What do you want them to remember – the outline?

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.

3 thoughts on “What do you want them to remember – the outline?

  1. I think this goes back to whether a sermon is a lecture teaching religious truth or an event that seeks to place the congregation, preacher, and Holy Spirit in an encounter that transforms humanity. Certainly there are “teaching moments” in just about every sermon, but I like your point in this post. The point is not to “teach” but “transform.” Certainly there has to be some teaching to transform, but teaching facts is not the point. You made that point very well when you said: “The goal is not memorization, but transformation.”

    Let me also emphasize…Another problem that the “fill in the blank” kind of preaching might be falling into the trap of is preaching too many points. When you leave a great sermon, you may not remember everything, but you remember the main point and you know how to apply that to your life. The fill in the blank kind of sermon can end up with the people having many facts and having to refer to the lesson guide to even understand what you said, let alone apply it.

  2. Peter, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments here! LIsteners should be drawn to the God of the text, not the tools that the preacher/teacher uses to organize his thoughts, rightfully working “behind the scenes” as you said. I think this is one of the reasons why Pat & I often have enjoying re-listening to certain messages in the past; NOT that they sere so well organized, or left us with key words, but that the message spoke to our spirit & conveyed God’s mind to us! Thanks for sharing this excellent homiletic’s lesson!

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