It has been my experience that books on preaching lift up the wrong kind of sermons as examples. They tend to teach you to prepare academic outlines so vague and general that they are robbed of power.
For instance, here’s an outline for a sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12, “The Corinthians and Spiritual Gifts:”
(Does that title make you want to sit up and listen?)
Point #1 – The source of the Corinthians’ gifts
Point #2 – The function of the Corinthians’ gifts
Point #3 – The purpose of the Corinthians’ gifts
Now, here’s what I think is wrong with this outline:
1. It’s abstract and suggests an academic outline rather than a plain explanation of biblical application.
2. It’s in the third person, and therefore, not personal at all. It’s about somebody else – the Corinthians.
3. It’s in the past tense, which gives the impression “that was then and this is now.”
4. It doesn’t mention either God or people. Do you really have a great sermon if you don’t mention either God or people?
In short, the points don’t say much of anything to anyone. You can avoid this pitfall by taking a few simple steps toward creating points that make a point.
First, use the biblical application as the points of your sermon. In other words, start with your application, and show how the Scripture illustrates it. Your sermon point should be a present tense application statement followed by the biblical text.
Second, put a verb in every one of your sermon points. The easiest way to help people be doers of the Word is to put a verb in the point. It turns the biblical truth into action steps.
Third, put “Jesus” or “God” into each of your points. Frankly, I’m very concerned about pastors who try to build seeker-sensitive sermons by eliminating “God” and “Jesus” from the message. In fact, I think the best sermons put “God” or “Jesus” right into the application points. When you stand to preach, you’re not just giving a moralistic pep talk. You want to change lives, and the power for changed lives comes only from God.
Fourth, personalize your sermon points by using personal pronouns. I rarely use the word “we” in an application or an outline because it weakens the application. In other words, say, “Jesus Christ came for me. Jesus Christ died for me. Jesus Christ is coming again for me.”
Here’s an outline of 1 Corinthians 12 to show you what I mean. I titled the sermon, “Using Your Gifts:”
Point #1 – God gave you gifts.
Point #2 – God gave you gifts to use.
Point #3 – God gives you gifts for the benefit of the body.
I like this outline because it’s personal, practical, God-centered and positive.
Finally, during your sermon suggest a practical assignment for the week. At Saddleback we often assign some homework! This reflects the way Jesus taught; he often gave assignments by saying, “Go and do likewise.”
The outline in the picture is from a leaf of William H. Griffith Thomas’ sermon notes. Read more at the Dallas Theological Seminary’s website.