Evangelistic Preaching (06)

27 03 2009

african-elephant2jpg6. The big idea.

It really pays to know what your big idea is. If the preacher doesn’t know what it is, there’s no chance his hearers will work it out.

Being clear on the big idea of a talk is not just a neat communication technique. The reality is that most carefully chosen texts will contain a key concept to which most of the other elements of the text contribute or point.

So, if a talk doesn’t have a clear big idea, there may be one of two reasons for that: 1. the preacher doesn’t know what the big idea of the text is; 2. he has not crafted the talk so that it reflects the big idea. If the problem is 1, then the preacher needs to go back to the text and do more work (see my last post on this issue). If the problem is 2, the preacher’s sermon-craft needs work.

Here are a few suggestions to help with problem 2:

1. Chappo is helpful in suggesting that for every talk you should be able to write the big idea of the text in one sentence. If you can’t do that, you probably have more work to do (and sentences with 32 clauses do not qualify!).

2. The structure of the sermon and its subordinate points can each be employed to point out/establish the big idea. In that way, the whole talk supports and helps to communicate what the text is really about.

3. I think that clutter in a talk is one of the great enemies of the big idea. Without dumbing-down nor sacrificing nuance, talks need to be culled time and time again so that everything in the talk has a role to play and does not get in the way of the clarity of the message.

4. It’s also worth mentioning the obvious, that the big idea of the talk should be the same as the big idea of the text. For example, the big idea of the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 is not that ‘your biggest need is the forgiveness of sins’. While that might be deduced from the text, the big point is ‘Jesus has the divine authority to forgive sins’.

Posted by Con Campbell



6 responses

27 03 2009

It’s tricky though because sometimes a chapter will have two mutally exclusive main ideas because often there is a local idea and then some larger narrative or argument the chapter is part of. How do I do justice to both while still having only one main idea?

27 03 2009

This is the exact area where I am working on improving in my sermon preparation. I need to work on singling out that thematic idea before I work on the rest of the sermon. Thanks for the continued posts on the subject they are great to think about.

27 03 2009
Con Campbell

Thanks redpooba.
Luke, I think you are right. But the point remains: if you have carefully chosen a text, it will have a main idea, even if it contributes to a larger theme within the context. I think handling the passage within its context is important, and maybe the wider theme will get a mention, but if we’ve decided to preach on the local text, we need to preach on the local text.

28 03 2009

Darn – All this time I’ve thought that the evangelistic sermon I preached a couple of years back on Mark 2 called ‘The Biggest Problem in the World’ was one of my best…still, I think Jesus authority to forgive sins did get a mention so hopefully it wasn’t too far off.

On a more serious note, do you think the big idea of the passage and the big idea of the sermon can be slightly different – the big idea of the passage is what it mean’t in the original context, but the big idea of the sermon is how it applies to us today?

28 03 2009
Con Campbell

Hi Andrew. Well, I think the big idea of the passage and its application for today are two different things, and one does not need to displace the other in a talk (though OT texts and biblical theology probably need special treatment). As you know, it’s perfectly possible to preserve the big idea of the text, and then to move to a contemporary application of that point. But does that mean that the big idea of the sermon is different to that of the text?

31 03 2009
Joe G.


I was fortunate to hear Dr. Haddon Robinson last week at a seminar on this exact topic. The lecture that he gave was an introduction to how one comes to see the ‘big idea’ of the text (through exegesis) and applies it to the hearers in a way that is understandable and engaging. It was an excellent lecture that not only preachers, but any communicator could also benefit from. One should be able to purchase it through the Billy Graham Training Center (BTW, I do not work for the Billy Graham Organization). Dr. Robinson’s books are also an excellent resource.


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