Preaching is an art! It is a craft! Preaching is a calling that can be coupled with the skills of a rhetorician. There is no doubt that the preacher is an orator. I believe that preaching is a skill. Of course preaching is above all else a calling, but I believe sincerely that if we are called to preach that we should put work, energy, effort, and time into our preaching to develop our rhetorical and oratorical skills. I also believe that we must also work on our own salvation as preachers as we go through the process of theosis. However, I do not accept neglecting preaching and the skills it takes to be great at it!
We see even among the Church Fathers unfathomable skill in homiletics! The Church Fathers were deeply brilliant men trained in the arts and highly educated. I once read that St. John Chrysostom focused more on the moral development and salvation of the preacher, however, if one reads his sermons it is clear the man knew how to preach! And preach he did and for hours at a time! I can’t express enough the importance of developing our homiletical skills and expanding our homiletic toolbox.
I believe one way to improve our preaching and thus the rhetorical/oratorical side of the craft is by developing a sermon outline. I know many will be turned off by such an idea in the Orthodox Church, but I do not 1) see anything unOrthodox about developing a sermon nor 2) do I expect everyone to do this. I have a degree in preaching and spent the last 5 years learning the craft. I do have a passion for preaching and for further developing my calling to preach. I think it is an extreme disrespect to the Liturgy, the Church, and the Fathers to put our preaching on the back burner. This is important stuff! The Didache says this of preaching,
My child, night and day remember the one who preaches God’s word to you, and honor him as though he were the Lord. For wherever the Lord’s nature is preached, there the Lord is.”
When we preach we are partaking in a very sacramental, holy act thus it is entirely respectable and encouraged for us to want to develop our skills and calling as preachers. We should take seriously the call to preach! I believe there are some great benefits to developing a sermon outline:
- It gives us a manuscript to preach from during the delivery thus preventing digression
- It helps to clarify our thoughts on paper
- It helps us to see the shape of the sermon and where “fat” can be trimmed off the sermon
- It gives us a visual manifestation of our sermon
- It serves as a guide
- It keeps us on track in the writing of the sermon
- It creates a ebb and flow effect for the sermon
- It fosters audience attention and helps them to follow you on the journey of delivery
- It makes for easy recollection by the audience
- It allows you to type up an outline with blanks to have the audience fill in
- It is didactic in its very nature
These are just a few of the benefits I have discovered of creating an outline. If you take up the task of trying this, what may be new, way I’m sure you’ll discover the benefits as well. The outline I am going to show for you today is called deductive, which in the homiletical world means that one arrives at a thesis statement for the sermon and unpacks it in a systematic way by points 1, 2, and 3 (or more, but I suggest 3). Dr. Daniel Overdorf, my Homiletics I and II professor at Johnson University, had us develop a very basic deductive outline for one of our final exams, which included these things he taught us:
- Biblical Problem- this is the problem, issue, or concern that the chosen Scripture text is addressing (posed as a question)
- Biblical Solution- this is the Biblical solution the text issues as the resolution to the problem
- Contemporary Problem- this is the contemporary contextualization of the Biblical problem in our lives
- Contemporary Solution- this is the contemporary application of the Biblical solution found in the text
- Thesis Statement- this is the central, concise driving statement of the sermon
- Purpose Statement- this is the purpose or accomplishment of the sermon you write
- Transition with Key Word- this is the transitioning statement within the sermon after the introduction/prologue and sets up the 3 main points
- Main Points- these are the 3 points of the sermon outlined, but expanded and unpacked in the manuscript for delivery
I want to provide you an example based on Mark 8:32 of what the basics of the deductive outline look like:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
- Biblical Problem- why were those listening to Christ not willing to go the extremes for Christ?
- Biblical Solution- to be His disciples one must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Christ.
- Contemporary Problem- we have many restraints preventing us from following Christ completely; what are they?
- Contemporary Solution- we must deny ourselves daily and be willing to bear our crosses to become truly followers of Christ.
- Thesis- To accept Christ we must disavow ourselves dying daily to the old self
- Purpose Statement- after hearing this sermon, the parish should be able to see that following Christ implies denying our old self, the Ego, and taking up the cross in order to die to that Ego daily (Note: you can work this statement into the actual deliver in some form if you like, but it is not a requirement)!
- Transitional Statement- We attain from Christ’s statement that in order to accept Him fully as Lord of our lives we must grasp, live out, and cultivate these 3 commands:
- Main Points- 1st Command:Deny Yourself; 2nd Command: Take Up Your Cross; 3rd Command: Follow Christ
This is a very basic introduction to the deductive outline for a sermon. I hope that over the next weeks I can explore more means of outlining a sermon for those who are following along and have an interest in developing their homiletical skills. There is more to this process than the simple outline above, but this is a solid introduction to those who may find this a foreign approach for developing a sermon.
I hope that this will prove a useful resource for those who may go forth and try it. I hope you find it enriches your homiletic experience from the sermon writing to the delivery. May God grant you vision and bring forth much fruit from the efforts you put into becoming a better preacher. I know your parish will most definitely be impressed, refreshed, exhorted, convicted, and challenged, which great preaching is all about!