It is popular in some congregations for the preacher to print his sermon outline, often inserting it in the church bulletin for easy reading by the worshipers.
At first glance, this may suggest the message would take on too academic a carriage. It could do just that if the speaker is not careful. The sermon could end up with a lecture rather than the convicting deliverance of the sure Word of the Lord.
The sermon outline printed for all to see could also give one the impression that the message would be boring. After all, does not the listener want to be lifted up in spirit — inspired? Does he not want to be challenged so as to victoriously face another week? How can this happen with a neat outline parceled in front of his face?
Further, the one in the pew may sigh in weariness to think that he is going to have to sit through another Sunday school lesson when, in fact, he has just come from the Sunday school classroom moments before the worship service. Does he have to drop his head for notes in a bulletin and then lift his head to spy out the preacher’s face, going through this for half an hour or so?
None of the above exhaustion needs to take place if one still desires to use the printed sermon outline in a public service. All that is needed is some realistic care in preventing monotony from developing. After all, have there not been plenty of sermons delivered without such a public outline which have been quite tedious for the hearers?
It is not whether one goes public with the outline or keeps it hidden on the pulpit. It is how masterful the speaker is in preparing and delivering his message that counts in the end for inspiration and challenge.
So let’s think through some of the possibilities of offering the sermon outline to the worshipers so that the message can catch fire. The following is presented as an example of such an outline for preaching from II Corinthians 4:
“The True Christian”
Courage: “we do not lose heart”
Conviction: “renounce shameful things”
purposeful: “we renounce”
persistent: “not crafty”
pure: “truth”
Christ-shined: “light to shine”
“knowledge of the glory of God”
Cracked containers: “earthen vessels”
treasuring God’s light
teeming with God’s power
temporary, purposefully so
Conquering: “not destroyed”
“pressed … perplexed … persecuted”
altering death
alive in Jesus
Crowned: “I believe … I speak”
resurrection: “raised up with Jesus”
rejoicing: “thanksgiving to abound”
radiating: “the glory of God”
Captivated: “we do not lose heart”
growing: “renewed day by day”
glowing: “exceeding … glory”
going: “eternal”
Obviously, this sermon is going to be an expository message. The listeners are going to hear II Corinthians 4 read aloud to them by the preacher, then be invited to note their inserted sermon outline for a verse-by-verse understanding of the chapter.
What the listeners actually do is up to them. Some will keep the outline studiously in front of them watching every line, progressing with the pastor as he moves from verse to verse. They may even make marginal notes and eventually tuck this outline away as a bookmark in this page within their own Bibles. Perhaps this outline will be used by some of them in future personal, devotional study of the chapter.
There will be others who may never refer to the outline. They may leave it on the pew after the service or simply take it home, lying neatly inside the church bulletin. Instead of looking at the outline throughout the message, they may keep their eyes on the pastor throughout. For them to nod from paper to preacher is too bothersome or distracting.
In the end, it is not how the hearers behave during the delivery of the message that is important. It is what they do with the biblical truth after leaving the sanctuary. So whatever enhances their spiritual growth is what is of significance.
Nevertheless, the preacher is sensitive not only to end results but also the means of reaching those results. So he works at keeping the sermon as alive as possible — even with the outline going public.
Therefore, the preacher masters the outline in his own mind. He knows it from top to bottom. He does not have to look down at that paper except with a quick glance. He does not bury his head in his outline but occasionally refers to it with his eyes. Therefore, eye contact is maintained with the people in the pew.
In addition, the preacher consciously refrains from taking on a lecture-voice. He knows the difference between teaching and preaching. He will not permit himself to appear as some “school marm.” Therefore, he intentionally keeps delivery vibrant, awakening the hearts of those in front of him because he is himself alive unto God.
The preacher takes advantage of recapping the points listed. Having the outline before the hearers particularly facilitates this tool in preaching because the points to the sermon are so visually evident. It may be difficult to remember a pastor’s sermon points when only the ears are working. When the eyes are working, too, then one can get hold of those emphases long after the message has been preached.
The sermon outline above may suggest a very long delivery because there are seven emphases with numerous sub-emphases. Not so, if the preacher does it right. With seven points, each should receive about three to four minutes. Therefore, the speaker will gear his development accordingly. It is not the simplicity nor complexity of the sermon outline which dictates the sermon length; it is what the preacher does with this variable content that determines the timing.
What about those evangelistic sermons that call for action, response? How can they be preached with a public outline?
Again, it is not the use of a sermon outline inserted inside a church bulletin that is going to make a message devotional or evangelistic, meditational or doctrinally instructional. It is how the preacher gears his delivery when in the pulpit.
Obviously, if the message is devotional, then the volume, speed and use of gestures will be employed differently than when one is going to preach evangelistically. In both instances, however, the hearers could profit from the sermon outline printed for them to read.
For instance, in the case of the evangelistic message, it is no doubt better for worshipers to have in hand the sermon’s text, main points and biblical references so that the imprint will be made all the more forcefully upon their souls. Further, for those who do not respond at the close of the worship, they may yet ponder that printed outline when at home.
Still another advantage for using a public outline: it disciplines the preacher into carving out an intelligent, biblical sermon that knows its limits. Further, those outlines can be taped into the preacher’s own Bible to become tools for his own devotional study.
In addition, the outlines tucked away in the pastor’s Bible can easily be used as his foundation for presenting a Bible study. Then, of course, the delivery will not be that of the pulpit but that of the teacher’s lectern. And the illustrations may not be the same; they may be changed, updated or omitted. In any case, the ready-made outline makes for quick printing on a classroom chalkboard for the benefit of the students.
Furthermore, the printed outline can serve as the basis for a “Bible talk” — not a sermon or a study but a “talk” as may be given at a convalescent home or campfire or “spiritual cap” to some Christian fellowship. With the outline in front of him, the pastor can direct those emphases to suit the occasion. He will start out with plenty of material for his crafting, adding to or leaving out as the circumstances dictate. How comfortable he will be when working over that familiar outline for that unique setting.
The use of the public outline is one way to better nourish those who gather around the Lord’s table. More and more pastors are using such outlines to strengthen their preaching ministries.

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