How to Prepare a Sermon Outline

Using the Topical Sermon Outline Format

by Rev. John Hamel


Testimonial: "Dear Brother Hamel - I am not able to express the gratitude I have for your sharing this information on sermon preparation. I will just say that I thank the Lord for you. This has helped me immensely and I have read several books on the subject. Yours has just hit home with me. God bless you and yours, VJS, Mississippi"


Welcome to the JHM Online Bible Training Centre Homiletics 101 Course  


"The Lord gave the Word: great was the company that published it." (Psalm 68:11)


The Online Dictionary defines homiletics as "the art of writing and preaching sermons."  


The Greek word for homiletics is "homiletikos," which means "to converse with." That is what writing sermons and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ is - conversing with others on behalf of Almighty God.


Homiletics, or writing and preaching a sermon, is not as difficult as it might seem. It can be as complex or as simple as the Preacher would like. Although grammar is important, your sermon does not have to be grammatically perfect. 


Nor do you, the Preacher, have to be perfect in your presentation.  


Although striving for excellence is important, preaching the Gospel is not about the Preacher.  Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about what the Holy Spirit is saying to the people through the Preacher.


This is not to say that your preparation and presentation should not be done with excellence, for it should.  The preaching of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important job in the Earth.  It must be done with excellence.  It must be packaged with excellence.  


However, the Gospel Preacher must not become obsessed with the mechanics of preparation or get carried away majoring on minors.


When I was in Bible School, my Homiletics Professor always reminded his students of what he called the "K.I.S.S." approach to sermon preparation. Keep It Simple, Students.  


We will take a rather simple, yet inclusive, approach to writing a sermon in this course. 


We will be using what is commonly referred to as a "Topical Sermon Outline Format."


It is called "topical" simply because the Minister chooses a topic on which to base their sermon outline and stays with that topic throughout the delivery of the sermon.


You, the student, can feel free to adapt the Topical Sermon Outline Format to suit yourself.


Relax and enjoy this brief, yet slightly detailed, homiletics course.  However you choose to use it, I am confident the Topical Sermon Outline Format will serve to make you a better, more organized and easier to understand Minister of the Gospel.  


Once you have completed this Homiletics 101 course, ask the Holy Spirit to lead you as to how you can best utilize it to enhance your preaching and teaching skills.


The Topical Sermon Outline Format


There are three primary components to a Topical Sermon Outline Format.  


They are the Introduction, the Main Body and the Conclusion.  


Included below is a visual to aid you in picturing the three primary components.


The Introduction to your sermon should be no longer than 10% of your entire sermon length.  


This means if you have thirty minutes to preach a Gospel message, your Introduction should be no longer than three minutes.  


The same Gospel message should have a Conclusion that is also no longer than 10% of your entire sermon length.  


In this case that would mean your Conclusion should be no longer than three minutes.  


Putting the pencil to this you understand that with a thirty minute message, allowing for a three minute Introduction and a three minute Conclusion, you now have twenty-four minutes to preach the Main Body of your thirty minute topical message. 



The Sermon Introduction


As stated, your Sermon Introduction should be no more than 10% of the entire length of your message.  


The Introduction should also include the title of your message, the topic / subject you have chosen and a related opening verse of Scripture which is commonly referred to as a "Text Scripture."  


At the end of this lesson you will find a short, but completely developed, sermon illustration where I will show you exactly how to put these components together.


During your Intro it is also helpful to give a short related testimony, tell a short related story, in some cases even a short joke that is related to your topic, in order to immediately catch the attention of your hearers.  If you do not get their attention during the Intro, you will most likely have difficulty doing so later. Everyone loves a human interest story, or a funny joke. It both catches their attention and sets them at ease.  


Just be very careful that you never use humor at the expense of God's Word, your message or your hearers.  Do not tell jokes just to be funny.  Tell them only if they relate to your topic, help your hearers to better understand you and to bring glory to God.  Never be offensive.  Always be respectful.  You are the Holy Servant of a Holy God.


