How To Write A Sermon Outline

Welcome to the first official blog post by Pastor’s Workshop!  In this and following blog posts we’ll look at how to write a sermon outline, including reducing the manuscript to an outline.  Whether you are a full-time pastor, bi-vocational pastor, evangelist, lay preacher, teacher or Christian communicator in any area, this information will be of practical benefit to you.  Follow the tips that will be given, and you will become a fearless and effective communicator of God’s Word.  For easy understanding, please know that the general terms “preaching” and “preacher” used in these blogs may actually cover may styles of communication.  Each will be explained in detail later.

The Purpose of Preaching

There is a purpose to preaching to your congregation. What is the purpose of preaching?  In short, it is to accurately and persuasively communicate God’s Word in such a way as to elicit a life-change response.  Preaching always has eternal value and the hearer should be impacted so effectively that eternal decisions are made as a result of hearing the preacher.  Results of effective preaching may take one or more of several forms: conversion to faith in Christ, repentance of sin, obedience to some call of God to Christian service or personal spiritual growth and so on.  With this in mind, the preacher should always be aware that preaching is not a spectator sport.  Becoming a gifted orator is not the goal; becoming a persuasive communicator is the goal.  The listening audience, always comprised of individual hearers, should be moved to some type of response. Preaching for specific results will be given extensive treatment in a following blog.

All for-profit companies exist for only one purpose: to generate a profit. Everything else is subordinate to and should be supportive of making a profit.  If that sounds crass or politically incorrect and you are the leader of such a company, you either have already or soon will be out of business.  Making the best widgets in the world (if that is your company’s business) is not the goal.  Great marketing, superior management, sound inventory control, the latest manufacturing techniques, human resource development and so forth are all necessary components of a successful company.  If you fail to turn a profit, however, you will not sustain your business.

Likewise, noted author and speaker (and former pastor) John Maxwell has defined “leadership” as influence.  This could be said of preaching as well.  The preacher, inspired by and working in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, should stay focused on that one goal in every message delivered. Just as in any business, there are many components to successful preaching, and we’ll explore each of those in coming blogs.  Selecting a specific focal passage of Scripture, researching that text, context and keyword studies, finding the best illustrations to include, reducing your research to a sensible outline, delivery . . . all these are necessary components of producing a great sermon.  If the climax of the sermon is not a call to some decision, however, and the preacher has not led the listener step-by-step to make that decision under the Holy Spirit’s direction, then appropriate influence is lacking.  A devoted student of preaching would then review the sermon, take it apart piece by piece, and find the missing ingredient so as not to repeat the mistakes made.

Remember, there are many “types” of decisions resulting from a successful sermon.  Some hearers may make a first time decision to follow Christ as a new believer, others to be baptized or become a member of a local church, still others to make lifestyle changes that would honor Christ, others to obey a call to some specific area of Christian service.  Under the Lord’s guidance, however, each of those decisions will be made because the preacher used his influence to persuade the hearer to not only make that decision, but to do so without delay.

Therefore, as you prepare a sermon and progress through each step of the process keep the endgame in mind: when you speak the final sentence of any sermon, determine what decision you are asking the listener to make for Christ.  It is this element alone that separates a sermon from a simple speech or classroom lecture!

Sermon Outline Types

There are many specific types of sermons.  Sometimes there is a blend of these in a particular sermon, either to accommodate a specific audience or to drive home the central idea of the sermon.  What follows is a general description of the most common types of sermons.  Detailed explanations, examples and development instructions will be provided in ongoing blogs.

The Textual Sermon Outline

Preaching from and explaining a specific verse or passage in the Bible would follow a textual sermon outline. Very similar to this style is Expository Preaching, though there is a difference; some would insist a critical difference.  In short, expository preaching covers a designated Bible text, such as an entire book in the Bible, line by line, verse by verse, without omitting any passage.  A textual sermon simply places a magnifying glass over one verse or passage that may or may not be related to the sermon last week or next week.  Many well known preachers have taken over a year to conduct a thorough exposition of a Bible book, say one of the four Gospels.  Let that sink in . . . over 50 sermons from one book of the Bible.  Popular pastor John MacArthur of California uses this subtitle to his ministry known as Grace To You: Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse At A Time.  Often MacArthur will preach several sermons on a single verse, such as Genesis 1:1 or John 3:16.  That is expository preaching at its finest.

Textual sermon outline has an onion layered approachTo differentiate, a textual sermon will use expository principles while retaining the freedom to move to an entirely different text the following week.  Both the textual and expository sermon use a preaching style known variously as “peeling the onion,” “the funnel method,” “unpacking a verse” or some similar description.  For now, what this means is following a well-respected pattern of Bible study known as Hermeneutics.  In the academic world this term refers to laws of accurate interpretation.  The preacher studies – and develops a sermon based upon – the historical background of a text such as date and authorship, occasion for writing (what prompted the book or passage), parallels in secular history, evident themes (such as doctrines, key ideas, etc.) key word studies (e.g. the five Greek words for “love”), then parallel references – other Bible texts that address the same subject or theme, and so forth.  In future blogs and through the Pastorsworkshop website I’ll be teaching you step-by-step how to do this kind of study and sermon development.

