Connect Your Thoughts
Once the big idea of the sermon has been chosen, the main points of the outline will need to be constructed. Roman Numerals should be used to identify the main points of the outline. The main points will have a specific relationship to the big idea, but the big idea should remain the singular focus of the sermon. However, the main points will need to say something important about the big idea. They may give further explanation of the big idea, establish proof of the big idea, apply the big idea in some fashion, or restate the big idea. Keeping these four possible relationships in mind each time you construct an outline will help you produce outlines with a singular focus. The main points should never stand alone, but always complete or complement the big idea.
So, how do we come up with the main points? First of all, remember that the main points need to be drawn from the text and not imposed upon it or added to it from another text. What the text says will dictate your outline content. As far as how the main points are determined, it will vary based on the type of biblical literature involved. For New Testament letters, pay attention to the main verbs. They will very often dictate your main points. If you are dealing with a passage that has three distinct sentences all of which deal with the same subject, then the main verbs in the sentences will provide you main points each providing additional information about the subject at hand. If you are dealing with a shorter section that has only one main verb, the main verb will undoubtedly provide the big idea for the sermon while the modifiers will yield the main points. Historical passages will usually require dealing with many more verses because the narrative requires many details and descriptions. The story line will provide the big idea and the twists and turns of the story will yield the main points. Poetical passages are pretty cut and dried having a clear focus which will provide a big idea. The poetical structure then becomes your guide for obtaining the main points of the outline.
Once you have a big idea in mind and know how the substructure of the text breaks down, ask yourself what it is that the anticipated main points add to the big idea. Will they be appropriate to explain the big idea, prove it, apply it, or restate it? I seldom ever use the restatement function for my main points since I can usually make one of the other functions work. After making this determination temporarily plug in the transition type between the big idea and the main points of the outline. Finally take a lot of care in wording your main points in accord with what their function will be.
Here’s an example outline from a sermon that I preached on Psalm 1:1-6. Notice how the main points in this case apply the big idea.
Title: The Pathway to Wisdom
Text: Psalm 1:1-6
Big Idea: Wise Men Do What’s Right
Transition type: Application
I. Don’t walk with the ungodly (1).
II. Don’t wander from God’s Word (2).
III. Don’t waste your life (3-6).