The Propositional Statement 


The Propositional Statement is your sermon in a nutshell. It is the main thought you want to convey to your hearers throughout your sermon. 


For example, if your sermon is titled "The Wonderful Goodness of God," your Propositional Statement could simply be "God is a Good God!"  


The "Prop" should be stated in the Introduction, at least once under every Main Division Title and again during the Conclusion of your sermon. You will see this in my illustrated sermon. 


By repeating the Prop in this manner, your hearers will go from your presence remembering your sermon in a nutshell - "God is a Good God!"  


If it suits you, you may underline your Prop in yellow throughout your outline, in order to help you remember to state it.


The Transitional Sentence


The Transitional Sentence is a simple thought that deliberately connects the Introduction to the first Main Division Title of the sermon Main Body. You will see this in my illustrated sermon. 


This sentence should be very brief. You may underline it in red if it will help you to remember to use it.  


When Transitional Sentences are not employed throughout your sermon, you could come across as fragmented, a bit choppy and possibly confused. Transitional sentences will smooth out your delivery quite nicely, as you will see.  


Again, you will see the proper use of Transitional Sentences in my illustrated sermon at the end of this course.


The First Main Division Title


This is the beginning of the Main Body of your sermon. 


It is the first main point you will make in your message.  For easy reference during your preaching, you might underline your Main Division Titles in blue.


You may use as many Main Division Titles in the sermon Body as you like, however, three to five is a very good average.  


You do not want to overwhelm your hearers with too much information.  Remember the K.I.S.S. principle.  You are not trying to have the final word concerning your chosen topic.  


Too much information can quickly lose the interest of your hearers.  


People do not care how much you know, they want to know how much you care. Showing out and showing off how much you think you know about the Bible does not say to people that you care about them.  


Keeping things simple and deliberately communicating says a lot about how much you care about people.  Remember, you are feeding sheep.  You are not feeding monkeys up in the treetops.  Keep it down on a level where the sheep can easily get it.


One of the most difficult aspects of proper sermon preparation is, "What am I going to leave out?"  As opposed to, "How much can I possibly jam-pack into this message?"  


Let us go back to the math we did earlier.  If you have thirty minutes to preach and you devote three minutes to the Intro and three minutes to the Conclusion, this leaves you twenty-four minutes to complete the Main Body of your sermon.  


If you have four Main Division Titles (4 points) in your Main Body, this gives you six minutes per point on average, equaling the remaining twenty-four minutes.  This creates a well-balanced message that makes sense to your hearers and keeps them from confusion.  


Of course, this is just a rough approximation and you do not want to be timing your delivery with a stopwatch.  This is just a general guideline to keep in mind in order that you may present a well-timed and a well-balanced message.  It is not always possible to balance your sermons out like this, but it is something for which to strive.


Each Main Division Title Should Include the Following


A. Scriptural Support: You will want to include one or two verses of Scripture to prove that what you are stating in each Main Division Title is Biblical. It is perfectly acceptable to re-use your opening Text Scripture from your Introduction if you so choose. 


Without proper Scriptural support you are not preaching a sermon, you are simply giving a lecture.  


Be sure your chosen Scriptures are in context and that they are truly supportive of the point you are making.  


It makes for easier preaching if your Scriptural support is copied right onto your outline.  This will help you to not have to be continually turning pages in your Bible to find your Scriptures.  In the age of computer technology I now prepare all of my sermons right on my computer, copying and pasting my Scriptural support from Online Bibles and then printing out my sermons.  


Many years ago, prior to my use of computers, I would take scissors and cut my Scriptures out of older paperback Bibles I would find in used book stores, taping them onto my outline exactly where I needed them to be.  I would also use a copying machine to copy the Scriptures I wanted to use from my Bible.  Then I would cut the verses from the copies and tape them onto my outline where I needed them to be.  


