Learning Objectives

  1. Formulate the Big Idea of your sermon by combining a subject and complement using the purpose bridge from Step 4.
  2. Understand that there can be as many big ideas, and therefore sermons, as there are purpose bridges.
 

So far, you have learnt to:

  1. Study the “flesh” by asking and answering key questions about key words and relationships
  2. Outline the “bones” and determining the structure of the text by looking at the various “keys” that establish main points, sub-points etc.
  3. Finding the “heart” and summarizing the big idea of a passage in a single, pithy statement.
  4. Craft the “purpose bridge” to combine the world of the Bible and the world of your hearers.

Now that we have decided that the purpose, or goal, of our sermon is “to remind God’s people that they were set free by the power of God’s love which broke their chains of slavery to sin, the world and Satan”, we need to create the heart, or big idea, of our sermon. Just as the text has a big idea, so should your sermon.

What is the Big Idea of the Sermon

The big idea of your sermon is that one thing that you want your audience to remember when they go home. Here’s an honest truth. Listening is hard. Remembering is even more difficult, even when your audience is the note-writing type. Your job as a preacher is to communicate the message that God wants his people to hear (from step 3- “big idea of the text”) – and that you have formulated in the step 4 (“purpose bridge”) and will now encapsulate in the “big idea of the sermon”- in a clear, concise and captivating manner.

Forming the Big Idea of the Sermon

To achieve this, your sermon must have one core idea that you will drive home using as many points as necessary (less is more) and as many words, illustrations and examples as are necessary (again, less is more). The process of forming the big idea of your sermon in this step (step 5) is the same as for step 3 (big idea of the text).

Recap

To recap what those rules are:

Big idea = subject + complement

The subject and complement are found by asking the following questions:

  • The subject: What am I talking about in my sermon?
  • The complement: What am I saying about what I am talking about in my sermon?

Remember, the subject is a question, and the complement is a statement that answers the question.

Our summary of Ephesians 2:1-3 from step 2 was as follows:

Before they came to know Jesus as their Lord, the Ephesian Christians had no spiritual life in them. They lived completely trapped in terribly sinful ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. They lived like slaves, blindly imitating the immoral behavior of the world around them and they lived in obedience to the will of Satan. As a result, they were in danger of suffering the terrible and just judgment of God, when he shall punish all wickedness and sin.

Our big idea from step 3 was:

Before Jesus saved them, the Ephesian Christians were trapped in sin, slaves to the world and followers of Satan who lived under the threat of God’s just punishment.

And our purpose bridge for this sermon from Step 4 is:

To remind God’s people that they were set free by the power of God’s love which broke their chains of slavery to sin, the world and Satan.

Practical Example: Ephesians 2:1-3

And now, in step 5, we are going to form the big idea of our sermon by adding the subject (a question) and the complement (a statement answering the question) together.


  • Subject: The power of God’s love that set them free (that’s what I will be talking about).
  • Complement: It broke your chains of slavery to sin, the world and Satan (that’s what I will be saying about the power of God’s love).

  • Now, rewrite the subject as a question and the complement as an answer to that question:

    Subject

    How were you set free from your slavery?

    Complement

    By the power of God that broke the chains that trapped you in sin, enslaved you to the world and made you a servant of Satan.

    Big idea of the Sermon

    You were set free from slavery by the power of God that broke the chains that trapped you in sin, enslaved you to the world and made you a servant of Satan.

    This is the heart of your sermon, the one thing that you need your audience to remember. Everything you say in your sermon is going to be about helping your listeners to understand this single point. Every point, illustration, example and word your say will be designed to drive home the big idea of your sermon.

    Think of it this way, if you had only one minute in which to speak to your audience, what would you say? The answer is – the big idea of the sermon. Now, hopefully, you will have more than a minute to say it! The point, however, is that the your audience is likely going to forget most of what you say. You goal is for them to remember the big idea of your sermon so that when they get home and reread the scripture from which you preach, they will be able to understand its meaning and how God wants them to respond.

    This takes time to get right (or as close as possible to right). So don’t be afraid to write and rewrite your subject and complement as many times as you need to (it takes me SEVERAL tries before I’m satisfied I’m on the right track).

    Now that we have our big idea of the sermon, let’s move on to developing its structure.

    Key Takeaways

    • The Big Idea of the sermon is the one thing you want your audience to remember when they go home.
    • There can as many Big Ideas, and therefore sermons, as there are purpose bridges. However, you must only have one purpose bridge and Big Idea for each sermon.

    Exercises

      Practice by applying these steps to any one of these passages (or one of your own choosing) – Ephesians 2:4-7, Psalm 1:1-3, Psalm 1:4-6, Colossians 1:1-3.

      Remember to use the same passage you picked in Step 1 to ensure consistency.

    Sources

    1. Anonymous.Stand up, Speak out: the Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking. University of Minnesota, 2011.
    2. Bell, John, and Gary Cross. Langham Zimbabwe Preaching Seminars Level One Handbook. Langham Preaching Zimbabwe, 2014.
    3. Richard, Ramesh, and Ramesh Richard. Preparing Expository Sermons: a Seven-Step Method for Biblical Preaching. Baker Books, 2001.
    4. Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching: the Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Baker Academic, 2001.
    5. Robinson, Haddon W., and Craig Brian. Larson. The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: a Comprehensive Resource for Todays Communicators. Zondervan, 2005.