Before preaching, it is important to have the end in sight. Is our goal really to have people remember the details of the sermon? It seems that both preachers and listeners alike assume that the listener is supposed to remember the outline of the message. So preachers lament the lack of note-taking, or actively encourage it, perhaps by giving “fill in the blank” outlines. Another approach is to use powerpoint projection with the outline visually presented to the listener. And, of course, there’s the common approach of preaching with memorable, sometimes alliterated, points that function as “hooks to hang thoughts on.” None of these things are wrong (or right), but they all point toward the goal of having listeners remember the outline of the sermon (or at least have a written record of it for future consultation).
Perhaps it is time to question the value of remembering or recording a sermon’s outline. Of course, the listener can think through the message later using the outline the preacher used (if a paper record of the sermon’s content is necessary, perhaps give out a handout after the service is over?) Would it not be a better goal for people to think through the text later, rather than through the preacher’s outline?
The real goal of preaching is lives transformed by God’s Word. Any transformation should come from the biblical passage’s main idea relevantly applied to the listener’s life. The goal is not memorization, but transformation. Yet if something should be remembered, surely it should be the main idea, clearly derived from the passage and relevantly applied. The outline of a message is there to order thought, to ensure progress and to serve the big idea and its purpose. The outline is not king. It is merely a discreet servant, usually serving behind the scenes.