Make Your Point
There’s a humorous anecdote that I once heard about a fellow who never went to church much. His wife attended every Sunday and often asked him to go with her. Finally, he went one Sunday and listened intently to the sermon. Afterwards, his wife asked, “Well what did the preacher preach about?” He thought for a minute and said, “Sin.” “Well what did he say about sin?” asked his wife not letting him off the hook so easily. Again, he thought for a moment and then replied, “Well, I think he was against it.” The moral of the story is this, If we expect our listeners to understand what we are saying, we better be crystal clear. Think about the average political speech. They cover a lot of ground and touch on many subjects, but it’s nearly impossible to summarize their message. We, as preachers must do better than that. Our subject matter is too important for our message to be confusing or vague. We have to make a singular, crystal-clear point, if we expect anyone to remember it and to benefit from it.
Exceptional preachers identify and communicate a singular message found in their text. This is the first matter at hand after doing a through study of the biblical text we intend to preach. It may well be obvious by the time you do your exegesis. However, don’t be overly concerned, if you have not identified the topic by the time you reach the conclusion of your study. I don’t always do so. Neither will you. Sometimes, feeling a sense of desperation, I go to God in prayer asking Him, “What do you want me to say?” He never gives me an audible answer, but neither has He ever failed to guide me. However, some time and meditation is usually required on my part. Biblical meditation is simply dwelling on the Word over time. The Hebrew word means to mumble or repeat God’s Word over and over to yourself. See Josh. 1:8 and Psalm 1:2. When you are not sure how to proceed, and have no clarity, put away your books, and your notes, and do something else for a while. Oftentimes clarity will come after you meditate on the text for a while. In time, the Holy Spirit will direct your thoughts. At times, I have suddenly gotten clarity on how to preach a passage of scripture down to the very outline I use after waking up in the middle of the night. Other times it may happen while playing golf or driving home from the office. When this happens, it seems effortless at the moment, but it only occurs after doing the time-consuming hard work of study first, and then thinking seriously about the text over time.
Again, the focus of the sermon should be a singular idea. Some call it a proposition. Others refer to it as the main idea. I call it the big idea out of habit following Hadden Robinson’s terminology. Express your big idea in a complete sentence or it will likely be too broad in scope. On the other hand, the briefer the sentence is, the better, because it has to be something that sticks in the mind of the listener. Remember that a sermon is comparable to firing a single rifle round at a target. It has to be precise. It is not like firing a load of shot from a shotgun gun at a clay pigeon which only requires being in the vicinity for a shot or two to connect out of the many discharged.
Finally, the big idea should be stated in homiletical terms. In other words it should tell the listener something that he or she should know, do, or believe. It should not be merely a statement about what happened to a Bible character—what they should have done, known, or believed. Instead, it should be pointed directly at your listeners. It should communicate something that is a matter of some urgency in their lives. For example, don’t make your big idea “Peter walked on water,” but rather “Live by faith, not sight.”