The Preachers Guide to Sermon Outlines

The Preacher’s Guide to Sermon Outlines

Without a skeleton, a body is just a pile of mush; without a sermon outline, your preaching will likely feel like a pile of important stuff that lacks accessibility, purpose, or helpfulness.

Skeletons are restrictive in that they limit where muscles and organs can go, but are ultimately empowering as they enable the rest of your body tissue to function coherently and powerfully. Understandably, many would be resistant to utilizing sermon outlines as they might seem initially restrictive, but the structure serves both the preacher and the listener, enabling a powerful connection and efficient management of energy, as well as for sermon preparation.

For the preacher, the taunt of the blank cursor is tremendously real. Where will I begin? Where will I go next? The sense of needing to reinvent the wheel every week is a burden.

For the listener in any context, there is an assumed social script that makes for easy listening. You have coffee with someone and begin with low-intensity small talk. Even therapists do this. It’s called rapport building. When the script isn’t followed, it is awkward and clunky.

Sermons are similar.

People from various social contexts presume a natural flow will be there, and when that arc is followed, it serves people’s ability to stay engaged and pay attention.

When we pretend that our listeners haven’t been socialized in a mode of listening (or disregard on purpose the fact that there is a way of speaking that serves them), we might find that our sermons fall on deaf ears… and it will be our fault.

Sermon outlines are the spine of your weekly message. Beginning with a simple sermon outline is like giving yourself a headstart when you prepare a sermon.

Sermon outlines are the spine of your weekly message

The two goals of effectiveness and ease do not have to compete; sermon preparation tools, like sermon outlines and sermon worksheets, make the job easier and simultaneously more effective. You wouldn’t fault a carpenter for upgrading his hammer, so you shouldn’t fault a preacher for upgrading their tools.

An effective sermon outline will feel like a butcher using a sharp knife – better cuts with less effort.

One way you know you’re due for an upgrade in your outline process is noticing when “rightly dividing the word” and “preaching the word in and out of season” begins to feel like cutting a steak with a dull knife. It’s getting cut, but the cuts are messy, and the work required seems disproportionate to the investment made into your people.

Just like knives need to be regularly sharpened, your sermon preparation tools also need upkeep. Proper utilization of various types of sermon outlines or sermon outline templates are a great way to keep the preacher’s mind fresh and the listeners’ ears tuned in.

A poor sermon outline is fundamentally unloving to the listener.

When you are taking someone somewhere, it is kind to lead them in such a way they can follow you. Sermons are not a game of chase with a four-year-old in which the child takes off running while you, the exasperated follower, try to keep up.

No, sermons are functions of shepherding; being easy to follow is partially a result of good structure. If your sermon preparations include a poor outline you’ll be asking your listeners to play chase.

Preaching is not just saying things in front of people, it is serving God’s people. If at a restaurant a waiter brought your dessert out first, your main course second, your appetizers third, and didn’t bring out the drinks you ordered at all, it doesn’t truly matter how good the appetizers were, it would be a sub-par experience. Worst of all, you’d go home discussing how weird the food service was, not the food.

Preaching is not just saying things in front of people, it is serving God's people.

It’s the problem that sermon outlines give solution to; we are serving up the solid food of God’s word in a way that makes it accessible and digestible, and people walk away talking about the food, not the wait staff. Good use of a sermon outline structures the act of service in preaching such that it is truly an act of service – not merely an act of self-expression that the congregation happens to be listening in on. A good structure means listeners will be more likely to listen to, remember, discuss, and apply your sermons.

It might sound like extra work to create a sermon outline or prepare off of a sermon outline template, but it isn’t. It is different work, but it will end up saving you time and energy. Making use of the free sermon outlines below will help you accomplish this strategic shift without much additional effort. It is sort of like planning a date night instead of just winging it; just ten minutes of strategic planning can change the trajectory and benefit of an evening. Ten minutes of strategically mapping out a sermon outline will make for a more meaningful and useful study.

