A good outline can strengthen a sermon, providing clarity, progression and climax for those who hear it. Speaking personally, however, I find outlining an extremely exacting discipline. As a result, it has been profitable for me to study men who are most adept in this area – men like Charles Spurgeon, John Stott and Warren Wiersbe.
Emerging from that study, here is a list which I have compiled and that I sometimes refer to. It helps me think creatively about my sermon structure. Please note that most of the specific examples are borrowed from some of the above preachers.
1. Quote directly from text
‘To live is Christ’. ‘To die is gain’
2. Single word headings of similar length, or sound
Unity. Diversity. Maturity
Preparation. Lamentation. Celebration. Denunciation
3. Use pictures in the text
A lonely garden. A costly cup. A hypocritical kiss. A useless sword. A crowing cock
4. Same first word(s) but differing endings
The law is not greater than the promise. The law is not contrary to the promise. The law cannot do what the promise can do
The Spirit enables us to: fulfil the law of love, overcome the flesh, produce fruit
Beware of: hypocrisy, covetousness, worrying, carelessness
5. Put application in the headings
Remember what God is to you. Remember what God does for you. Remember what God does through you.
We must love Christ supremely. We must obey him universally. We must glorify him completely.
Are the dead raised? When are the dead raised? Why are the dead raised?
The preacher. The persecutor. The believer.
8. Obligation outline – ________must be________
Leaders must be humble in accepting their responsibilities. Followers must be careful in selecting their leaders. Evildoers must be certain of sin’s consequences.
9. Say what the author does in his argument (especially useful for epistles)
He defended his right to receive support. He defended his right to refuse support.
He explains his authority. He expresses his anxiety. He exposes his adversaries.
He explains their adoption. He seeks their affection. He laments their regression.
10. Say what happened to the person in the text (especially useful for narrative)
God honored him. God humbled him. God helped him.
Teaching the Jews. Helping the Gentiles. Warning the Disciples.
A clear conscience. A compassionate heart. A conquering faith.
Grace, goodness, glory.
The servant’s identity. The servant’s authority. The servant’s sympathy.
12. . Pairs
Profitable and unprofitable servants. Wise and foolish witnesses. Obedient and disobedient servants.
13. . Contrasts
Death-Life. Tablets of stone-human hearts. Fading glory-increasing glory.
14. . How to
How to use spiritual authority. How to wage spiritual warfare.
15. Twin parallel heading
The slave – you lose your liberty. The debtor – you lost your wealth. The runner – you lose your opportunity.
16. From this to that
From failure to success. From sickness to health. From guilt to forgiveness
17. Follow the chronology or some other marker in the text
The 3rd hour. The 6th hour. The 9th hour.
The two shall be one. Adults shall be children. First shall be last.
19. Headings that are precise, but pay little attention to corresponding with one another stylistically (D.A Carson seems to often preach this way)
Paul wants this prayer to be offered with earnestness, urgency and persistence.
Paul solicits prayer for himself , in connection with his own ministry.
For Paul, prayer for his ministry envisions further ministry.
Finally, it is important to learn that some of Paul’s prayers were not answered as he would have liked.
20. Don’t have a defined outline!