Preach the Word! — Chapter 18

Organizing (Outlining) the Sermon I

This article is part of a series of articles on how to preach written by Jess Hall, Jr. and originally published in The Firm Foundation.

A Kentucky mountaineer was renowned for his shooting prowess. All over the hills trees exhibited his marksmanship – bullet holes in the dead center of small white circles drawn on the tree. An admirer of his persistent precision asked how he was always able not only to hit the bullseye, but always able to hit it dead center. The sharpshooter replied, “I just shoot the tree and then draw the circle around it.” Many a sermon has been organized in the same manner – “I just shoot at the hearers and then draw a circle around wherever it hits.”

Like the mountaineer marksman, an unorganized sermon fires without aim or purpose and then draws a circle around whatever it hits. Even superior sermon content does not guarantee a good sermon; it takes proper organization to accomplish its purpose. It is the purpose of organization (the outline) to provide the best possible method of getting the thesis of the sermon to come alive in the minds of the hearers. Without proper organization, the sermon becomes at best a lecture. Biblical facts become blinders instead of lenses helping us to see the glory of God. People can starve to death while we read the list of ingredients on a loaf of bread!

Organization is the aspect of sermon preparation that is the real measure of the preacher’s devotion to the duty of preaching. Sermon ideas fall like rain upon those who are students of God’s word, observers of God’s world, and lovers of God’s people. More material for each idea can be gathered in a short time than can be used in even a long sermon. It is then that the hardest work begins – organizing the sermon. Put differently, after the carpenter has gathered his materials, the time-consuming task of building begins. The materials can be thrown together without regard to plumb or square, and without aim or purpose, or they can be carefully assembled according to the blueprint to produce a beautiful edifice.

Proper organization keeps the preacher from being a slave to his notes. It is far easier to remember thoughts that are related in a logical and orderly fashion. If the preacher cannot remember what he wants to say long enough to say it, how can he expect his hearers to remember it longer than it takes to hear it?

Proper organization helps the sermon by bringing clarity to it. If the subject matter is unclear in the preacher’s mind and disorganized in presentation, how can the preacher expect his hearers to get a clear understanding?

Proper organization helps the hearers to remember what has been said and to carry away the sermon’s idea from which they derive sustenance for their souls and support in their struggles.

Lack of organization robs the preacher of credibility. “He is disorganized” is the preacher’s kiss of death. His hearers have concluded that he is either unable to organize his thoughts or is too busy – or worse yet, too lazy – to do so. In the former case they are frustrated; in the latter case they are angry. In either case they have lost their willingness to listen.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)