In this article, we will explore habits, routines, and sample outlines, using sermon outlines to inform your sermon notes (the ones you take into the pulpit with you), as well as other aspects of the sermon writing process that can inform your sermon outline process.

Types of Sermon Outlines

Before we go further, we need to talk about what types of outlines exist and what we genuinely mean by outline.

Basically, an outline is a purposeful structure. It is the scaffolding or a bookshelf. It is about developing the containers for the various ingredients that make up a sermon in proper order and proportion.

Scaffolding on apartment building construction project, aerial view
An outline is a purposeful structure, like scaffolding.

Sermon outlines exist to serve the preacher as he or she seeks to serve their people. Just as “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), these various types of sermon outlines will be more or less helpful to a variety of teachers. Experimenting with different sermon outlines should be done prayerfully and playfully with a sense of discovery. You are looking for what serves you as you serve your people, not building an argument for which approach or structure is “correct.”

Many learn the habit of content-building by writing papers in high school or college. Sermon outlines are not analytical research outlines; you aren’t writing something to appease a teacher, summarize perspectives on a topic, or even make a persuasive argument. Sermons are not essays, so the outline should function differently.

Outlines are about capturing and organizing types of content. Depending on you and your audience, the form and type of outline will be different.

Blank Sermon Template Outline

A blank sermon outline is essentially a sermon template. For instance, you may be familiar with the 3-Point Sermon Template or Andy Stanley’s Me-We-God-You-We Sermon Template.

These templates give you a general framework but do not contain any suggested content for the sermon. It is simply a way to organize your sermon that is familiar and functional.

Starting with a blank sermon template outline is a great way to develop your own outline template to use week in and week out — especially if you’re newer to preaching or preaching with any regularity.

The idea behind the “blank” sermon template is that you create buckets for yourself and fill them as you go. For example, in using Me-We-God-You-We, you have five buckets.

It is best to start with the middle section – “God” as you submit yourself to the Spirit through the text you are teaching. As you develop a burn around what God’s address is to you and your people, you make a note of key exegetical points and begin to organize them either around the flow of the text or the idea, depending on the topic.

As you go, you’ll feel personally challenged, encouraged, and corporately implicated by what God is saying. You’ll then begin to take note of those possible illustrations and plug them into your preexisting buckets.

The advantage of the Me-We-God-You-We structure is that it forces a layer of vulnerability each week – you begin with “me,” i.e., “here is why I need this sermon today.” Then it forces you to move to connection “we,” i.e., “here is how you are like me in this.”

This vulnerability and connection are congruent with the way of Jesus’ ministry which begins with incarnation. Notice how the outline itself is born out of a philosophy of ministry rooted in the way and approach of Jesus.

Sermon Outline with Sample Content

The second type of outline you may be picturing is an outline that includes sample content. For instance, if you’re going to preach a message on joy, you might search the internet for “sermon outline joy” and hope to find illustrations, application points, or other sermon elements to include in your sermon.

This type of sermon outline can be very helpful, especially if you’re in the process of gathering ideas and inspiration for your sermon. You aren’t looking for a manuscript, but for something to help you get your outline going, and seeing what someone else has done can help.

All preaching is saying what God has already said through someone else. Using or starting with someone else’s content is about leaning on the whole historical church rather than functioning as an island. Over-reliance on personal innovation or creativity is dangerous and ultimately arrogant! As long as you properly attribute sources and don’t misrepresent yourself as an original thinker, you ought to feel comfortable leveraging the wisdom of the “Big C” Church in your sermon prep process.

If you have the chance to start on second base, already in scoring position, why not start there?

We call this type of outline a Series Guide, and we have thousands of sermon outline series guides available inside Sermonary+.

Over-reliance on personal innovation or creativity is dangerous and ultimately arrogant.

Text-Shaped Outline

Many prefer to let the shape and structure of the text they are preaching give shape to their sermons, rather than make a strategic sermon outline onto a Bible text. This is especially if teaching sequentially and expositionally through a book.

Even if this is what you are trying to do, you will still group observations and illustrations while tracing the flow of the text’s argument with some form or structure. Shooting for an outline that is explicitly birthed out of the text is a great thing, but mindfully taking note of the structure latent in the text and connecting supporting content to that structure is precisely what an outline is.

