Pre-Sermon Phone Call

One side of a pre-sermon phone call.

Yes, I know, it’s not the easiest of passages, you’re right.  Who assigned you that passage?  Well, I suppose that doesn’t really matter now does it? . . . Yes, you’re right, Sunday is coming.  But before you say another word, let me make some suggestions.  I know it’s tempting to skirt around the subject, or to take the main theme and preach on that without really dealing with the passage.  Or to fill time with illustrations and anecdotes – yes, it is easier to illustrate the theme in general than it is to explain this specific passage.

. . . So let me graciously ask you, why are you preaching about the subject of the passage and not really preaching the passage itself? . . .

. . . It’s not a clear passage?  No, it isn’t the easiest, but I would encourage you to dwell in it longer, keep praying and studying it.  Keep looking at how it fits in its context too, that almost always helps in the gospels.

. . . The commentators don’t agree?  Well, of course not, they have to say something slightly different to get published . . . ok, that was probably unfair, and yes, they are experts (some of them), but to you they have to be conversation and study partners, not dictators of the message, or diffusers of a strong teaching point.

. . .  The passage is too challenging?  You already said that . . . oh, I see what you mean, too challenging if you really preach it and apply it.  Yes, that’s how it often is when you dig into the teaching of Jesus.

. . . You have how many good illustrations?  . . . wow, I often struggle to find one or two, and you’ve got more than ten!  That’s great!  I’d suggest you save some for another message to allow time to preach this passage somewhere in there! . . . Which ones?  Well, cut out the ones that are illustrating the main theme, but not really illustrating this passage.

. . . Ok, I need to get going too, but here’s my suggestion: if you preach the theme, but skirt around the passage, your preaching will be weak.  It will lack authority.  You have some great illustrations, but maybe too many.  Don’t feel like you have to go to other passages to give different Bible teaching in order to have a reason to illustrate it – that’s backwards.  This passage is plenty of material for the message, along with the illustrations that really help this passage.  Don’t try to give a whole biblical theology of the main theme.  Let this passage do its work in peoples’ hearts.  Let it keep working in yours too.  Say less, fully earth the whole message in the passage and it will be a powerful message!  See you Sunday . . . yes, I’ll be praying for you.  Bye.



2 thoughts on “Pre-Sermon Phone Call

  1. Will you elaborate on the difference between preaching the theme and preaching the passage? Am I wrong in assuming that the author’s main point is the thrust of the passage? I’m not arguing with you, just a young pastor trying to learn. Thanks.

  2. Adam, thanks for the question. The theme of a passage is the same as the subject – what is the passage about. The thrust of the passage is the same as the complement (in Haddon Robinson terms) – what is it saying about the theme/subject. So a passage may have a theme that is somewhat general, perhaps something related to prayer, or witness, or divine providence, or spiritual warfare, or whatever. It is always tempting to jump off that theme and go elsewhere to talk about the theme, or use illustrations that touch on the theme. But to really preach this specific passage is to clearly identify what this passage is specifically saying about that theme. Once the theme and thrust are clearly identified, then the message should be as unique as the passage.

    I sometimes talk about the Bible expert test in relation to the main idea (theme&thrust) of a passage. That is, if you were to state your main idea, without stating the location of the passage, it should be specific enough that a “Bible expert” would be able to accurately deduce the passage reference. Too many sermons are preached without a clear main idea, or if they have one, it could be referring to any number of Biblical passages (because it really picks up on the theme, but fails to identify the specific thrust).

    Hope this helps.

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