Asking a preacher where he gets his ideas for a sermon is a bit like asking a painter or a playwright where he gets his ideas. The making of a sermon is more art than science. Even an artist, though, will study and refine his technique. There is no process or procedure which can replace the mystery of creativity. However, having a plan can help discipline the mind; creating the right atmosphere for creativity. The following is a step- by-step procedure for developing an expository outline.
1. Read your chosen text in more than one translation.
2. Read commentaries on the passage.
3. Read sermons on the passage.
4. Reread the text, writing down the statements of fact or truth you see in the passage.
Note: If you can diagram sentences, you could do that here However, most find sentence diagraming too
complicated and time consuming.
5. From your list of statements, find those which could be organized around a central theme and be well
6. Make some of your statements more general and some more specific to suit your needs.
7. Write a one-sentence proposition which summarizes your entire message.
8. Settle on your final main points (there should be two, three, or four of these).
9. Write your points for alliteration, rhyme, or similar word combinations if it suits you. (Note: It is not wise to
forsake the truth of a passage just to get a clever outline.)
10. Settle on your subpoints, using the same procedure as before; or simply ask who, what, why, and when.
11. Put your outline in final form.
12. Add illustrations.
13. Write out your message in full, if possible.
The most difficult part of the process is probably 4-7. Let’s illustrate how these statements of fact can suggest a sermon outline. We will illustrate on a shorter passage than we would normally use, but the process is the same.
If you were preaching from John 3:16, what statements of fact could you find in that verse? Your list could be as follows:
1. God loved the world.
2. God loved the world in a special way.
3. God sent His Son.
4. God sent His Son to save.
5. Whosoever believes in Him shall not perish.
6. Whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.
From this list, a three-point outline comes rather quickly:
I. The object of God’s Love – the world
II. The character of God’s love – He sent His Son
III. The goal of God’s love – that the world should not perish
That outline is preachable. What is described briefly here, however, actually requires hard work and meditation. The Spirit blesses the preacher who is willing to pay the price. Remember the words of Paul Scherer, when he gave three secrets to better preaching. He said, “The first is hard work, the second is hard work, and the third is still more work.”