How to Prepare Sermon Outlines

by Katherine Teel

There are several methods of sermon preparation, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Many people prefer to use outlines, because they give you the freedom of expression you get when you don't use notes, but they also give you the structure and memory aids you get from a written manuscript. It's the best of both worlds.

Preparation

Read the Bible passage you're preaching on several times, in several different translations. Put it away and let it rest in the back of your mind for a day or two.

Consult your favorite commentaries for historical and sociological information. Jot down the information that captures your attention and imagination. It will likely capture your congregation's, too.

Think about the human condition of the people in the story. What are their fears, loves, and hopes? What is in the story that makes them feel this way?

Think about the human condition of your listeners. How are they like the people in the story? How are their fears, loves, and hopes similar to those of the people in the Biblical story?

Discern the good news for your listeners. It is probably related to the good news that the people in the story experienced, since their human condition is probably very similar.

Writing

Write down the elements you just culled from the Biblical story: exegesis (analysis of the text), human condition in the story, human condition of your listeners, and proclamation of good news.

Come up with a single sentence that summarizes your entire sermon theme. All of your stories, teaching, and application should support this single sentence. Some preachers call this a thesis statement, while some call it a focus sentence.

Write out your entire sermon, as though you were going to preach it word for word from the manuscript. Depending on your tradition, you may have a manuscript that has anywhere from 1200 to 4000 words.

Take out any material--including stories, research, and application--that does not directly support your thesis statement/focus sentence.

Developing the Outline

Identify your introduction. In your outline, you may abbreviate your material if you are confident you will remember what you meant to say. For example, "Tell violin story," is a good abbreviation for an outline, because you know the violin story. However, if you plan to use a quotation, poem, or news story, it's best to write it out fully so you don't misquote it.

Identify your first major point and write it down. This might be any of the four areas of research you did in the earlier part of the process: exegesis, human condition in the story, human condition of listeners, and proclamation of good news.

Identify information that should be given as subpoints during this section. This could include interesting historical facts or illustrations that demonstrate how the story makes people feel. Any piece of information that you don't want to forget can be abbreviated and included as a subpoint.

Repeat steps 2 and 3 for each section.

Identify your conclusion. Remember to end with hope, motivation, and good news. Don't introduce any new information in your conclusion, just reiterate what you've already said.

Items you will need

  • Computer or Pen and Paper
  • Bible
  • Commentaries

Tip

  • Practice several times with your outline! Practice is the key to confident, personal delivery.

References

Photo Credits

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