My Basic Sermon Outline

This is one of those honest, straight from the heart type of posts. As I come to the end of my seminary education (at least for now), I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflective work concerning my spiritual and vocational identity.  Most of this work revolves around three basic questions; What is my calling? How have I worked towards fulfilling it? What are the steps needed in order to walk it out going forward? “Get on the balcony”, as some would say. Well, here I am and here goes a my quasiplatonic understanding of vocation.

I love to preach and teach (or “speak” for you contemporary Christians). Seriously! I believe I’ve been called to preach and teach God’s Word. Jeremiah 1:4-9 is at the epicenter of my vocational understanding and a huge part of my calling narrative. Preaching is one of those activities that get me really excited and terrified at the same time. I’ve been preaching for a little over 10 years now. I still remember my first “Sunday sermon” way back in 2002 at a little musty Presbyterian church in the suburbs of the city of Londrina, in Brazil. The title of my message that morning was “The Election and Covenant of God and its implications for God’s people” (very Presbyterian, I know!).

Since that first experience I’ve spoken/preached/teached countless of times in over 6 countries and 3 different continents. I’ve even preached from one continent to the other. Seriously! Once I preached over the telephone to thousands of listeners of a live Christian radio show in São Paulo, Brazil — while I was in the United States. I even took calls and prayer requests afterwards. It was pretty surreal because from my end I was preaching to my living room wall! I’ve even ran away from preaching. A good friend of mine, who’s a popular worship leader, once asked me to preach in a session to a couple thousand people at one of their conferences. It felt terrifying. I got scared and turned it down. I was really young, but truth-be-told, I still rattle my knees even when I have to preach at my home church. Maybe a little fear is healthy.

I’ve also preached all kinds of sermons; Expository, Topical, Textual and even Contextual (look it up, it’s actually a thing, maybe it’s my thing here!). Some went really well. Others not so much. I’ve bombed countless of them and lost many hours of sleep over some. I wake up in the middle of the night with preaching ideas and biblical insights. I keep a notebook by my bedside just so I don’t have to leave its warmth in order to write them down. A lot of these ideas turn into sermons, others into posts here in this blog. I’ve preached some in places where Jihadists were standing outside the building shouting “Allahu Akbar!” Others at funeral homes in one of the saddest days for my family. I’ve preached on rooftops looking over the Acropolis and Mars Hill where Paul preached, I’ve preached in Corinth, standing on the back of a pickup truck, at the beach, at the lake, inside a swimming pool, and even in the auditorium belonging to Lisbon University’s School of Dental Medicine. Preaching for me “don’t” come easy. Although I believe it’s my ultimate calling and where God has gifted me, preaching for me takes a lot of hard work, prayer and anticipation (not counting hours of sleep).

So here’s the reason for this post. Below is my basic sermon outline, my go-to play when I’m in the red zone (NFL fan here). But here are 2 caveats before I proceed. First, I’m not a “professional” speaker or a homiletics scholar. Don’t get me wrong. I’m finishing my second seminary education and taken some classes and read a few books on the subject. But I’m far from being a “Proclamation Catalyst”, like I read in someone’s bio not too long ago. Second caveat, I’m a huge fan of the “3 Point Sermon” as long as your 3 points are; Tell them what you’re going to say, say what you were going to say, tell them what you just said. It’s always good to have a head, body and feet. You can’t go wrong with that. In all seriousness, I’m a big fan of the 3 point punch, but with a huge twist. Instead of 3 points, I like to think of them as 3 steps. In my view, a sermon should really only have ONE point. That’s your proposition statement, your single thesis. That’s the heart of your sermon. It’s your pivot foot that keeps you grounded (NBA needs love too). Now the 3-Step approach starts making sense and keeps your sermon from turning into a 3-headed beast. You now have 3 steps towards arriving at your proposition, which is really the only point you should care about.

Caveats aside, let’s look at what a basic outline looks like for me.

