Skeleton: Introduction to Outlines

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In over six years of preaching, I’ve experimented a lot with various speaking methods in an attempt to figure out what works well and what doesn’t (I’d like to thank all the churches who put up with me!). I’ve preached from behind a pulpit (or lectern) and I’ve gone without one. I’ve preached with a full manuscript in hand and there were occasions when I only had bullet points. I’ve memorized my sermons and I’ve tried coming up with stuff from the top of my head. These experiments proved to be valuable lessons. One of the things I experimented with early on was having no outline. When I started out as a preacher, I felt that an outline constricted me in my creativity and delivery. And so I decided to try a few sermons without one. It’s sufficient now to say that I never leave home without an outline.

An outline forms the skeleton of your sermon. The content you’ve gathered during hermeneutics (or Biblical interpretation) become the organs, the muscles, and the skin that make up the bulk of the body. In essence, the outline holds your sermon together. In this series, Skeleton, we’ll look at the benefits of having a good outline and how to build an effective one.

To start off, here are the benefits of having a good skeleton:

(1) A good outline helps you.

Once you’ve gathered all your content together (see Content Crisis), you will notice that you have a lot of information on your plate. That information can be quite overwhelming and confusing especially if they’re all jumbled together. A good outline will help you arrange that information into logical and manageable chunks for your personal sanity. A sermon that is clear to the audience is one that is first and foremost clear to the preacher. A good outline will help ensure that your content is clear and logical to you.

(2) A good outline helps your audience.

Once the information is clear and logical to you, you can then communicate that information in a way that is also clear and logical to your audience. One of the hardest things I saw during my outline-less experiments was the confused look on the faces of people. You can always tell when a person is struggling to understand by the look in their eyes and the posture of their head and body. It’s as if they’re leaning towards you to gather more information for the sake of their own clarity (and sanity). A good outline makes it easier for your congregation to take in the information by dividing it into logical portions.

(3) A good outline enables you to become more creative.

I was wrong to think that an outline constricted my creativity. In fact, having no outline forced me to be less creative. I had to spend more time giving out more information. This was because I wasn’t sure what details were important and what weren’t. Not all information is equally valuable to your sermon. Having no outline blurs the line of importance and makes all the information look equally valuable. By structuring your sermon around a good outline, you will know which details are important to support a key point and which aren’t. You’ll want to devote more time to important information and less time to others. In turn, this enables you to become more creative by giving you more time and space to show good illustrations or tell relevant stories to support your key points.

In the next article, we’ll look at some general ideas on what makes a good outline.

Join the discussion: Do you use an outline? Why or why not?

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Next Article: Skeleton: What makes a good outline? | Series: Skeleton

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One thought on “Skeleton: Introduction to Outlines

  1. I use an outline. Sometimes I even draw a flowchart just to be sure that I know how my teaching will flow, and to see if it makes sense (That is how I learn things, so Im assuming people would learn from it easier).

    I have some issues when using an outline:

    1. When I accidentally deviate from my outline/ flow chart, I kind of lose focus.

    2. One pastor told me that it is equally important not to focus too much on my outline, but let the Holy Spirit dictate what I will say. I let the Holy Spirit create my outline, but not really when Im already in front.

    Do you have any suggestions how to improved on these?

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