Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Sermon Outline

One of my weekly habits in preaching is to include in the bulletin a "Sermon Outline" for the congregation's use. I understand this is probably an innovation of American Evangelicalism, and an interloper in our confessional Lutheran tradition. I don't expect that most confessional minded pastors do this too. But hear me out...

For one, I do not use "fill-in-the-blanks" exercises. I find that a bit pedantic, personally. Nor are my outlines extensive, but they simply cover the (usually 3) major sections of my sermon. I also include a brief paragraph ("Conclusion") at the end, which summarizes the basic gist of the sermon. I usually throw in a graphic too.

I do this for several reasons, but primarily as a "listening aid". In our day people are less and less accustomed to listening to oral presentations of any length. Some people (not all, but some) find it helpful to have a bit of a "road-map" in front of them when listening. But too much information would lead to more of a reading than listening exercise, in my opinion, and so a good outline should draw you into the sermon not away from it.

Not everyone in our congregation uses these outlines, or even seems to notice they are there. I don't often mention it. But there are a few who have remarked how helpful they find this tool. One lady in particular, has shown me on several occasions, how she takes copious notes and "fills up" the outline during the sermon. While this isn't a Bible class or lecture, I have a hard time saying that for her this is a bad thing to do.

So what of it, gentle readers? Pastors and laity alike? Any comments on the practice of printed sermon outlines (mine or someone else's)?


Chaz said...

How long do your sermons tend to be?

Preachrboy said...

Oh, I don't time them... but somewhere between 10-15 minutes.

They probably just SEEM really long! ;-)

Lynn of St. John's said...

Our Pastors and DCE's give their Catechumans several empty copies of Sermon Pages to be filled in and passed in during the year.
I tryed taking notes on key parts of the message when I was younger to help me remember some of what was said during the sermon, as if I was in a class at school listening to a teacher and expecting to be tested at some point in the future. I still find writting notes to be of help, somehow I retain the information given to me , when I take the time to write it and see it in writing.
Way to go Pastor Chryst,if you even help just one member in your congregation it will be worth the extra effort your making to be of service in the field of making disciples of all men.

disgruntled world citizen said...

We have sermon notes in our bulletins, I find them helpful. But sometimes, I take notes in my moleskin notebook I carry around with me.

And, hey, if it helps someone "get it" so much the better.

Chaz said...

I'm one of those people that don't like the idea of sermon outlines. Preaching is a ear activity, not a hand activity. Preaching is kerygmatic, not didactic.

I make my goal to preach in such a way as it can be remembered by being heard.

Preachrboy said...

I appreciate that, Chaz, and I feel much the same way.

But even the sermons of Jesus were written down. I notice you also post a sermon on the net from time to time too. So preaching is not always, only, about the hearing, is it? Certainly primarily. But exclusively?

Isn't good preaching both kerygmatic AND didactic (and memorable)?

Chaz said...

I think that good sermons are only incidentally didactic.

Yup. I do post my sermons on the Internet, but the interesting thing is that in that form, they're really not sermons. ;-)

Preachrboy said...

I can go with that, incidentally didactic. I can appreciate a good sermon that doesn't really "teach" me anything new. I suppose the more one "learns" the more this is bound to happen.

I even get your drift about the setting and form bearing on what makes it a "sermon" (strictly defined). All well and good.

Faith comes by hearing, but always only? And is hearing only with the ears, or also, sometimes, with the eyes? How would a deaf person answer?

I understand that in times past, there was no such thing as "silent reading". That's why Phillip was able to eavesdrop on the Eunuch. But people "read" differntly today, in our more literate culture.

I think how someone "hears" can also vary - from culture to culture or person to person.

Likewise, then, if the sermon outline helps the "ear" to work better, then why not? But if it distracts you, then don't use it.

That's my intention, anyway.

Here's a question. What about printing the pericopes on the back of the bulletin?

Chaz said...

I am very strongly against printing the pericopes in the bulletin, but it's not a hill I'm willing to die on.

Preachrboy said...

Yeah I thought that would push a button. But please tell me more about that. (IM me if you want).

disgruntled world citizen said...

aren't sermons designed to teach? or at least inform? you took notes in class and that helped you learn, why not sermon notes? some people learn better by writing things down, others by listening, some by hearing. as a pastor (preacher) are you in effect a teacher? isn't a sermon, whether you like to admit it or not, a lecture of sorts? those are my two cents worth.

Preachrboy said...

Actually, I think what Chaz is saying (and I would agree), is that preaching is essentially the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - NOT a lecture in some sort of head-knowledge, or even necessarily "informative".

Preaching, proclaiming the Word of God, as we Lutherans understand it, is essentially a means of grace. Not a Bible Study.

See my post here for some further comments on this:

Chaz said...

Pastor Chryst and I are in complete agreement on the purpose of preaching.

I think that when we speak of preaching as a teaching / learning activity that we are making a rather large categorical error.

One listens to the proclamation of the Gospel, not to learn facts, but to receive the forgiveness of sins.

One listens to the Word of God so that the Word of God may have its way with you, not to learn it.

Learning happens, but that's NOT the purpose of the Word in the public worship of the church.

I strongly advise people who ask me that they should NOT read along with the Scripture readings. Why? Because when you HEAR the word, it has an immediate impact on you. In the Divine Service, read with your ears, not with your eyes.