B. Argument: You will want to argue your point even as an attorney would argue his case.  Possibly, by process of elimination, one at a time, you could disprove all opposing positions to your point, thereby proving your position is correct.  This is called "deductive argument."


You may argue your point however you like, as long as you do so in as positive a manner as possible. Never go full-bore negative. Even if you are right, it turns your hearers off.


C. Explanation: Explanation is self-explanatory. Carefully explain, as simply and briefly as possible, why your hearers should believe the truth of what you are proclaiming.  


Oftentimes your explanation is actually already contained within your argument, and you may allow your argument to serve as your explanation.   


Just be sure you are not leaving your hearers to wonder what it is you are trying to say.


Explain, without rambling, exactly why your hearers should believe what you are proclaiming.


D. Illustration: An illustration is a window into what you are saying. If you use personal illustrations, it is best to use them from your own life and not just from the lives of others. People need to know that you are speaking experientially, whenever possible. 


Consider illustrating how you personally applied the principle you are teaching your hearers and how the Holy Spirit of God responded to you affirmatively. Some call this giving a personal testimony.  Personal testimonies give powerful insight into what you are proclaiming. 


Using illustrations from Bible narratives and the lives of Bible characters is also very effective in preaching the Gospel.


You may also want to consider using word pictures as Jesus did, such as the "Bread of Life," the "Water of the Word," the "Wind of the Spirit," the "Salt of the Earth," etc., whenever they apply.


E. Personal Application: At this point you will want to explain to your hearers how they, too, can utilize the principles you are revealing to them and the results they can expect from a faithful God.  


Sometimes the personal application of your message is contained in your illustration.  Just be sure that you always include personal application for each of your points.  


Tell your hearers not only what to do, but tell them exactly how to do it.


You do not want to leave your hearers thinking, "He told me WHAT to do, but he failed to tell me HOW to do it."


For example, if you are decreeing from Scripture, arguing, explaining and illustrating the importance of trusting in the goodness of God, tell them how to do so.  Tell them to say in their hearts, or even aloud with their mouths, "God, I believe You are a good God.  I believe You want to help me."  


Whenever possible, lead them in a personal application of what they have heard.  It helps them to unleash faith and God will respond to that.


However you do it, tell your hearers HOW to do WHAT you are telling them to do. 


Whenever possible, illustrate for them how you did it or how you do it.


Remember Your Propositional Statement


You will want to remember to restate your Prop at least once under every Main Division Title. You determine where you think it is best to do so.  You will see how I do this in my illustrated sermon. 


Remember Your Transitional Sentences 


You will want to use a Transitional Sentence as you go from your Intro into your first Main Point, between each of your Main Points and as you transition from your final Main Point into your Conclusion.  


You will also see how I do this in the illustrated sermon at the end of this course.


The Sermon Conclusion


Again, the Conclusion should be approximately 10% of the entire sermon length.  A thirty minute sermon gives you approximately three minutes to wrap everything up and to close.


The Conclusion must contain a simple, brief re-statement of each Main Division Title, and the title only. Do not re-preach your entire sermon here.


The Conclusion should also contain a re-statement of the Prop.


Finally, the Conclusion must also contain some sort of personal application of the entire message for your hearers.  


You should not only tell them HOW to apply the message you just delivered to their lives, you should also give an altar call so they can immediately apply what they just learned.


You may call them forward and lay hands on them, maybe pray a mass prayer over the entire congregation, or anything else the Holy Spirit might be leading you to do at that time.


However you close out your sermon, be sure to show your hearers exactly HOW to apply what they have learned, or you have left them asking questions as opposed to having received answers.


Do not rush through the Conclusion, but do not prolong it either. Remember, it should be no more than 10% of your sermon length.


Should you pray for people who respond to your message, it would be beneficial to continue to restate your Prop whenever you feel it is appropriate.  