It is important to not dismiss sermon outlines as purely pragmatic or convenient. Often, as we discussed above, they are birthed out of meaningful theological convictions and ministry philosophies. This is a preference discussion, not a “who is more biblical” discussion.

Sermon Manuscripts

Manuscripts are not outlines, they are word-for-word records of what you plan to say. Manuscripts can be helpful and useful especially when it comes to matters of precision in communication or expediency in dissemination of sermon content for use in other spaces.

This type of sermon structure will actually feel more like a research paper in terms of form, but you must be careful to write for the ear and not for the eye as you build your sermon. If your sermon manuscript could double as an article or blog post, then you’re probably not preaching, you’re doing a live presentation of a paper you’ve written.

Many preachers who use manuscripts instead of outlines have been phenomenal, life-changing communicators. However, many more who use manuscripts have come across far too academic, cold, or inaccessible. The besetting issue with manuscript preaching is that it is less conversational and therefore less relational.

We are not going to explore manuscripts, their merits, or their use in the process of developing your own sermon outline beyond maybe a mention here or there.

Free Sermon Outlines

There is no glory in reinventing the wheel. It is probably best to imitate before you attempt to innovate. It is why libraries exist: to help people access and build on the work that others have already done! 

It is part of the beauty of the digital age: specialized, specific, and accessible libraries that service the task are being built and shared across the internet. 
As we get into developing your own sermon outline process and you need more inspiration or want to see how other pastors outline their sermons, you can check out this website Free Sermon Templates. These templates are all available as pre-made templates inside Sermonary. If you want to experiment with the outlines inside Sermonary and the Sermonary Drag-and-Drop Editor, sign up for a free trial.

Traditional 3-Point Sermon Template
If you’d like to explore these free templates and explanations of each template, you’ll find that information on the Free Sermon Templates website.

Capturing and Recording Your Sermon Outlines Or Templates

Analog Processes

Many people like to carry around a notebook, small or large, to take note of observations or spontaneous thoughts. The research shows that the more-tangible process of pen and paper helps with creativity and memory. 

Writing, organizing, rewriting, and reorganizing certainly help with reinforcement, even if it is more cumbersome. Also, as Thomas Gordon observed in Why Johnny Can’t Preachhandwritten notes and sermons force the preacher to think in complete sentences and thoughts, rather than the broken and paraphrastic method of creation that digital means allow for. 

The disadvantages of analog are obvious – even if you remember things more effectively than if you had written with a keyboard, you still have to actually remember it, whereas digital means remember your thoughts for you. 

Also, most people think faster than they can write – so the pen-and-paper approach ends up being less efficient as you have to rethink your thoughts even as you attempt to record them faithfully. It was the most popular method throughout church history for obvious reasons.

Digital Processes

There are dozens of ways to use note-taking applications or systems in developing your sermon outlines, such as Google Docs and Evernote to Apple Notes that sync across your devices and are globally accessible.

Many have found increasing success utilizing resources that are developed specifically for sermon writing, even developing their own outlines 100% using a sermon writing app like Sermonary. 

The advantage of digital means, especially those designed for building sermons, is they put you in proximity to resources, ideas, and wisdom while simultaneously remembering significant insights and connections for you. Humans aren’t great at multitasking, but computers are! 

The disadvantages of digital means are the additional distractions they produce – Twitter, Instagram, and the news are a click away. Digital processes require a different degree of personal discipline and focus.

Why Would You Use A Sermon Outline

Professional bakers, when they know the goal is to bake a cake, may not follow a recipe religiously, but they still subconsciously understand the basic ingredients in proper proportion along with the general techniques and timing that make for a good cake. There will be tweaks, but flour, sugar, and eggs mixed and cooked in an oven will be the core of the material. Cooking from scratch doesn’t mean starting from scratch in terms of wisdom, process, and goal. 

