Engaging Exposition (18): Getting At The Main Idea of the Message (MIM)

The main idea of the message (MIM) is the heart and soul of your sermon. The MIM is derived from the MIT and channeled through the Purpose Bridge.

Just as the text has a singular theme/complement your teaching must have a singular theme/complement as well. For the MIM, you ask the key question, of yourself rather than of the biblical author.

The Main Idea of the Message

Theme: What am I talking about?

Complement: What am I saying about what I am talking about?

Six guidelines guide us in honing in on the MIM:

1) Develop the MIM with your audience in mind.

2) State the MIM in the most memorable sentence possible.

3) State it positively, not negatively, if possible.

4) State it in the active voice, not the passive voice.

5) State it in words or phrases which are precise, concrete, and familiar to your listeners.

6) State it so that the truth is readily seen as relevant to your audience and their needs.

What are the characteristics of a good MIM?

1) It is derived from the main idea of the text. The MIT determines the MIM.

2) It is what the preacher will be talking about in his message.

3) It is a carefully worded statement.

4) It is geared to the audience.

5) It has a subject and a complement.

6) It is a complete sentence that is memorable.

Now let us sound a word of warning in closing this chapter. Identifying the MIT/MIM does not give one license or permission to ignore the supporting ideas of the text. The supporting ideas must be allowed to support!

Faithful exposition will honor the whole text, big ideas and little ideas. This will allow the whole as well as the parts to fulfill their divinely inspired assignment. Key points will support the main point, and minor points will support the key points. Text-driven preaching will be our guide and compass every step of the way.

Engaging Exposition (17): The Bridge From Study To Sermon

This is where you transition from the study to the message, from the past world of the biblical period to the present world of the here and now. To ignore this dimension in the hermeneutical/homiletical process can be fatal to what happens when you stand up to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. Basically, you are to fulfill the assignment of a divinely called translator. Your job is to translate the precious and eternal truth of Scripture so that a 21st century audience can hear, understand and respond to the biblical truth that has been made plain to them. Changing the truth is not an option and God forgive those who play the fool in this area. Communicating the truth so that those who hear you speak “get it” and genuinely grasp the message conveyed by the biblical revelation is what we are after.

Considerations in accomplishing step #4

When you cross this bridge, you will have moved from studying the Scriptures-the hermeneutical exercise-towards teaching the Scriptures-the homiletical exercise. You will now begin to consider several new issues that will lay the foundation for the full development of your message.

1) Begin to focus on the introduction of the message, and the issue that has been raised in the text and will be raised in the message.

2) Think about what must be included and/or excluded in the body of the teaching.

3) Give thought to your conclusion – how you will wrap things up.

4) Consider the illustrations’ that will help accomplish the purpose of the message.

5) Most important, let the purpose of the teaching directly contribute to the form of the theme of the main idea of the message (MIM).

This now leads us to five crucial questions you should ask of every text. This will solidify your purpose and guide you in sermon development. Hopefully, you will see that these five questions should follow the “Grand Redemptive Storyline” of Creation (God) – Fall – Redemption – Sanctification (leading to Consummation/Glorification).

Five Crucial Questions for Every Sermon to Raise and Answer

1) What does this text teach about God and His character and ways? This question is intentionally theological and God focused. It is the first question you should always ask in sermon development. This question looks for the “vision of God” in the text.

2) What does this text teach about fallen humanity? This question naturally follows number one, and it should always follow number one. It will keep us from being man-centered or anthropocentric in our preaching. Bryan Chappell speaks of the “Fallen Condition Focus” (FCF).

3) How does this text point to Christ? This is central in the sermon construction process and therefore we locate it “under the bridge” to support the entire structure.

This is not a novel idea. The church fathers were thoroughly Christocentric in their preaching. After all, they got it from the apostles, and they got it from Jesus. Jesus teaches us in Luke 24 that all of Scripture is about Him-all of it. In John 5:39, He says the Scriptures testify of Himself. Therefore, we dare not treat the Old Testament, like a Jewish rabbi.