The important thing in closing out your message is to now stay continually in tune to the Holy Spirit within you.  He knows things about the people who are responding to you that you do not know.  


Stay sensitive to Him at this crucial time in your message.  He may want to impart supernatural revelation to you concerning the people for whom you are praying. When you reveal to them what He shows you, it will stir their faith for their miracle.


Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit does not supernaturally reveal things about others to His Preachers to make His Preachers look good.  He does so to glorify Himself, to confirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to help people to have faith for their miracles.  


Continue to encourage the people to keep their eyes on Jesus and not upon you or anyone else at this time.  This is where the Holy Spirit will confirm the Word you preached with signs following.


The following is another visual to help you picture what you have just learned about the Topical Sermon Outline Format. 


Below the visual is my illustrated topical sermon outline for you to see an actual sermon layout. 





An Illustrated Topical Sermon Outline


Here is a Topical Sermon Outline which I have illustrated for you.  


Although I have included the underlined component names for you to understand more clearly what is happening in this outline, you need not do the same unless you so choose. 


Eventually you will become very proficient at using this format in a way that is best for you.




Title: "The Wonderful Goodness of God"


Text: "Every good and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17)


It's good to be with you again this morning.  The Holy Spirit has been working some things in my heart concerning the "Wonderful Goodness of God" that I've been looking forward to sharing with you.


Prop: God is a good God and that will never change!


Short Testimony: The denomination I grew up in taught me about a God of anger and punishment.  One day I decided to read my Bible for myself and I discovered that God is a God of Love.  He is the Blesser, not the damner.  Even as the text Scripture which I just read to you states, good and only good things come from God and that will never change.


Short Joke: I always say, "If it's good it's God, if it's bad it's the devil."  And don't ever let the devil tell you otherwise.  The devil is a fallen being and a liar.  He's so dumb he couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat!


Trans: I want you to know of a surety today that ...


Main Division Title:  I. Only Good Things Come from God


Scriptural Support: Right here in our text which I've already read to you, James said, "Every good and perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights."


Argument: Who can argue with this?  It's written right here in the Bible.  Some say God is mean and punitive.  But the Bible says He is good and only good things come from Him.  Jesus said that Satan came to kill, steal and destroy, not God.  Jesus also said that God sent Him to the Earth that we might have life and have it more abundantly. You'll find that in John 10:10.  Now that's good.


Prop: God is a good God and that will never change!


Explanation: One day Jesus came down from the mountain and a leper came to Him.  The leper knew Jesus could heal, but he wasn't sure Jesus would heal.  Let me read it to you, please.


"When He was come down from the mountain great multitudes followed Him and, behold, there came a leper and worshiped Him, saying Lord, if Thou wilt thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth His hand and touched him saying, I will; be thou clean and immediately his leprosy was cleansed." (Matthew 8:1-3)


Religion tells us that it is not always God's will to heal, but Jesus says otherwise.  He said to this confused leper, "I will" or "It is My will."  


Personal Application: Possibly you have been bound by religion, wrongly believing that God, not Satan, is the source of all evil and sickness.  You can see right here from the Bible that sickness could not possibly come from God, or it would not have been Jesus' will to heal this leper.  


I encourage you today to believe what you see in the Bible.  Believe that what Jesus did for this leper, He wants to do for you.  If you're sick, believe He wants to heal you.  If you're sad, believe He wants to give you joy.  If you're lonely, believe He will comfort you.  If you have a need, believe He will meet it, for He is a good God and He loves you.


Trans: Notice something else James said about the goodness of God.  He said ...


Main Division Title:  II. God's Goodness Will Never Change


Scriptural Support: Let me read it to you again.  "Every good and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning." 


Prop: God is a good God and that will never change!


Argument: James said, "with Whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning." 


What James is saying is that God is not fickle like human beings. There is no variableness in Him, meaning one minute He's good, the next minute He's not.  He's the same all the time.  If He was good yesterday, He's good today.  If He's good today, He'll be good tomorrow.


