5 things we overuse in our preaching: the printed outline

This is the start of part 2 of the Sydney Anglican preaching trilogy. (See part 1 here)

5 things we overuse in our preaching.

(Purely subjective generalisations, which is the blogger’s privilege. And I was going to list all 5 here, but I’ll do them in separate posts instead)

1. The printed outline.

I am very much a preacher on L-plates, but my sermons have yet to befriend the printed sermon outline. They just never seem to get along. They kind of politely smile at each other. But so far there has been no chemistry, they don’t click. Maybe it’s because they don’t hang out enough. My sermons always rock up to Church at the last minute, but my printed outline always needs to get there really early (like 4 days early!)

And so when I get up to preach, my printed outline shows no interest in my actual sermon. And my actual sermon has kind of forgotten about the printed outline. When the sermon is trying to bring people to repentance, instead of bringing pen to paper, the outline is trying to bring pen to paper with a note saying ‘don’t forget to repent when you get home!’. They’re not the best of friends. Maybe we should think about separating them. Or they should at least get some counseling. Maybe the printed outline might have more fun dating a lecturer or an OH&S seminar presenter.


8 Responses to 5 things we overuse in our preaching: the printed outline

  1. Simon Job says:

    So, the problem is, you’re not prepared? Understandable, you’re preaching occasionally in amongst full-time study. But don’t throw out things because you don’t like them.

    Personally, I don’t use outlines (as a listener), but some people do and I guess others find them effective. An occasional key point on PowerPoint is very handy for me (not obscure headings lifted from an outline mind you).

    I, unfortunately, loose interest/concentration during a 20-30 minute sermon – unless the speaker is particularly engaging. A visual prompt (for me PowerPoint), for others it might be an outline, can help bring my listening back on track.

    As a teacher, I could not walk in to my classroom and talk at them for 30 minutes, I would have a riot. Just because we’re a little better behaved in church doesn’t mean we’re getting any more out of a lecture. People learn in different ways, even more so than a few years ago because of the different ways we consume media. Preachers needs to realise that, and sadly most don’t.

  2. lukewoodhouse says:

    Hi Simon.

    I agree with you that an outline can aid some people’s concentration. And powerpoint, used well, does the same.

    My problem is not that I am unprepared (usually). But the printed submitted outline assumes an order of preparation that works for some people and not others. This is where the final structure of the sermon is worked out first and everything is built from that. I work the opposite. I work with a rough sermon structure (based on my exegesis), this gets me going (and this is the one that is usually submitted for printing), then I write the sermon. When the sermon is finally finished, there is usually a different, more accurate outline/structure that exists in the sermon, but not on the outline. (This is probably where I could use powerpoint instead)

    The bigger problem I have with a printed outline is that it also assumes that the sermon and the class room lesson are more similar than dissimilar. As you may know, I am working through the “teaching” vs “preaching” distinction this year, and will get back to you when I have a bit more clarity. But just to taste the difference click here

    But don’t mishear both this post and the recent one, I am all for making the sermon something listeners consciously benefit from and look forward to. If sermons became more dull, shallow and monotonous without outlines, I would certainly be keen to bring them back. I am planning later to post about things we undervalue or overlook in preaching. Suggestions welcome!

  3. Simon Job says:

    You’ll firstly appreciate that I’ve just sent the staff at TAC an updated sermon outline template 🙂

    But the printed submitted outline assumes an order of preparation that works for some people and not others.

    Not really. It just means that your sermon preparation needs to be completed by the submission deadline for the outline. You could always write your sermon first, then make the outline from it.

    As to the classroom lesson vs sermon – I’ve always thought it would be an interesting experiment to give the church a worksheet after a sermon to see what they learnt. Maybe start with some multiple choice, then one word answers, short answers and then maybe an essay at the end. (Not saying that this is a generally good idea, just interesting). And, whilst I compare preaching to teaching, I do agree that the classroom and church are very different (church has got A/C and comfy seats for starters). One difference is that teaching is undergoing a shake-up recognising that people learn differently; whereas preaching not so much – which is why I’ll be interested to see what you come up with here.

  4. lukewoodhouse says:

    Hey Simon, Good point about writing the completed sermon early. Easier said than done. Not because its hard to get organised. But a sermon should never be complete until after it’s delivered. It bubbles around in your head and it is effected by the people who you speak to, the things you read and even the people who show up (or don’t show up) at the time it is delivered.

    Other than the A/C and comfy seats, what do you think are the other differences between the classroom and the church? I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this.

    And I agree, a sermon outline and shaking up learning styles would definitely aid our ability to answer a quiz at the end of Church. But I am glad (most of the time) Church isn’t a quiz night.

  5. Michael W says:

    If you don’t feel that a sermon outline fits your style, why bother with one? The only reason why I ever refer to a sermon outline is when a sermon is particularily boring and I want to try and work out how much longer its going to go for : ). If a sermon is engaging the last thing I personally want to do it distract myself and take notes. Most sermons these days are recorded so you can always revisit it.

  6. […] 5 things we overuse in our preaching: the printed outline […]

  7. Julia says:

    As a listener Luke, I am a big fan of the printed outline. I tend to be a sequential thinker, and I like to know where things are headed. I can look out for signposts, and it keeps me thinking.
    At our last church, we didn’t use outlines at all, and I found my mind had a tendency to wander when I didn’t know where we were headed. I remember going backwards significantly as I lost out on my spiritual food. Also as a verbal (rather than auditory) learner, the cues on the page keep my mind on the job!

    Having said that there are more helpful and less helpful styles of outline. You know well the outline that has 15 main points with 10 sub-points for each main point…a bit too much I think…but they have their place (more in a lecture than a church). Of course there is the 3 point plan, which I like, so long as the actual sermon follows the signposts; many’s the sermon I’ve got lost in because the preacher has lost his own thread.

    I hope this is helpful from the pew to you!

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