So I have been writing on preaching and I apologize to those who do not preach. I am not trying to run you off. I just have a lot to say about this subject. So just please bear with me.
What really is an outline?
So this morning I started to write another blog on preaching, and I was struck with several thoughts that I think are important to say, so I have decided that this series will have to suffer with a bit more length.
I want to put forward what it is I am doing with my outline, or to try to answer the question, what exactly is an outline, because I continue talking about what I do with it.
So in my opinion an outline is better displayed than defined. So let me share with you what I think are the key essential elements of a sermon outline. And when I say essential elements, I honestly believe that if you do not use these elements then you do not have a sermon outline. You might be preaching a sermon, but you don’t have an outline.
The major points of an outline are nothing more than truth assertions. Or let me say it this way: the points are nothing more than truth claims. They might be the kind of claims that are declaring truth or they might be the kind of claims that are pressing action based on truth. Either way, they are truth claims.
I also believe that the points or the assertions ought to be parallel in nature. I think this is the hardest part for most pastors because making the points parallel seems easy. Here is the problem. When you seek to make your points parallel you can easily do that just with playing with the words, however what can happen is you can lose sight of the point of the passage because in an effort to be parallel you change a declaration of truth into some sort of action without warrant. So when I say parallel, what I mean is that each point needs to form like a pillar underneath the main objective, thesis, or aim. (whatever you call it)
If you are preaching from John chapter 6 about Jesus feeding the 5000. It would be easy to turn some or even all of your points into actions related to say the boy who shared his lunch or the disciples obedience to Jesus in serving the people. However, from our exegesis we know that this would be wrong headed because all Scripture is about Christ Jesus right? So I think the only action you can call people to base on the first part of John 6 is? Right – believe.
So when you make your points parallel the passage has to suggest to you what that parallel is. And by the passage I mean the VERY PASSAGE YOU ARE READING.
Now this will get me into trouble. I also believe that if you are preaching a sermon from say Romans chapter 9, then your points of your sermon MUST be bound to a phrase or passage in Romans 9. If you have 2 points from Romans 9 and third point from Exodus, this is not a sermon outline, and I would even call you out for abusing the text. WHY Because we are after understanding the passage in front of us.
Now if you preach 3 great points from Romans 9 and you never go to Exodus, then I know your exegesis is faulty, and you are not teaching people how to read the Bible. BUT your point MUST be from the text of your passage.
Let me give you an example. I heard a preacher once preach from Matthew 19: 1-12 on divorce. His three points were something to the effect of:
- With God there is marriage
- With God there is a proper divorce
- With God there is forgiveness.
Now don’t fixate on whether divorce is right or not. And if you try to help my theology here, I will just delete you. Because I didn’t preach this sermon. But his final point about forgiveness while true in the Bible as a whole, is no where to be found in the current passage. Maybe small traces of it, in phrases like: yeah no I still don’t see any.
To me this ought not be. Every point you make from a passage has to come from that passage.
I think every point has to already be pointing towards application in the way that point is written.
Now I have 2 crazy people on either side of me.
- The Anti-make-sure-application-is-in-the-sermon-because-theology-or-the-Spirit-or-something-else-is-more-important people
- And the application-is so-important-that-I-will-sacrifice-good-exegesis-to-make-a-point kind of people.
I think these are pendulums and we need to find a balance. I think by and large the greatest kind of application we fail to give credence to is the application of: you need to believe this. When we preach sermons about the nature of who God is, who Jesus is. The vast majority of our application is going to be: believe this, love this, lean on this truth about who God is. Is God faithful, rejoice in that truth.
Too often application has turned into a free for all we have to give people something tangible to do. And so belief feels so wrong. Because it doesn’t seem tangible.
But like the sermon outline I wrote yesterday notice how the application is suggesting itself.
- Let your love be molded by the cross
- Let your love be focused on her spiritual good
- Let your love be aimed at the glory of Christ and his church.
In each case, the application hinted at is simply this: submission to Christ and his Spirit as they work in you to will and work for his good pleasure. There is a parallel nature in these points because each speaks about the love of the husband. These are assertions because each asserts that the husband is to love, and there is some other truth asserted as well.
If we are to preach so as to be CLEAR. I honestly think that a sermon outline with these qualities will be our best bet. Sure there are times I have violated all of these guidelines, and God worked and used the sermon. But I do not think there is a better approach to sermon outlining if the goal is clarity for the people. People think a certain way, and the goal is God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to form God’s people because God’s people hear God’s Word and are convicted by God’s Spirit. The western mind is best served when we aim at the one meaning of the passage, and the best way to do that is with a sermon outline with focus, application, and parallelism in the assertions being made.