It is true for sermon preparation as well. A good sermon outline means each week when you start the sermon from scratch you have the basic ingredients, a process pre-determined to bring wisdom, and an instinct that saves time and energy.

Benefits of Using A Sermon Outline

You know when you are done prepping your sermon. Sermons are easy to overcook as you analyze and reanalyze until you have a sense of completion or run out of time. When you are building from an outline and your buckets are filled, you know you’re done, so you can set aside the sermon for the weekend and move on to other work.

You can plan your week more effectively. When you have a sermon outline, it is easier to chunk out work on a day-to-day basis. For example, if you were working from Andy Stanley’s Me-We-God-You-We outline, you could do it like this:

  • Monday – God
  • Tuesday – Me/We
  • Wednesday – Review the text or work on other things
  • Thursday – You/We, refine your illustrations
  • Friday & Saturday – full Sabbath

Leading congregations through preaching is never anybody’s only task. Work tends to take all the time you give it – sermon outlines help you with putting proper limits on the work.

Few have the clarity of thought to remember entire sermons and shoot them from the hip. Even for those who do, all it takes is a flustered morning at home, a suffering friend, or an unhappy congregant to throw off your memory through the pain of preoccupation. Having a sermon outline serves as a safety net while in the pulpit, ensuring continuity between services and saving you from very awkward gaps in memory.

Image of pulpit with sermon notes, sermon outline, and Bible
Having a sermon outline serves as a safety net while in the pulpit.

Some sermons shouldn’t be preached just once. Some sermons will and ought to be shared in other environments with other congregations or simply in the future. Why would a chef only make his signature dishes once? Why would he or she not keep record of their recipes for future use, even for his successors to benefit from? Sermon outlines, especially digital ones, don’t just transfer and travel well geographically, they travel well through history. 

Objections to Using a Sermon Outline

Some might see sermon outlines as restricting the preacher’s ability to follow the leading of the Spirit in the act of preaching. This might be true for some people! However, many hide behind this objection as a way of either over-relying on their own charisma and personality or justifying their own lack of preparation. 

For the Spirit to be able to change your plans, you first must have a plan! The Spirit can be just as alive, present, and involved in the act of building your sermon outline as in the act of delivery. 

Some object to sermon outlines for less spiritual reasons and more personal ones. They might say the sermon outline feels too restrictive. It is possibly true. However, just like boundaries serve you in the arena of relationships and calendars, they also serve you in the act of preaching. Not all restrictions should be seen as negative, rather many should be understood as fundamentally good. 
If you find that you regularly feel unnecessarily constrained by your sermon outline, it’s probably time to experiment with a new template that perhaps better fits your context or personality.

Cautions About Using A Sermon Outline

As John Piper said, “we should use means but not trust means.” From guitars to small groups, to sermon outlines, we must understand that all fruit is a result of the Spirit working in power in response to our prayers or in grace despite our prayerlessness. 

Placing faith in forms and strategies is peak foolishness. Yet, as practitioners with assignments from God Himself, we ought to use “all possible means we might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

One of the main metaphors we see in scripture for church leaders is that they are fathers and mothers to the congregation. Just like parenting, strategies are only effective for a given amount of time. One of the temptations of using sermon outlines that has been proven effective is we might move into “neutral” and get overly comfortable with the flow of our preaching. 

If we are prone to sloth, the sermon outline that was designed to serve our congregation might only end up serving us if we don’t feel the proper prayerful pressure to add freshness or variety to our words.  

A good sermon outline process is like a good parenting strategy – it ought to evolve seasonally as you and your followers develop.

A good sermon outline process is like a good parenting strategy - it ought to evolve seasonally as you and your followers develop.

Creating Your First Outline

If you are reading this, it is clear you care about preaching, and you care about those to whom you’ll be preaching. Preaching is an act of love – remind yourself of that as you take your first steps. “I am doing this in order to love the hearers, not to prove myself to them or anybody else.”

When you begin from a place of love and service, the performance anxiety won’t go away but it ought to at least take the edge off! 

Below we’ll get a bit more granular into what developing a sermon outline could look like for you.

