Finding the Main Idea

 |  August 17, 2020

I have been preaching for nearly 20 years. I started later in life compared to some of these young guns right out of seminary. I started preaching with no formal preaching education. All I had was my Bible and Dr. Adrian Rogers’ “Love Worth Finding” radio program. I can say with great conviction, although I never knew him, Dr. Rogers’ preaching style served me well in my early years. He had a way of bringing it home. You always walked away from his sermons with a particular main thought from the text that stayed with you. An effective preacher will tie his sermon to one specific and succinct point. This is the main idea of the sermon.

We love to discuss text-driven preaching at SWBTS. Preaching Source defines it as “the interpretation and communication of a biblical text in a sermon that re-presents the Substance, Structure, and the Spirit of the text.” Steven Smith explains how the main idea comes from the substance of the text, “the substance of the text will become the content—the meat, or main idea, of the sermon.”[1]Preaching for the Rest of Us, 2017 Michael Duduit, Executive Editor at Preaching Magazine, calls it the “take-home truth.” It is the main idea of the sermon you want everyone listening to take with them. The main idea hammers the message deep into the hearts of the listeners. In the “Twitter-verse” it is the one tweetable statement which produces multiple likes and re-tweets.

The attention span for an average adult is estimated to be less than 8 minutes. Alf Rehn a professor of Innovation, Design, and Management at the University of Southern Denmark remarks “average speakers plan for average attention spans. Great speakers plan for optimal attention spans.” Without the main idea keeping the sermon on track, you risk losing your people to their cell-phones. You must endeavor to find this main idea or your sermon will tend to waver back and forth. It will travel down unwanted rabbit trails and find itself far from the primary point of the text.

But how do you find this main idea? I must defer to the esteemed professor of preaching, Dr. Matthew McKellar at SWBTS. He boils down the main idea to two primary key principles from the text by asking two questions: “What is true about the text?” and “What should you do about that truth?” Using Dr. McKellar’s point of view, the main idea must speak to the overwhelming truth of the pericope. If you are preaching from Ephesians 2:1–10, then your main idea should speak to the truth of being dead in your sins. The “what to do” part is turning to Jesus who raises the dead to life. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace” (Eph 2:4, CSB)! The take-home truth could be written like “Because you are dead in your sins, turn to Jesus who raises the dead to life.” What’s true + to do!

The promise of God’s word is always true. It will never return void. Keep this in mind when searching for the main idea. You do not have to re-invent the wheel. If you are preaching the text, then let the text speak. This is why I love text-driven preaching. As Dr. Chris Osborne told me once when I asked him why he preaches only text-driven sermons, he said, “I only preach the text because when someone takes issue with what I am saying, then their issue is with the Bible and not me. I can hide behind the text.” Don’t get overwhelmed with trying to come up with something clever or new. Believe me, you are not that clever and it is probably not that new. Just let the text speak. The main idea is there; you just have to let the Holy Spirit illuminate it for you. God’s Word is better than your Words never hesitate to use His words over yours.


Teddy W. Sorrells, Jr. is the Minister of Church Plants and Outreach Strategies at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, and a Preaching DMin student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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