Yesterday I mentioned an easy mistake to make – finding the biggest detail and losing sight of the rest. Here’s another easy mistake to make:
Encompassing everything via a statement that is so vague it could come from any number of passages. I suppose it is an overreaction to the fear of missing the point of the passage. I suppose it gives the preacher comfort that no-one could argue with what the main idea actually says. The danger though, comes precisely because it is so vague. What are the possible results of a “We should trust God” kind of main idea?
1. Lack of authority. If it obviously does not represent the preaching text effectively, then the listeners are left with a sense of inadequate preparation on the part of the preacher. Our authority is really God’s authority demonstrated by the fact that the Bible is boss of the message. Vague and loose use of the text can only undermine authority.
2. Insipid application. If the main idea derived from the text is vague, the result will typically be vague application also. Lack of diligence in explaining the text will not set up diligent application of that specific text. The personality of the preacher may incline them to detailed applications, but without the biblical foundation, such application is likely to be more along the lines of personal suggestions to the listeners.
3. Limited life change. Of course God is able to work despite and around our poor preaching. But our aim should never be to need a “despite us” kind of grace. While life change can only ever come from the work of God through His ministry in His people by His Spirit and His grace, He calls us to handle His Word well and preach as effectively as we can. Vague main ideas come from inadequate biblical study, lead to insipid application and typically result in limited life change.
So what do I suggest? I suggest the “Hypothetical Bible Expert” test. Presuming somebody knew their Bible really well, would they be able to identify the passage from just the statement of the preaching idea? “We should trust God” could come from any number of passages. A distinct and carefully written main idea will point to one (or a very limited number of passages). Aim for a unique main idea for each unique passage.