Explanation: God Himself said, "For I am the Lord, I change not." (Malachi 3:6)  


The Apostle Paul said, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)  


This means if He healed that leper yesterday because He's a good God, He will heal and help you today because His goodness never changes. 


Illustration: Notice the way James put it here in verse 17. 


He said there is no "shadow of turning" with God.  James is referring to a sundial, the way they kept time in Jesus' day.  


James is saying that God's goodness is as reliable as the shadow on the sundial.  


God's goodness is as consistent as the shadow on the sundial.  It's steady.  It's predictable.  It goes in one direction and it doesn't turn back.  


Do you understand what James is saying?  He's saying God's not going to be good one minute and turn back and be bad the next.  Just as it's impossible for the shadow on the sundial to turn back, it's not possible for God to turn back.  He's good now. He always has been good.  He always will be good.


Personal Application:  I want to encourage you this morning to make personal application of what you have heard by trusting in the unchanging goodness of God.  Trusting and having faith in the goodness of God is one of the Foundational Doctrines of the Bible. (Hebrews 6:1-2)  Without trust in God, without having faith in His goodness, it's just not possible to please Him. (Hebrews 11:6)  


I encourage you, trust in God's goodness.  I encourage you, release your faith in His goodness and expect Him to help you.  Nothing would please Him more.


Trans: So in conclusion, I beseech you again to believe that ...




I. Only Good Things Come from God


II. God's Goodness Will Never Change


Prop: God is a good God and I say it again - that will never change!


Personal Application: Possibly you've been believing that bad things come from God. Possibly you've been believing that all the bad things in your life came from God, but you've seen from the Bible today that God is a good God.  You've seen from the Bible today, that will never change.  You've seen from the Bible today that Jesus wants to help you the way He helped that leper when He said, "It is My will."  


Jesus is saying to you today, "My Father is good.  He is the Source of all good and only good.  He will never change.  I, Jesus, will never change.  The Holy Spirit will never change."


So come, let us release our faith in God's goodness together and expect your miracle as I pray for you.


The Bible says that Jesus' disciples, "...went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following." (Mark 16:20)



Homiletics 101 Basic Tips for Preachers


The preaching of the Gospel is the most important job in the universe and it must be done with excellence.


Be sure your life does not contradict what you preach.  You will make mistakes, yes, but be mature enough to admit it when you do.  Confess your sins, make amends if necessary and move forward, continuing to respond to the Call of God on your life. (1 John 1:9)


Prepare your sermons well in advance.  Do not be the type of Preacher who does not bother to study all week for his Sunday morning service.  You may get away with preparing Saturday Night Specials for awhile, but soon the anointing will fade if you continue to grieve God, taking advantage of His goodness in this way.  


Be sure your presentation is not too fast.  Make it easy for your hearers to follow you.  Speak from your diaphragm and use as clear and as low a voice-tone as you comfortably can.  Avoid being nasal and whiney.  Do not be afraid to shout for emphasis.  


Dress your best for the Lord when you're in the pulpit. Frumpled, undisciplined dressing habits send a wrong signal.  How can you expect people to take you seriously when it appears to them you do not take yourself seriously? 


Use the word "we" in place of "you" when bringing a word of correction from the Bible, so your hearers will not get the impression you are elevating yourself above them.


Stay positive by making statements such as "Always remember" as opposed to "Never forget," etc. At least try to take the positive approach to everything.   


Keep all corrective strokes upward, reminding your hearers of the power of repentance and the goodness of God.  


Never allow yourself to point or shake your finger in the face of your hearers. That comes across extremely condescending and disrespectful. Keep in mind your hearers came to listen to you because they wanted to, not because they had to.  


When using your hands, always try to keep your palms facing your hearers.  Palms facing towards yourself communicates selfishness and pride.


