Why is it worth the effort? Getting and giving out a big idea is not easy. It is much easier to preach collections of thoughts, rather than seeking to present a message that holds together around one main idea. If I could cut out the “main idea” phase of preparation, I could probably save 30% of my preparation time. Here’s why it is worth being committed to pursuing the main idea:
1. Pursuing the main idea will force you to study the passage more effectively. I think we are all experts in following bunny trails wherever they may lead us. Bible study can be an endless vista of bunny trails. But pursuing the main idea forces me to not only ponder the meaning of the details in a passage, but also to ponder how they are working together to communicate the author’s intent. The writers weren’t drunk or frivolous. Every word mattered, and every word was included to communicate something specific. Pursuing the main idea of a passage keeps me focused on what the author was trying to communicate, rather than playing creative word association games where I end up finding things that would leave a panel of original author, recipients and God Himself scratching their heads at my ingenuity.
2. Having a main idea will give you a guide for shaping the message cohesively. The beauty of a main idea is that it becomes the organizing factor for the content of the message. Should an illustration be included? What about the historical explanation? And that word study? How about that anecdote? Hundreds of decisions in every message. But actually the main idea gives a clear organizing factor – does including it help communicate the main idea? If not, save it for another day. The main idea is the message distilled into a single sentence, everything else is scaffolding, or a strategically designed support structure.
3. Offering a main idea will help listeners engage with what matters in the message. Here’s the thing: human minds don’t hold conflicted complexity. Its true in politics, its true in preaching, its true in most things. Rather than hang on to four major points, thirteen sub-points and five telling illustrations, the listener will subconsciously sift and determine the central thought. Problem is that they may well end up with that extraneous illustration being the main point. Since you’re spending the week preparing the message and thinking about it, do the work and decide what you want them to see as the most important thing.
4. Giving a main idea means there is a hope that listeners will remember something helpful from the message. People don’t tend to remember outlines. When they do, they don’t tend to do much with them. Even if they write them down. But Robinson is right when he tells us that “what people do live for, what they do die for, is an idea, some great truth that has gripped them.” Let’s give the greatest of truths every week.