As a child I would ask my Dad for help with various projects – fixing the brakes on my bike, getting the scalextric set up, getting the lawnmower to work. Invariably he would show me and then say, “do you get the idea?” I usually did and that was that.
Then I studied preaching at seminary. All of my teachers (thankfully) were proponents of “Big Idea” preaching. So now, as I prepare to preach, I am haunted by the question from years ago – do I get the idea? If I don’t, I’m not ready to preach. However, finding the main idea in a passage is usually not as easy as fixing the brakes on my bike.
It seems like a disproportionate amount of time can be spent trying to formulate a single sentence in the preparation process. But this single sentence is so important that it is always time worth investing. The payout is always sermon-wide. And the fallout should be church-wide and beyond. So let’s spend some days chasing the issue of the main idea, or as Haddon Robinson would put it, the Big Idea.
1. Ideas are the building blocks of communication. We communicate in ideas. Not words. Ideas. It is possible to get across a message without speaking a word – just think of advertising on the television or a billboard that uses imagery rather than words, just think of your mother when you came up with a creative activity as a guest in somebody else’s home. Words matter, but ideas communicate. So with any biblical passage – it consists of a set of ideas, some bigger, some smaller, all interrelated, and ultimately, all serving the main idea that drives the whole passage. Our job as communicators is not to parrot words, but to grasp and give out the main idea of a passage.
2. Ideas are made up of two parts. I tend to call it the single sentence summary. Somehow that feels easier to grasp than the full explanation of an idea. But let’s go to the full explanation, it isn’t that bad. What is the passage about? This is the subject. What is the passage saying about that? That is the complement. Put them together and you have the idea. Sounds easy. Sometimes it helps to ask, “what question is this passage answering?” (subject-question), and “what answer does it give?” (complement-answer). Or just summarize the whole passage in a single sentence.
Whatever it takes, let’s be sure we get the idea!