Choose Your Medium for Your Outline

Do not feel the pressure to decide how you’ll do your sermon outlines for the rest of your life, just pick how you’ll do this one. We pilot and then pivot as we grow. 

Whether you use Sermonary, notecards, or blank 8.5×11 paper is less important at this stage than committing to a lifetime of experimentation and growth as you discover your process and voice.

Sermon Outline Elements

A good meal begins with good ingredients. Content isn’t everything, but a lack of having something to say is a huge problem. It is helpful to consider not just content, but types of content:

  • Scripture
  • Exposition or exegetical observations
  • Word Studies/Pictures
  • Principles
  • Big Ideas
  • Personal Stories
  • Serious Illustrations
  • Funny Illustrations
  • Media Elements
  • Whiteboard drawings
  • Application Points
  • Calls to Action
  • Opening Statements
  • Closing Statements
  • Prayers
  • Transitional Phrases/Material
  • Quotes
  • Silence, Pregnant Pauses
  • Searching/Stirring/Rhetorical Questions

Not every sermon needs all of these, but every sermon needs some of these. If you find you’re stuck, perhaps the list above can jar some creativity with other forms of content to put into your sermon outline. 

Choosing A Popular Sermon Outline As A Starting Point

Starting from scratch is silly. Humans learn through observation and imitation. In the early phases of your preaching especially, do not try to fly your own airplane before taking a few flights as a co-pilot.

If you’re not sure where to start, start with Me-We-God-You-We. This is a clean, six-part sermon outline.

  1. Big idea. Get clear about what the sermon is about and what it is not about. 
  2. Me – why do you need to hear this sermon? Personally introduce the problem this sermon addresses.
  3. We – how are the people in the audience, like you, in need? Find the common ground.
  4. God – take the room to God and listen to Him together. 
  5. You – this is a call to action; we don’t simply want to be hearers, but doers of the word.
  6. We – this is about hope, about imagination. What could we accomplish in our church or community if we all obeyed this together? Plant seeds that energize individuals into faithful participation in what God has called them to.

Begin with that general six-part outline and fill it out with various types of content. The flow, combined with intentional variety, will make for a more engaging listening experience. 

Making the Outline Your Own

If there are parts of the outline that feel absolutely incongruent with who or how you are, then change them. However, many are congruence-obsessed in such a way that they are reticent to serve their listeners with forms of engagement that would actually serve them. 

The restaurant industry uses the term “emotional labor” to describe the work of connecting at the level of hospitality to the guests you are serving even when they don’t feel like it or wouldn’t naturally connect with that person. 

More preachers need to make peace with the fact that preaching is often serving others through a similar type of emotional labor.

Woman smiling listening sitting next to a group of other people listening to a sermon.

That being said, you must own what you say and how you’re saying it. Playfully and prayerfully experimenting is a good thing, as long as you don’t separate yourself from the work and make it external to yourself. You, not someone else, are loving those people with this sermon. 

This might be your first time investing in an outline and it might be the first time it feels like it’s yours! Take heart – this isn’t your last outline and you have time to evolve through the years and your sermons. Finding your voice takes time and reps. 

Tim Keller argued that your first 100 sermons won’t be good no matter what. The point of this statement is not to produce malaise and ambivalence about your first 100 sermons, but instead to liberate the new preacher from the burden of having to be a matured version of themselves before it is spiritually or psychologically possible. Preach your sermon at your personal stage of development – there isn’t another way.

Your Sermon Outline After 100 Messages

Just like it is easy for a marriage to get into a rut, it is worth noticing that sermons can also easily slip into a rut. This is especially true if your preaching has been generally experienced as effective and helpful! 

Much of the outline process might arrive at the place of instinct at this point. The flow and function of the different aspects of your preaching will be in your “gut” and you might be tempted to get to a place of unconscious competence. You won’t think much about your preaching, you’ll just preach! 

In some ways this is economical – you’ll need less time in prep, less detailed content in your outline, and you’ll spend less time dialing in your transitions and organization. However, the fact that something is easier doesn’t necessarily mean it is better. 

