Periodically I like to come back to this issue of outlines and whom they serve. The sermon outline is the preacher’s strategy, but it is not the actual “weapon.” If we think of the message purpose as the target, and the message idea as the arrow, then the outline is the strategy. Strategy is important, but the goal is for those on the receiving end to leave with the arrow firmly implanted in their hearts and lives. The strategy gets it there, but if they go away with greater awareness of strategy than arrow, then something has not quite worked.
Am I suggesting that making an outline memorable is not the main goal for the preacher? Yes. Am I saying that a memorable outline is wrong and should not be offered? Not at all. If the outline happens to be memorable, that is fine. But the preacher’s energy is better spent getting the listener into the passage and getting the main point of that passage into the listener’s heart with a clear sense of its relevance to their lives and the encouragement to respond appropriately to the God whose heart is revealed in the text.
Allow me to offer some of the potential dangers of focusing on creating a memorable outline:
1. The focus can easily be shifted from the passage to the preacher’s craft. This is where the listener is listening for the preacher’s message based on a text, rather than looking for the message of the text.
2. The biblical passage may not be preached honestly. This is what happens when a text is squeezed into an outline form, rather than having the message shaped and controlled by the text.
3. The listener can be drawn toward the clever preacher, rather than the wonderful God. This doesn’t mean that we preach dull and plain so that all focus can go to Christ. Rather, we need to beware that our cleverness doesn’t become a distraction from the God speaking in the Bible.
I’ll finish off the list tomorrow…