The purpose of the sermon often dictates the sermon’s organizational structure. While each outline should have three main sections – introduction, body, and conclusion – there is a wide variation of structural approaches. For example, an architect may emphasize either function (what the building does) or form (what the building looks like). Either structure may have the same square footage and the same number of floors, but the end results are strikingly different. As with buildings, two sermons on the same text may vary immensely depending on the structural approach chosen.
For example, a deductive approach may be used to appeal to the mind. A deductive structure begins with a biblical principle from which it moves to the hearers’ needs. The thesis is stated in the introduction; the points in the body prove it to be true; the conclusion calls for action based upon the truth established. The sermon is logical and linear in the development of the thesis.
On the other hand, an inductive approach may be used to appeal more to the hearers’ experience. An inductive structure begins with the hearers’ experience and moves to the text or logical truth. The thesis is stated in the conclusion. It has been compared to a good mystery novel – who did it is revealed in the last chapter. The inductive approach is valuable when preaching to unbelievers who do not accept the authority of scripture. The sermon begins with their experiences, establishes principles based upon those experiences that they admit to be true, and then takes them to a text that invokes the same principle. To deny the truth of the text they must deny the admitted truth of their own experience.
Proper structural organization does not happen accidentally – it is the most demanding aspect of sermon preparation. But it is also the most rewarding. Working through the process has benefits for both the pulpit and the pew that make the sermon more powerful. If it refines the relationship between the points in the preacher’s mind, will it not do the same in the hearers’ minds? If it enables the preacher to view the sermon as a whole and provide a sense of unity, can it do less for the hearers? If it crystallizes the sermon’s points so that they are presented to the hearers in the proper sequence, will they not be more easily remembered?
A preacher’s failure to communicate with his hearers may result from several things (e.g., poor diction, poor grammar, poor delivery). Thus, while proper organization does not guarantee good communication, poor organization guarantees failure (no matter what a captive, polite audience may say at the door, and no matter what “spit and polish” a preacher may bring to the pulpit). The preacher who wants to feel better about himself, his sermons, and his hearers, and who wants to help his hearers drink from the Living Water, will take time to properly organize his sermons.
You Must Hear the Gospel
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) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
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
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
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)
You Must Be Baptized
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!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
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)