How To Write a Sermon Outline

How To Write a Sermon Outline December 8, 2014

What is a way that a pastor or preacher can write a good sermon outline?  What ways would you suggest?

Is an Outline Necessary?

Charles Spurgeon is one of the greatest preachers of all time and he wrote out his sermons, word for word so the question is “Is a sermon outline even necessary?”  If not, then is it okay to write out sermon outlines or to write out the sermon in full?  This depends on the man who is preaching.  I see nothing wrong with having a sermon outline or a fully written sermon. The only issue might be that if the Holy Spirit wants the preacher to go in a different direction and elaborate on something else the church needs to hear, the sermon notes and even an outline might restrict the Spirit’s guidance or direction during the message.  The point is, don’t be married to the sermon outline or the sermon message.

I like to use the Bible as my primary means of preaching but I do keep an outline next to my Bible when I preach. I remember one of my seminary professors say that pastors should write out their sermon in its complete form and not have just an outline but I cannot see any biblical evidence either way from the New Testament and how the apostles preached the gospel.  They seemed to paraphrase their messages from Old Testament stories but they always ended with the message of the gospel which included Jesus’ earthly ministry, right up to His passion, crucifixion and His resurrection.  I believe the pastor should have the freedom to do what he feels best as long as the centrality of the Bible’s message is preached and the context of the passages is included.  The content should always include Jesus’ redemptive work for sinners, the need for repentance, the call for continual confession of sin, God’s desire for us to grow in holiness, and of course the cross.  If a sermon does not include most of or any of these, no matter what is preached, it is not the whole counsel of God being preached from the whole Word of God.

Expository, verse by verse preaching is the most effective in my opinion because it is the pure Word of God given directly to the Body of Christ and it comes in full strength.  The power of salvation is found in the gospel itself (Rom 1:16) and not in flowery speech, impressive words or fanciful deliveries.

Before the Sermon Starts

I prefer an outline when I give a sermon. I like to have the Bible verse at the top of the heading and I mentioned it at the beginning of the message right after I give a title to the sermon.  I prefer going verse by verse if possible.  For those taking notes they generally like to write down title sermons so that they can easily reference a particular sermon for studying it later.  I mention the Bible book, chapter, and verse(s) a few minutes before I read out of that passage so that the members have time to find it and are prepared to read along with me.  If a particular book is harder to find for the majority of the congregants, like the Book of Habakkuk, I give them the preceding or following books to give them a reference point as to where to find it in either the New or the Old Testament.

Also, I often use a real-life story, an example, or some recent news event that ties into the message so that people can have a visual analogy or image that allows them to relate to the upcoming message.  This might be something that most of the church knows about.  Jesus used parables in this way. He used the familiar or earthly to explain a heavenly concept about the kingdom that most people could identify with like the sheep and the goats, the parable of the sower, and the parable lost coin.  These types of lead-ins can prepare the listener for the upcoming context of the message.

A Sermon Outline

Introduction: Give a simple introduction by using a real story of someone or something as I mentioned in the section before this.  You can use a news event, an analogy, an example or anything that relates to the message…and then in the introduction, give the sermon title and maybe even the book or books that you’ll be reading out of in the message.

A Specific Purpose Statement:  This statement might be the title of your message or what the thought or idea of your message might be.   This statement should follow the introduction.  I like to use things like “I, II, and III” in the outline so that I don’t get lost and naturally I separate them by a few spaces. 

Main Body and Points

Here is an example of what I mean on developing or writing a sermon outline:

Introduction (Using an example or analogy of an actual event or a story that introduces the topic or main idea)

I.  Is the Bible Really the Inspired Word of God?

a.  The phrase “Thus says the Lord” occurs at least 418 times in the Bible.

b.  Scripture claims that it is “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16).

II.  Empirical Evidence

a.  Six-thousand complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts

b.  Ten thousand Latin manuscripts

c. Over 9,000 manuscripts in various other ancient languages

d.  Over 25,000 New Testament manuscripts of which 5,000 of these date from the very first century

e.  Matthew’s Gospel dates as far back as A.D. 60

III.  Astounding Accuracy of Old Testament

a.  Seventy scribes check one another’s work

b.  Dead Sea Scrolls – Contextual agreement

c.  Only 0.01% discrepancies (mainly spelling variations, not contextual)

Conclusion:  The conclusion should recap the specific purpose statement of the message or the main idea and, if relevant, the particular book, chapter, and verse.  No sermon message should realistically have more than 3 or 4 points.  Someone who gives 10-point sermon messages will find that the listeners can only remember the first few…and usually they often remember the very last thing or point you give.  Let the main thing be the last thing and if there are more than 3 points, summarize or repeat these three again at the end so that they can recall them.  Encourage the congregants to take notes because they retain more if they listen and write things down than if they only listen.  Recall is strengthened when they are recording what you are saying.  Repeating the main points frequently increases the likelihood that they’ll remember at least parts of what you spoke about.  Isn’t that the purpose for which you preach?

Conclusion

If you understand how to write an outline and what your specific purpose is for your message then I may have succeeded in this article on how to write a sermon outline.  Maybe you can add some ideas by leaving your comment below.  I think the main purpose for all sermons for the Body of Christ, the church should be what Paul told Timothy “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:2-4).  I believe that the time that was said to be coming has come. Sound teaching does endure.  We must be ready to fight against these myths of false doctrines.  Preaching hard words softens hard hearts but preaching soft words produces hard hearts.  The Word of God must cut in order to heal.  Don’t be timid.  Jesus preached many “hard sayings” in the Bible (John 6:60).  The most loving thing you can do is to preach the Word of God full strength even if it offends.  As has been said, the Word of God comforts the afflicted but it afflicts the comfortable.

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Alex Buchan

    Your Sermon Outline discussion is very helpful indeed. Can you suggest where I can get more practical examples please?

  • Yorkview Heights

    Thanks for the article, but I didn’t notice anywhere in the article how to actually create an outline (which is your main topic). You just gave an outline, instead of telling us how to actually create one. Please be more specific.