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 Preaching III: Preparing an outline for a message

Julian Spriggs M.A.

II: Study Passage IV: Relevant Preaching

This is the second step in preparation, following on from your own study of the passage. By this time you should be very familiar with the passage, and understand its meaning to the author’s original readers. You should also have identified the major timeless truth, and some other important principles. Now it is time to apply these timeless principles of the passage to the people you will be preaching to, and give your message some structure.

Please read the Study Passage page before continuing on this page.

1. Define the aim of your message

From your study of the passage, you need to identify its main point. This should then become the main point of your message. If these are not the same, then you are trying to preach a message from the wrong passage of Scripture.

It is helpful to summarise the main point in your own words. The main point should be clear to those listening. Think carefully what the goal or purpose of your message will be. What do you want God to do in the lives of the people who listen to it?

During your preparation, you need to consider carefully the application of the passage, first to yourself, then to your congregation. In what way do you think that this passage could speak to the people in your congregation?

2. Find out about your audience

One of the jobs of the preacher is to be a bridge between the world of the Bible and today’s world. To be an effective preacher, it is necessary both to understand Scripture, and to understand the world your listeners live in. The aim is to expound the Word of God and show its relevance to the congregation, giving wisdom and exhortation which they will be able to take home and apply to their lives.

If you are invited to speak in a church or group you are not familiar with, it can be helpful to speak to the person who invited you, in order to find you as much as you can about the group, and what God has been doing recently.

Even though most churches consist of a wonderful mixture of different people, a particular church may have a particular flavour and attract a narrower selection of people.
These are some questions to help you find out about your audience:
What is their culture? (urban / rural)
What is the average age range? (youth / middle age / older people / mixture)
What are the family situations? (singles / young families)
What are their occupations?
What kind of church or group? (denomination)
What is the general level of Christian commitment?
What is their knowledge of Scripture?
Are there any particular needs that you are aware of?
What has God been saying to the group recently?

Of course, this does not take the place of praying, seeking wisdom from God, for what He wants to say to the group.

4. Application of Scripture

Your illustrations and application need to be adapted to the life-situation of the people in the church. You need to think very carefully about application from the passage, remembering to be very practical. Think about how this passage could be relevant in different work situations, in family life, in child-rearing, in education, or Christian ethics. Think also about wider social issues such as politics, business or medicine, as some of the people you will be preaching to may have very influential jobs.

5. Develop an outline

Your message needs a structure, so it is more easily followed. What follows on this page is a simple framework for structuring a message. It is a very flexible system which can be used in a variety of different contexts. It works whether you are preaching on a topic, or from one passage of Scripture, as well as with in a small group Bible study.

It is based on this idea:

People have a problem or concern in their lives
The answer is found in the Bible, through Jesus
How to apply the answer practically

Section 1: Introduction

The introduction is often the most difficult to think of, but is of the greatest importance. In the first minute or two, the preacher needs to bridge the gulf that exists between himself and his listeners. It is often easiest to plan the introduction after you have completed the preparation of the rest of the message.

There are a variety of ways of beginning:
a. Some people tell a funny story or a joke, but it is best if it is relevant to your message.
b. Make a connection with something the congregation is familiar with, that will link to your message. This can be something in the news, or something that has already happened in the service. You could repeat a line of a hymn or song that has just been sung, if it links to your message.
c. If you have not spoken to the group before, it may be appropriate to introduce yourself.

Section 2: The Problem

Before coming to the Bible, you need to make people hungry, to make them want an answer. People need to know their need before they will be receptive to the answer. This is particularly true in evangelistic preaching - people need to know that they are lost before they can be saved.

In this short section, you need to describe a problem, difficulty, need or question that many people have in their lives, which will be answered by the passage you will preach on, thus demonstrating that the Bible is relevant to their lives. For a helpful list of common life issues to preach about, please see the Relevant Preaching page.

Section 3: The Answer

In this section you give Bible’s solution to the problem. You are giving the answer to the problem you have just described, both in theory, and in practice.

To set the scene, you can give a brief introduction to the historical background of the book, and the context of the passage. You need to think of how to do this as briefly as possible, but still giving the essential information.

Following your personal study of the passage, you can divide up the passage into its natural sections. These can become the main points of your message. Aim to have two or three main points, but no more.

These are some examples of how to divide up the passage:
1. By the order of events in a narrative
2. By the main characters, showing what we can learn from each
3. By the contrast of one truth with another, or a positive and negative example.
4. By a logical series of truths, particularly in Paul’s letters

When preaching through a text, you can interchange between then and now, between interpretation and application. The problem for the original readers can be linked with a modern-day problem, so the original answer can be applied as an answer today. For each main point, think of a good illustration.

When explaining the original meaning of the passage, many people appreciate learning about any relevant historical or cultural information that will help them understand the passage better. The preacher should always seek to model how to interpret and apply the Bible.

Section 4: The “How To”

This is the application stage, when very practical steps are given to help people put the truth just learned into practice in their everyday lives.

This stage is extremely important, even though it is frequently omitted. Giving the answer without giving the details of how to do it can leave people in condemnation. They can feel a failure after being exhorted to act in a certain way, but without the knowledge of how to put that into practice.

You need to describe the practical steps in more detail than you would think. Think carefully of a series of simple instructions you can give, which can easily be applied by the people listening.

Most importantly, you must preach the power of God to bring change. Never leave people thinking that they need to implement change through their own efforts alone. Always remind them that we have the Holy Spirit working in our lives to help us, as we submit to God, and allow him to change us. We must preach grace, and avoid any hint of legalism.

Section 5: The Take-away

Think of a memorable one-sentence summary of your message, stating the specific application or challenge for the congregation to take away with them. It could be in the form of a question, or a pithy statement, or a statement giving two contrasting choices. It should summarise the major principle you want the people to remember.

Section 6: Close in prayer

The closing prayer should give God the opportunity to speak personally to people. Pray about the main point and its application, and give time and space for personal response.

II: Study Passage IV: Relevant Preaching

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

New Testament History

Articles which give additional information about the history and culture of the first century, giving helpful background knowledge for the Gospels and Paul's travels.

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey.

More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Early Church Fathers

These are a series of pages giving biographical information about some of the more significant early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian, as well as some important groups and events in the first centuries of the church.

Artifacts in the British Museum relevant to Biblical studies

These are a series of pages describing artifacts in each gallery of the British Museum, which have a connection with the Bible.

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Historical documents

These are a series of pages containing historical documents which give helpful information for Biblical studies. These include Hittite suzerainty treaties with a similar structure to the Book of Deuteronomy, different lists of the New Testament books and quotations from Josephus and other ancient writers.

Life Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.