The foundational truth in this type of study and preaching is to first ask, “What does the Bible (this passage) mean?”  This is quite different from asking, “What does this mean to me?”  The first question has to do with raw truth.  The second question deals with application of truth . . . or maybe not truth at all, merely opinion.

The Topical Sermon Outline

Choosing a topic and finding Bible verses or passages that illustrate or support the chosen topic is indicative of creating a topical sermon. This are very popular preaching method, both for the preacher and the hearer.  This method is especially useful when addressing some major current event such a holiday, tragedy, seasonal issue, etc.  Examples of topical sermons would be those developed around the subjects of Christmas, the Resurrection of Christ, the Deity of Christ, Is America a Christian Nation? What the Bible says about . . . homosexuality, marriage, tithing, etc.  The list is endless.

The preacher desiring to be accurate in his preaching, of course, will still follow the laws of good hermeneutics and be true to the Scripture.  The tools for both textual and topical preaching will be the same with only slight differences.  For example, solid Bible commentaries, word studies, a variety of Bible translations, a concordance and Bible dictionary are required for your tool bag.  As your skill level increases you will want to add resources such as a Hebrew-English and Greek-English lexicon (dictionary).  In topical sermon development the concordance is indispensable to finding various Bible verses with the same word occurrence you are chasing.  NOTE: in the digital age many of these resources are to be found online, saving the student/preacher much money that would be spent on purchasing books.  Some books, however, you will find are indispensable.  Later I’ll introduce you to many tools, both online and in print, that I use extensively in sermon preparation.  We’ll take a particular word, for example, and demonstrate how each tool can help you increase not only your personal knowledge but expose methods of choosing the best means of communicating the truths you are discovering.  In other words, how to use the knowledge you are gaining to influence your listeners to make a decision that will honor Christ.

The Evangelistic Sermon Outline

Evangelistic PreachingEvangelical sermons are designed specifically to share the Gospel in a manner that leads listeners to respond to a call for salvation. As you might guess, these could be either textual or topical in nature.  From the introduction to the invitation, however, the entire sermon is designed to elicit a specific response.  These sermons are especially appropriate when addressing an audience the preacher knows is comprised of many non-believers.  The goal is to present the Gospel in such a clear and compelling fashion that the listener is led not only to understand the message of salvation, but to actively respond to that message.  The listener responds with repentance and faith in Christ.  While these are not “feel good” sermons they don’t need to be full of condemnation either.  Presenting the truths of Scripture accurately and lovingly will be used by the Holy Spirit to draw the listener to God.  The best of these sermons ask (and answer!) life’s most important questions.  For example, in Acts 24:25 the apostle Paul confronted Felix with these three questions: (1) What are you going to do about your past sins? (2) What are you going to do about present temptation? And, (3) What are you going to do about future judgment?  Felix was troubled by this, as any sinner should be.

The Special Occasion Sermon Outline

This is a sermon developed to address a specific, momentary issue. Examples would be a funeral sermon, sermons surrounding Christmas or Easter, July 4th (in America), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the first day in a new worship center, dedication of babies and their parents, etc.  As you can guess, these are usually topical in nature but do not preclude the use of good textual study.  In the coming weeks you will find complete sermons and accompanying outlines of these type sermons at

The Age Group Specific Sermon – sermons that use topics, texts, illustrations and language to address a specific age group. These could be children, students, young couples, median age or seniors.  Naturally, these sermons are intended to address specific issues being faced by those in that age group.  Talking to students about the dangers of sexual temptation using relevant cultural examples is appropriate.  Not so much with the elderly.  A better topic would be “Heaven.

I encourage you to start a “preaching file” with this blog and print it out.  Add each new blog to the file and you will soon have the equivalent of a seminary-level course in preaching.  Very soon you will also be able to connect to the Pastorsworkshop YouTube channel to enjoy video teaching on this same subject.

My hope is to both encourage and to equip you to become the most effective communicator and “persuader” your gifts will allow.  Your preaching style should always be true to your individual personality.  If you don’t carry on casual conversations with intentional eloquence, don’t plan to preach that way.  You will always be on a quest to polish and increase your skill level, of course, but being real and authentic in the power of the Holy Spirit is your strongest asset.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a master of English and powerful orator.  Dwight L. Moody butchered English grammar.  Billy Graham spoke easily to the common man.  All were used mightily by God. These three are widely known as great preachers.  Never forget, however, that if God has called you to preach, YOU can become a powerful communicator of God’s truth in your own corner of the Kingdom!