Do not pick, poke or adjust certain parts of your body while in the pulpit.  Unfortunately, this needs to be said. 


Maintain eye contact with people on both sides and the back of the room in which you are preaching.  Be deliberate in making everyone feel welcome.  


Find a younger person and an older person to continually make eye contact with.  When the younger person and the older person both begin to show signs of seeing what you are communicating, that's a pretty good indication that you're reaching most everyone.  


Do not pace back and forth, but deliberately walk from one side of the room to the other, establishing a rapport with everyone in the room.  Do not stay bound to the pulpit.  


If it is your Church, keep all clutter off of the platform, out of the Sanctuary, away from entryways, even out of your vehicle, your home and from your person. When people see clutter surrounding your life, they see it as an expression of confusion in your soul and a lack of self-discipline.  This makes it very difficult for people to receive from you or to even trust you.


Smile, particularly when saying hard things.


Never criticize your spouse or your family openly or in private to anyone for any reason.  


If you make a mistake while ministering, do not draw attention to it by apologizing repeatedly, if at all.  Correct your error and move beyond it immediately.  


Never, ever apologize or make excuses for God's Word, your delivery or your content.


Learn the importance of always keeping your word, or immediately apologizing if you are unable to do so. Preachers who do not keep their own word do not qualify for the privilege of preaching God's Word.  God is a God of His Word, and we are to imitate Him as dear children. (Ephesians 5:1) Preachers who have a habit of constantly breaking their word when they give it, soon discover the anointing on their lives has faded. The Bible says the man or woman who does not keep their word does not qualify to abide in the Presence of the Almighty. (Psalm 15:1-5) This is a reference to a loss of the anointing.


Preachers of the Gospel must be punctual and start their services on time. To advertise a 10:30 a.m. meeting and to start at 10:44 is not keeping one's word.  I have known many Pastors who have lost many people because they do not start their services at the exact time promised.  The Preacher who does not start his services on time is saying to the people, "You cannot count on me to keep my word."


When you have completed preaching your sermon, immediately take a drink of water if possible, use a handkerchief to clean the corners of your mouth and place a breath mint in your mouth.  There's nothing as disappointing as a Preacher who opens his mouth and preaches a sermon directly from Heaven, only to begin praying for individuals who discover his breath is from ... (Smile) 


For over twenty-five years I have made a practice of sitting down with my Bible and my sermon outline for two to three hours of meditation before a service.  I never try to memorize my outline, but I do like to familiarize myself with its contents.  I also like to read my Scripture verses over and over.  


I have always made it a practice to never bind the Holy Spirit to my outline.  I always take it into the pulpit with me, but I stay open to how, and even if, He wants me to deliver it.


Enjoy preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the most important, and the most privileged, job on Earth.


In closing I would like to share the following. From time to time as the Holy Spirit leads me, I like to fast for two or three days to keep that anointed edge. Normally during that period I will not eat breakfast or lunch, but I will eat dinner over that two to three day period.  Occasionally as the Holy Spirit leads, I will exclude dinner as well.  Sometimes I do have more extended periods of fasting as the Holy Spirit leads.  


However, I have found that the two to three day period is very effective for me.  Also, I always break my fast at least one day before I am going to preach.  I have found that it is not helpful to go into the pulpit fasting. Let the Holy Spirit guide you as to what is best for you when it comes to fasting.


Following is the link to the prayers I always pray immediately before preaching.


"Minister's New Testament Prayers for Holy Spirit Utterance."


"Preparation time is never wasted time." Dr. Kenneth E. Hagin


"Success is always the result of following the leading of the Holy Spirit." Dr. Kenneth E. Hagin 

Visit the tuition-free JHM Online Bible Training Centre for hundreds of preaching and teaching ideas and outlines.

Be Blessed ... John and Barbara Hamel



How to Be Born Again (Receive Christ as Your Savior)


How to Receive The Holy Spirit & Power


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