The “old dog, new tricks” dynamic doesn’t need to be true of you. Once you have a bank of sermons under your belt, it’d be wise and beneficial to sit down with people close to you and get substantive feedback on your preaching. This might be painful, but so is going to the gym or physical therapy. 

There are types of feedback that you can assimilate and make use of after having preached 100 sermons that you can’t do anything with when you’re just starting. The coaching of a 7-year-old who’s trying out golf for the first time and the type of coaching a PGA tour player receives are insanely different. 

Editing Your Outline

There are two ways to ruin a good ribeye steak: 1) overcook it and 2) surround it with too much fluff and baggage. Keeping the main thing the main thing in each sermon is difficult, especially in your first handful of sermons. 

It is easy to want to include things that are just interesting and helpful to you – but that aren’t explicitly connected to your sermon. 

Here is an excellent rule of thumb for your first twenty sermons – are you considering cutting something? Definitely cut it. 

If you are having a difficult time discerning whether you should cut something or not, ask yourself whether the connection of this given illustration or content to the big idea will be obvious to the listener. If the answer is no, then cut it. 

If you have access to someone who will give you helpful feedback, call that person and get their take on whether something should be cut or not. However, if you are already considering calling someone to ask about whether something should be cut or not, go ahead and cut it. 

Sermons are measured in minutes past interest, not minutes. Tight, well-edited sermons build trust with your listeners. 

Whatever you cut or save, keep a notebook or a Notes folder full of the good nuggets that haven’t fit into sermons to come back to for future use. Just because something didn’t belong in this sermon doesn’t mean it wasn’t insightful or quality.

Sermons are measured in minutes past interest, not minutes. Tight, well-edited sermons build trust with your listeners.

Sharing Your Sermon Outline

A huge benefit of having a sermon outline is its shareability. This is both preparative and distributive. You can bring other people into the process with you and disseminate your work more broadly. Yes, it could be people who will offer feedback and critique, but those aren’t the only people who would benefit from having a look at your outline.

Before you preach the sermon, small group leaders, the person running slides, or the person who will upload the sermon to various digital platforms would benefit from having more access to your content as they seek to do their jobs well. 

After you preach the sermon, other preachers or leaders might benefit from reading your notes as questions present themselves or if they are tasked with teaching on the same or similar topic in other venues.

Turning Your Sermon Outline Into Additional Content

Writing a sermon is one of, if not the most time-intensive and intellectually exhausting undertakings of being a preaching pastor. That being the case, every pastor should look for ways to get more mileage out of each sermon, and having a strong sermon outline can aid you in doing just that. 

In the age of social media, getting multiple uses out of your sermon content is a huge win. Having a sermon outline that is fairly built out will make posting quotes or paragraphs from your sermon substantially easier both for you and for someone else on your team.

Once your sermon is complete, you can draft a title and a sermon description, then begin to pick apart your outline into more bite-sized content that can be used for sharing and promoting — before or after it is preached.

Your sermon outline can inform the following content:

  • A strong sermon title
  • A short but informative sermon description
  • A blog post for your website with your key points written out
  • If your notes are suitable for public consumption, an extra resource available on your website sermon archive
  • Individual social media posts or Twitter threads
  • Scripting for additional videos you can share
    • Or you can provide your outline to someone who edits your sermon video and use the outline content as text to accompany clips from your sermon.

While there are a lot of things you could do with your sermon content, there are a couple of things you definitely should do.

Give your sermon a strong title and draft a strong informative description.

Avoid Poetic Sermon Titles

The Poetic Sermon Title is probably the most used title strategy in recent memory. This sermon title approach pulls from elements within the sermon. To understand how witty and sharp the title is you would need to listen to the entire sermon and at the end, it would make sense.

Unfortunately, the payoff for this type of sermon title is minimal at best because it doesn’t offer any sort of promise to listeners, but rather, an artistic summary. 

If you’re posting your message online or sharing it as a podcast, it is best to avoid the Poetic Sermon Title.

Title Your Sermon According to What It Is

Before the advent of the internet, and video streaming in particular, the title of the sermon wasn’t very important beyond Sunday.

