Why Bother With an Outline?

I was recently chatting with a pastor who told me he never writes down an outline in preparation; rather, he just studies hard and then preaches. If it is possible to study a passage and then preach from it without doing an outline, then why bother?

Haddon Robinson teaches that the outline is for the preacher, not the congregation. The benefits of diligently outlining a message are at least four:

1. The unity of the message. You can view your sermon as a whole, and therefore, get a clear picture of its unity. Since an outline is essentially a hierarchical structure, any disconnected elements will not fit comfortably under the headings where they are placed.

2. The logic of the message. An outline clarifies in your mind the logical connection between the parts of your sermon. How does movement one flow into movement two, and why in that order? The outline will demonstrate this (or fail to do so if there is a problem).

3. The order of the message. An outline crystallizes the order of the ideas so that you can give them to your listeners in the appropriate sequence.

4. The flesh of the message. You will be able to recognize places in your sermon that require additional supporting material. Or you may see that your supporting material is all clumped together in one section, while other cupboards are bare.

2 thoughts on “Why Bother With an Outline?

  1. I think outlining is essential. I also would include creating a manuscript whether you preach from it or not, but I understand that time constraints can make that problematic.

    On the other hand, using an outline can be a problem when the preacher “preaches the outline” instead of using the outline as a means of preaching the Gospel. I forget but one homiletics author stated that we should not give the people the skeleton (the outline) but the full person (sermon).

    I heard one preacher preach a sermon like the following:

    My first point is this. My first point under the first major point is this. My second point under the first major point is this.

    My second major point is this. My first point under the second major point is this.

    And so on.

    Needless to say the sermon was hard to listen to and very distracting. He was preaching the outline and not using the outline to preach a sermon.

  2. That sounds like a painful sermon! The outline is for the preacher, not the congregation. An outline in itself is not good or bad. An outline, technically, is a representation of thought. Just as a person’s thinking can be orderly or disorderly, clear or confused, so can an outline. The benefit of writing one is to be able to “see” and evaluate the thought of the message. So I agree, have an outline (preferably not in the pulpit), write a manuscript (leave it on the pew), but preach the message!

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