How bony should you make your sermon outline? Some people are passionately committed to having the sermon outline show through for maximum clarity. Every point is obviously a point. It is offered as such (my third point is…) The points need to be equal in weight, alliterated in wording and balanced perfectly.
This kind of rhetorical approach to preaching is understandable. It’s what we have been told is the right way to preach. It is perhaps what we have often heard done either successfully or not. Maybe we were taught it in seminary. Apparently people like to take notes of the points. Apparently parallel points are more memorable (and apparently remembering your outline is the goal of some listeners).
Can I question the point of all this for a moment? What if the points of the sermon are actually for the preacher’s benefit, rather than for the listeners? What if their take-away should be the main idea of the passage and how it has marked them, rather than a synopsis of your outline that they probably will never look at again?
If the only goal in preaching were clarity, then bony preaching would be the way to go. Let the skeleton show through in everything. But what about faithfulness to the text? Perhaps the text doesn’t offer three balanced points, and to make it offer that would be to abuse the text? What about relevance? What about engaging the listener? What about transformation that doesn’t come merely from information transfer? Perhaps bony preaching is not the only way to go?
I do not advocate rejection of traditional outlining methodologies. I am not saying we should go free form and nebulous in our preaching. But I would suggest that my outline is my servant, not my product. I outline the flow of the sermon to reflect the text and the message, but that is for my sake. Somehow I have to find the balance between bony preaching (clear, but potentially weak in other areas), and fleshy sermons (engaging, interesting, and/or biblically faithful, but potentially less “clear” by traditional measures).