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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. It’s abstract and suggests an academic outline rather than a plain explanation of biblical application.

2. It’s in the third person, and therefore not personal at all. It’s about somebody else—the Corinthians.

3. It’s in the past tense, which gives the impression “that was then and this is now.”

4. It doesn’t mention either God or people. Do you really have a great sermon if you don’t mention either God or people?

In short, the points don’t 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, you’re 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.”

Here’s 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 it’s 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.”



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 best-seller The Purpose Driven Life, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. Learn more from Rick at Pastors.com. 

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Augustine M. Green

commented on Mar 12, 2015

i hope my question is not off base, but I know there are ministers who use the sermons of others and my question is, this appropriate? If God calls doesn't He equip?

Bill Burnett

commented on Mar 12, 2015

God does equip indeed. You remember Eph 4:11? He uses others to equip us, he does not equip us out of a vacuum. If we have benn taught, all of us use to some extent, ideas and thoughts we have heard from somebody else. I would encourage any minister to listen to and read from other ministers. God can speak to you directly through the Word, but He can also speak to you through others.

Brenda Phillips

commented on Mar 12, 2015

Yes God equip you, but it's nothing wrong with getting help from other Preachers. This point really helping me with a Sermon that I'm struggling with. Brenda

William Howard

commented on Mar 12, 2015

Of a truth Bill Burnett, but let's include vs 11-12. We do indeed learn from others, gain insight from others and more. Anyone know the little story of the boat and the helicopter. Preachers have been preaching for 1000's of years and just probably, just probably, have brought forth a message from that very thought or theme we thought was ours alone. Lord, we know our help comes from above, but please help us to recognize it when it comes.

Jerry Tanner

commented on Mar 12, 2015

Thanks and KUDOs to Rick for this reminder. It is refreshing and I tend toward the academic rather than 'preaching' (personal) I 'teach' and create a different environment for my listeners. I will reevaluate my points.

Bobby Bodenhamer

commented on Mar 12, 2015

Thank you Rick for your pointer on sermon preparation. You have provided us with some excellent advice. And, thanks for posting to this forum. It is an honor to us for you to post an article for our personal growth. Thanks for your ministry all these years.

Adeyemi Adesanya

commented on Mar 16, 2015

Very helpful sir. Many thanks.

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