It has been my experience that books on preaching lift up the wrong kind of sermons as examples. They tend to teach you to prepare academic outlines so vague and general that they are robbed of power.
For instance, here's an outline for a sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12, "The Corinthians and Spiritual Gifts:"
(Does that title make you want to sit up and listen?)
Point #1 The source of the Corinthians gifts
Point #2 The function of the Corinthians gifts
Point #3 The purpose of the Corinthians gifts
Now, here's what I think is wrong with this outline:
1. Its abstract and suggests an academic outline rather than a plain explanation of biblical application.
2. Its in the third person, and therefore, not personal at all. Its about somebody else - the Corinthians.
3. Its in the past tense, which gives the impression "that was then and this is now."
4. It doesnt mention either God or people. Do you really have a great sermon if you dont mention either God or people?
In short, the points dont say much of anything to anyone. You can avoid this pitfall by taking a few simple steps toward creating points that make a point.
First, use the biblical application as the points of your sermon. In other words, start with your application, and show how the Scripture illustrates it. Your sermon point should be a present tense application statement followed by the biblical text.
Second, put a verb in every one of your sermon points. The easiest way to help people be doers of the Word is to put a verb in the point. It turns the biblical truth into action steps.
Third, put Jesus or God into each of your points. Frankly, I'm very concerned about pastors who try to build seeker-sensitive sermons by eliminating "God" and "Jesus" from the message. In fact, I think the best sermons put God or Jesus right into the application points. When you stand to preach, youre not just giving a moralistic pep talk. You want to change lives, and the power for changed lives comes only from God.
Fourth, personalize your sermon points by using personal pronouns. I rarely use the word we in an application or an outline because it weakens the application. In other words, say, Jesus Christ came for me. Jesus Christ died for me. Jesus Christ is coming again for me.
Heres an outline of 1 Corinthians 12 to show you what I mean. I titled the sermon, Using Your Gifts:
Point #1 God gave you gifts.
Point #2 God gave you gifts to use.
Point #3 God gives you gifts for the benefit of the body.
I like this outline because its personal, practical, God-centered and positive.
Finally, during your sermon suggest a practical assignment for the week. At Saddleback we often assign some homework! This reflects the way Jesus taught; he often gave assignments by saying, Go and do likewise.
Until next week,
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at Pastors.com.