Keys to useable sermon outlines
Perhaps I should emphasize more the word “Useable” in creating a useable sermon outline. Many preachers use sermon outlines, but a lot of times they work against the preacher more than for him. Really they are not useable sermon outlines. This article will present some thoughts on the subject.
Offsite: How to write a sermon outline
(1) A Sermon Outline is a Guide, nothing more.
Here we need to be careful, but a sermon outline needs to be “put in its place”. It is a help, or at least should be. One point here is that depending on the age/eye sight of the preacher, it should be readable, medium or large print. I am against preachers writing a sermon and then reading it verbatim. It should help you remember to present a sequence of ideas and verses, but it should not overwhelm the preacher. It is like an athlete and his shoes. Without shoes, a runner or football player would have extreme problems, but his shoes are just a help for him to do what he is doing.
On the one hand, preachers should not “be bound” to a sermon outline. For example, by this I mean that when a preacher makes a point from his outline and the people look puzzled, he needs to stop the outline and explain the point more. If he recognizes something unbiblical, illogical, or not clear, he should feel free to break with the outline and go off the outline. Equally he may misjudge the time of a sermon, and his comfortable time limit is surpassed before the sermon outline is complete, so he should break and end the sermon.
Let me also make the point here that preaching is “feeding sheep” in a spiritual sense. This process is difficult, because the sheep have certain universal needs, but in every case, the individual sheep have individual needs. Being a pastor and preaching to a group has to take into consideration that element, and the wise and effective pastor MUST discern these individual problems and needs “as we go along.” By that I mean that sometimes God will reveal to you a special need, say for example when some event happens (think 9-11) and your sermon for Sunday morning maybe is going to be set aside and you must deal with things that are taking over people’s minds instead.
The sermon outline is a help, and when it stops being a help, the preacher needs to revamp completely his preparation and his sermon notes.
Another issue here is handwriting sermon outlines. If you cannot easily read the sermon notes/outline, then get a computer and print them.
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(2) Make the sermon outline short, yet understandable.
In English grammar class, the teacher teaches us to always use complete sentences in our compositions. If you are publishing a sermon as a textual copy of the sermon, go ahead and follow this, but otherwise, shorten your sermon points to understandable phrases and words even if possible.
Being concise and to-the-point is essential in good communication. The more you talk, the more opportunity for your listeners to go off (thinking) on a tangent on something you said. It is best to keep everybody onboard. Be concise in your speech, and always to the point. Don’t beat around the bush, and don’t hide your real meaning behind language. Don’t try to impress people with your intelligence by using difficult, theological, or hard speech. Put things simple, and keep them that way.
One of the issues with complicated sermons is that many preachers kill the usefulness of an outline by how they make it. If you have to fix your sight to read a complete sermon point, you probably have the points too long or too complicated. Make things as simple as you can. People remember simple points well made. The more succinct they are, the better they are remembered.
(3) Use what is available to emphasize the important.
In our day and age, using a word processor on a computer should be a no-brainer for everybody. Use bold, italics, and color to bring the most important points of your sermon outline to your sight without having to fight to keep your place as your go through your outline.
Visually you need to make your sermon outline easy to read, and easy to follow as you look at your audience. It is extremely important that you keep your eyes focused on the audience (individual members in the audience) and not put your nose in your notes and note look up. Eye contact communicates sincerity and truthfulness. Don’t overlook this ever.
Another point here is that you might want to use your finger placed on the most recent point to follow your notes. This is okay, but it is better to have your outline such that you can follow along without having to mark the spot. A pen putting a check mark beside what is done is a good thing.
If you use electronic stuff to read your sermon notes off of that, always have a paper backup as these things tend to really cause problems when there is no electricity or the batteries die. Satan is afoot always. Remember that we want useable sermon outlines!
(4) Practice what you preach!
I hate to do this, but preachers should practice preach their sermons before they actually preach them. Yes, I know, that is horrible (for some unknown reason). But actually it is the best thing you can do to sharpen your sermon. Before you get too close to Sunday, you should take your sermon outline into a closet or somewhere, and record your sermon as you would give it in the pulpit.
Once you have finished, sit down immediately and mark with a highlighter pen where it sounded bad or confusing. Next listen to the recording while reading the sermon outline. Part of making good sermon outlines is to connect what is said with what is written. See where you lost track of your sermon outline and note why. Too much text to read on the go. No highlighting like bold, color, etc. Then go through and make changes to your sermon. If you are new at preaching or are having problems, go through and practice preach your sermon a second time, and do it all over again. Actually if you were to do this for every sermon, your sermons would improve drastically and quickly. Even for veteran preachers, it is instructive to listen to a recording of a sermon to see where you error.
(5) Plan what you preach, and preach the plan.
If we can get over that complaint that the Holy Spirit cannot work when a sermon is written out as an outline and used that way, then we can really take advantage of preparation time. Really planning and preparing is the best way to go to please the Lord.
The idea here is to prepare and plan everything you are going to say beforehand. Practice it also (see above). Once you do that, sit down in a comfort chair and slowly rehearse and meditate on everything you are going to say. Let the Holy Spirit speak to your heart, and pray for individual parts of a sermon that God would use them, and that the Holy Spirit would help you make the points God wants your people to hear in the best way possible. Rehearse different ways of saying the same thing to get the best impact from your words. On occasion, write out small parts of the sermon and mark them somehow (italics or in a color) so as to know to read them verbatim.
What happens when you go off track, off the sermon outline. If the reason is because your sermon notes are not clear or are confusing, then it is better to go off the notes and elaborate to clarify. Note that this should not happen constantly. Every time you see this, it means you missed it in the preparation. Secondly, if you go off just because, what you say is not thought through, and that is the most probable time that you will go into error. Under the pressure of the moment, trying to make a point, it is easy to go overboard, or incorrectly represent the Bible.