4) What does God want my people to know? Every exposition of Scripture will have a knowledge element. There will be biblical and theological content.

5) What does God want my people to do? Doing follows knowing. Having immersed my people in God’s word as to what says and means, I will now craft an action plan that paves a clearly marked road for obedience. If we answer the knowledge question but fail to follow up with an outlet for concrete and specific action, our people will become confused and frustrated. Our goal is to make disciples of Jesus who will think and act with a Christian worldview. People who do not think like Jesus will not act like Jesus, and people who do not act like Jesus are not really thinking like Jesus.

Engaging Exposition (16): Getting at the Main Idea of the Text (MIT)

The main idea of a text (step 3) naturally derives from our studying of the Scriptures (step 1) and our structuring of the Scriptures (step 2). Having prayed over the entire process, we have: 1) tracked and identified the key verbs and parsed them; 2) looked for key words needing definition; 3) identified repetition of words and phrases; 4) located the seams in the text, which inform us as to the proper division of the passage; 5) noted the context; 6) searched for helpful and supporting Scripture; 7) written out any and all observations and applications discovered in the discovery process; 8) examined our study aids and commentaries for helpful insight, as well as a check and balance to our interpretation.

The MIT is the text’s heart. Every text will usually have several ideas that need to be studied and developed. Still, each text will also have a main idea that all other ideas support and amplify.

There are three key questions that help us identify and clarify the MIT. They are:

1) What was the main point then? (Idea)

2) What was the biblical author talking about? (Theme)

3) What was the biblical author saying about what he was talking about? (Complement)

The main idea is the single idea around which the details of the text are woven. Since we want to communicate one major point for the people to hear, understand, and obey, we seek to communicate the major idea of each Scripture text in contemporary terms.

The main idea of the text is the single unit of thought that binds together and gives meaning to all the particulars of a text. In some manner it should relate to your title.

It should always be in the form of a full grammatical sentence, stated clearly and concisely. It places a laser beam focus on 1) what the author is talking about and 2) what the author is saying about what he is talking about.

In order to get the main idea of the text, put the content of the subjects, themes, main points, or summaries together. In arriving at the MIT you are looking for accuracy and adequacy. The MIT should precisely reflect your particular text and must cover the assertions of the text.

Now, here are some practical steps to consider in this stage of your work in the study.

1) Give a tentative title to the text. This could well be the “theme” of the MIT.

2) If possible, write a personal translation or paraphrase of the text reflecting the flow or argument of the text.

3) Write out the main idea of the text. Put the theme and complement in full sentence form. The full statement does not need to be long, but make it adequate. You will most likely refine it and even shorten it as you work with it.

If you really desire to be an expositor of the Word of God, you will seek to impress on your people what the author stresses-the truth of this text. Remember, God is the ultimate author of the text. We want to honor what He put there. A good message should have a one sentence statement that summarizes the passage being taught.

The task is not always easy, but if undertaken, it pays rich rewards. Here are a few of those dividends:

1) The preacher will avoid the often-heard criticism that expository sermons/teaching lacks structure.

2) The discipline gives the preacher a better understanding of the truths he will share with his people.

3) It will assist those hearing the message to understand the message.

Unless we find the right words to identify the MIT, how will we ever teach that idea? Carefully locate the theological themes in the text. This will provide insight into its main idea. You can usually recognize the theological themes in the text by looking at the significant words you see there. Some words in Scripture bear enormous theological weight (e.g. justification, sanctification, reconciliation, repentance, calling, faith, election). Consider the plain and obvious meaning of the text for indications of the main idea. Look for a pivotal verse in the text which may contain the main theme. Though every text does not have a pivotal verse, many will. It will be the one verse which seems to capture the idea and summarize the meaning of the entire section.