Today, what you title the sermon has much more significance because it will be a key factor in helping someone decide whether or not to listen or watch the sermon. 

Using the “What It Is” title will make the main benefit or subject of your sermon obvious to people before they ever press play. If an adult is struggling with anxiety and the sermon is about anxiety, the title could simply be, “What the Bible Says About Anxiety” and the person would have a very good idea of what they would hear if they listened.

For instance, a quick look at the sermon titles from Redemption Church Gateway will showcase that the titles of the sermons are very straightforward and give people a good idea of what to expect.

Redemption Gateway Sermon Titles
Thumbnails of Redemption Gateway’s sermon titles
  • Jesus Is Our Victory
  • Jesus Is Our Reconciler
  • How to Create Problems that Outlast You
  • How to Lose Your Heart for God
  • The True Temple
  • The Prayer God Loves to Answer
  • Data Won’t Deliver
  • God: The Rock In Our Chaos

Each of these titles makes it clear what the content of the sermon will be and what biblical truths might emerge from the content.

As you survey your sermon outline, what would be a great title that would clearly articulate the expectations a listener should have when pressing play?

Write A Strong Description of Your Sermon

Your sermon will not be consumed in its entirety 100% of the time. Even while you’re preaching it, listeners may key in on one or two points and forget everything else you say. While it might be helpful for someone to listen through your entire sermon to get the big idea, the truth is people are by and large looking for answers — not information. 

When you are finished with your sermon outline, it is the perfect time to draft a strong sermon description that will do a good job of summarizing the answers provided in the sermon. It will help people in your church find a particular sermon months after you preached it, but it will also help people who stumble upon your content — whether on your website or social media — decide whether or not that specific sermon will help them in their current situation.

Search for a sermon about the restoration of Peter on any given church website and you’ll probably find a description similar to this:

A message about Peter being restored by Christ.

This description gives very little reason for a person to listen to that sermon beyond answering the question, “How did Christ restore Peter?”

But if you give the sermon a description more along the lines of: 

What happens when we fail? What happens when we feel as if we’ve failed God? How does God see us when we do something we said we’d never do or fall back into a pattern of sin we said we’d never commit again? Fortunately, God not only tells us that this will happen, but in the story of Jesus’ restoration of Peter, we find that Jesus sees us at our best and instead of condemning us for falling short, He reminds us of the moments we were closest to Him and invites us back into the calling He placed on our lives the moment we trusted in Him. 

Truthfully, if you’ve spent 6-10 hours preparing a sermon, you could probably take an additional 30 minutes and write a much more compelling description that would help set up your sermon for future listens… but you get the idea.

Working With A Preaching Coach

Most preachers do not get helpful, actionable feedback. Part of the reason there isn’t substantive feedback is that we don’t coach people into giving us meaningful feedback. 

Having a workable sermon outline will make the feedback process easier. Where could the sermon have improved? Was it the insight, the organization, the illustrations, or the delivery? 

Sometimes the outline looks great, but the delivery of it falls flat. Sometimes the delivery was engaging and charismatic, but the content and organization needed help. Giving someone your sermon outline and then asking them to watch the sermon through the lens of looking to help you grow is one of the best ways to arrive at meaningful feedback that might help you actually improve, not just stroke or crush your ego.

You might find that you need coaching for a specific aspect of the sermon process. Perhaps you have difficulty finding insightful application in the text or producing illustrations that stir up affection for Christ or your conclusions seem to simply fall flat. Regardless, having a coach can help you with all the elements of the preaching process. 

Look for someone who genuinely cares about you, knows the Bible well, and is carrying substantial responsibility in a local church. If someone only has positive things to say, stop listening to them and find someone who will tell you the hard things. 

At the end of the day, however, you are your best critic. Watch yourself, no matter how painful it might be, notice your quirks, and see where you come across differently than you had hoped. Annotate your sermon outline and give yourself a grade along the way – INTRO (B), Me (A), We (D), God (B), You (F), We (D), Conclusion (D).