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Five Hammer Strokes for Creating Expository Sermon Outlines

Here are the fundamentals to move from a biblical text to a message structure that speaks to today's listeners.

Average Rating:  [see ratings/reviews]Five Hammer Strokes for Creating Expository Sermon Outlines

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a great preacher of London in the mid-twentieth century, knew that structuring the sermon is one of our most difficult homiletical tasks:

The preparation of sermons involves sweat and labour. It can be extremely difficult at times to get all this matter that you have found in the Scriptures into [an outline]. It is like a … blacksmith making shoes for a horse; you have to keep on putting the material into the fire and on to the anvil and hit it again and again with the hammer. Each time it is a bit better, but not quite right; so you put it back again and again until you are satisfied with it or can do no better. This is the most grueling part of the preparation of a sermon; but at the same time it is a most fascinating and a most glorious occupation. (Preachers and Preaching, 80)
Clear structure of the sermon depends on crystal clear understanding of the flow of thought in the passage.

This article can't (and shouldn't) stop the sweat and "labour," but it can help you strike skillfully. When pastors begin their sermon prep (and unfortunately, sometimes when they end their sermon prep), the text often seems to be, as Hamlet said, "words, words, words." The relationships among the words—the ideas presented—are hard to discern and even harder to package for the congregation. The purpose of this article is to help us make sense of the words and structure them in a way that makes sense to the listeners. As homiletical blacksmiths, five strokes of the hammer help us structure our sermons.

First Stroke: State the Exegetical Outline

Summarize the flow of thought in your text. We call this the exegetical outline, and it is part of basic exegesis. If you have gotten away from that discipline, get back to it. Charting the flow of thought with a mechanical layout, grammatical diagram, or semantic structural analysis is an indispensible step in creating an expository sermon. Simply identifying a general theme is not enough to reveal authorial intention. Laying out the major ideas and their relationships will help you identify the unifying core of the text, what Haddon Robinson calls the exegetical idea.

Once you articulate that idea, then you can turn it into your sermon's "big idea." In essay writing this is called the thesis. In public speaking it is called the central idea. The big idea is the distilled essence of the message. Compare the exegetical idea (the text's central truth) and the big idea (the sermon's central truth):

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Ramon De Vera

September 16, 2017  1:02pm

Thank You Dr. Arthur It helps me alot.God Bless you

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May 01, 2017  1:33pm

Thank you for this very helpful teaching. As I am fairly new to writing out sermons, this gives me a great starting point!

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December 30, 2013  9:42am

I ALWAYS need to go over these basics regularly. My Doctor of Ministry seminar in 2005 at Gordon-Conwell with Haddon Robinson and Scott Gibson was tremendous!!!

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June 05, 2012  11:20am

Great article! I preached this way for the first 7 out of my 10 years of preaching, but what I've concluded is that it may pigeonhole your preaching. The stress can be so much on the structure that you find yourself trying to squeeze the idea, ideas in the text into a particular outline or structure. And there is not always one central idea in every text. Arthurs is a good way out of the many ways outline and structure can be done. The most important thing is the author’s intent and once you’ve got that you’ve got a sermon and Arthurs does stress intent.

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Scott Vermillion

May 23, 2011  11:22am

Good article. I especially liked, "Most listeners have only a foggy sense of what we are talking about as we preach." J. Arthurs is like a sharp pin to the growing balloon of pride for any who would enter preaching lightly.

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