Resume: This article explains the thinking and strategy of using a sermon outline when preaching sermons.
Sermon outline, What is it?
A sermon outline is simply a guide to where you will logically “go” (speak) during a discourse. The options here are limited. (1) You use some kind of guide (a sermon outline). (2) You speak without any guide, just entering with a general topic to which you do not hold alliegance to follow, but rather wander from topic to topic.
Some preachers actually think that the later is somehow “being guided by the Holy Spirit”, and that is the only valid way to preach. We have no evidence really as to public speakers using or not using these “topical guides”. Dr. Bob Jones Jr. used this later strategy, and his defense was, “A sermon outline is like a skeleton. When you see a person’s bones, something is very wrong.”
While this thinking is actually popular among a lot of preachers, and many preachers who use sermon outlines actually break from their outline regularly holding this thinking as “a moving of the Holy Spirit”, the thinking is really not that great. It is flawed, and has a lot of problems. First of all, Dr. Bob Jones Jr had a lot of preaching experience and exposure (his dad was an evangelist so he grew up in the element of preaching). People like that have from where to draw from. Experienced preachers who have more than 10 or 20 years of preaching “under their belt” can preach extemporaneously and can “pull it off”. Most others fail when trying, and even experienced preachers have their problems when preaching without thinking through what they are saying. Not that last comment. Preachers that have preached on salvation hundreds of times can stand up without notes and do fine. But that is not to say that they did not prepare, it is to say that after preparing and preaching so many times on the same topic, to comment on it from memory is very easy and can be done very successfully.
A sermon outline is simply a prepared list of thoughts and verses that the preacher uses to guide his presentation.
There are two key issues to clarify in using a sermon outline: (1) Does an outline hinder the Holy Spirit? (2) Is an outline necessary and serve an essential purpose?