 

Introduction – Say hi! Introduce yourself, your passage and the subject/theme of your sermon. Experts say that you should use humor to connect with your listeners. I avoid corny jokes, there’s nothing more awkward than transitioning from a bad joke into an even worse sermon. Keep expectations high. This is also a good part to recollect previous themes if your message is part of an ongoing series.

Transition Sentence – Date first. Calm down, breath and read your Scripture. Don’t propose out of the blue. You might get rejected!

Proposition Statement – Now is when you propose a commitment. State very clearly what is your intention. Be direct. This is the main thesis/theme of your message. This is your ONE point, make it clear to everyone. Pound one nail, again I say, ONE NAIL!

Transition Sentence – Test the waters. See if your listeners are ready to jump into the depths of the Word. Don’t just push people straight into the deep end. You might drown your audience.

1st Step – First step towards your single proposition and how you plan to make the bride happy. This is your first chance to stake your claim. Look at it like a launching point.  It’s your first step into the passage. This part usually includes a surface level point or a predominant theme throughout your Scripture. Identify what is happening in the text, who are the main characters and how does your narrative/pericope fit into the larger story. Also look at how your passage relates to the church today. This part is like a mirror that reflects common themes between the biblical text and the present reality. I like to use stories and day to day examples to bring the congregation to the text and its relevance. Pastors at churches with powerful projectors and fancy computers like to use YouTube clips. Either way, this is where you establish the need/reason for your use of the text. Some guiding questions are; What is going on in the world of the text? Who are the main protagonists? What is the theme and where can we see it happening today?

2nd Step – Second step towards your proposal/proposition. This is where you need the right arguments to convince the father of the bride. You really want to stake your claim and present your logic. You’re becoming bolder in your actions. This step involves a deeper understanding of Scripture combining insights from commentaries and theology on the subject. Be rigorous in your exegesis. As a great homiletician, point to what God spoke to other great theologians about from this Scripture but also own up to your views. It’s good to incorporate doctrine and what the church believes on the subject. This is where you establish God’s truth on the matter in a biblical and theological way. You got the right points and the father is almost convinced. Some guiding questions are; What is going on in the world behind the text? Why was this text written? What is God saying about this theme? What do we believe about it?

3rd Step – You’ve arrived at your proposal and now it’s time for the wedding. Like in a marathon, you kept a steady pace but now this is your second wind kicks in. It’s your final push towards fireworks! The combination of felt needs and Scriptural truth creates a new hope and imagination. The equation is like this; People’s stories + God’s truth = a shared story of hope that the church is ultimately called to participate. Marriage is a beautiful thing. Think of the honey moon, the new house with kids running around. But also think of the new responsibilities. The new changes, commitments and experiments you now have to make. This is where you cast a new vision based on God’s Word and create a new imagination inspired by a hope-filled future. Some guiding questions are; What is going on in the world in front of the text? How does God’s truth affect me and shape my reality now and going forward? What is the commitment and the call to action?

Transition Sentence – Hold your breath. Be careful with “Decompression Sickness”. The idea of new commitments may be “daunting”. The congregation may blackout if you come up too fast from the depths of Scripture and the new imagination.

Conclusion – You did it. You really brought the word and should be happy that God is using your to edify the church. It’s almost time for the honey moon. But first you need to recollect your original propositional statement and why all those people were listening to you for almost an hour. Also, reaffirm the hope by recalling your steps, God’s truth and then cast the new vision to the congregation. You may now kiss the bride and seal new commitments.

That’s it!

Humor aside, I’m a huge fan of this 3-step approach because it involves Scripture, theology and mission. It is also an exercise in self-reflection and examination. It summons a recollection of memories of what God has done, is doing and will do. It calls us to a constant praxis of action and reflection whereby God remains at the center of our commitments and experiments. Above all, it establishes a kerygmatic paradigm that forms a new imagination and casts a hopeful vision for the future.

With that in mind, do you have a “go-to” outline? What would you add or take away from mine?

 

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