacher is unclear to the listener.  While you’re developing your sermon double-check all your transitions as you move from major clause to major clause.  Ask if you are carrying the logic forward.  As you know, theology is conveyed more through the logical flow of thought than in the isolated content.