Skeleton: What makes a good outline?

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As I mentioned in the previous article, the outline forms the skeleton of your sermon. Once you have the skeleton, you can place the organs, the muscles, and the skin (the content you’ve gathered) in the appropriate places. So what makes a good outline? Here are some general thoughts on what makes a good skeleton:

(1) A good outline is simple.

In a practical sense, the whole idea of public speaking (which includes preaching) is to take complex ideas and turn them into something simpler for an audience to grasp. You’ll want to avoid doing the opposite—taking simple ideas and making them complex. A sermon that is simple to the audience begins with a simple outline. If your outline looks complex, your sermon will probably sound complex when you deliver it. A simple outline, of course, doesn’t mean that your sermon needs to be simplistic. You can still have a very detailed sermon with plenty of good content to chew on. A simple outline will help ensure that your detailed sermon will be easy to digest.

(2) A good outline highlights the key points.

In every sermon, there are only a handful of items that you really want your audience to take home with them. These are the key points. Make sure that your key points are clearly highlighted in your outline by placing them as the topmost bullet points (i.e. I, II, III). This will constantly remind you that these statements are the most crucial items to communicate to your audience. Highlighting the key points is especially important if you plan on showing the outline to the congregation. The topmost bullet points will be naturally perceived as being the most valuable information followed by the sub-points in decreasing importance (in fact, your audience may never even read the sub-points). Therefore, leverage your outline by placing the key points at the top.

(3) A good outline is derived from the Bible.

You are preaching the Word of God after all and not just ideas that you came up with from the top of your head. Therefore, it’s important that your outline be accurately based on the passage you’re preaching from. Logic simply dictates that an outline that is grounded in the Scriptures will tend to produce a sermon that is grounded in the Scriptures. An outline that is based on imagination will tend to produce a sermon that is also based on imagination. Remember, part of a preacher’s task is to expose what God has already revealed to us in the Bible (hence the term, expository preaching). Pastors shouldn’t be scrambling to make stuff up—the content is already there. In the next few articles, I’ll show you how to ensure that your outline is derived from the Word of God.

Join the discussion: Is there anything else that makes a good outline?

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