Show Your Support! Your Main Points Need It.

June 13, 2013

How often do we simply assert our main point in a sermon, read a couple of supporting verses with little to no comment, and then move on to illustrate or apply the concept?

Someone says, “So, what’s wrong with that?”

Well, maybe nothing is wrong with that, depending on the nature of the text or the general knowledge and maturity of the audience.

But in many cases there may be significant problems with that approach.

  1. The Connection Is Not Clear. Unless the point being made is self-evident (i.e. on the surface), it may not be clear to your listeners how you got that point from those verses. Simply reading the verses may not be sufficient to make the connection in their minds.
  2. The Application Is Not Accepted. Unless people accept the stated idea in good faith because they instinctively trust you, they may not readily accept the idea as biblical, and therefore, any applications that flow out of that sermon idea may not be embraced as having God’s authority behind them.
  3. The Conviction Is Not Strong. Even if people do accept what you’ve said without requiring justification from the text, they are less likely to hold that truth with the same degree of personal conviction as they would if they saw it unmistakably for themselves from the text. 
  4. The Teaching Is Not Biblical. The practice of actually showing people from the Bible where you’re getting your ideas from provides wonderful accountability against saying things that just aren’t biblical.

I try to operate by this general rule: If I can’t show my listeners clearly from the Bible where I’m getting a main idea, I’m not going to make it one. In fact, this is how I tend to filter through the commentary literature. The author may have what sounds like a great idea, but if I can’t “see it” for myself in the text, how am I going to “show it” to my listener? And if I can’t “show it,” then I probably shouldn’t “say it.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to show my listeners or that I will show them; it means that I could show them if I had time and wanted to.

Nor does it mean that I have to have a Bible verse for everything single thing I say. There are obviously times when you engage in doctrinal synthesis and make logical extrapolations and applications. There are also times when you have to assume the basis for certain statements due to time constraints or other considerations. But in general my default should be to show from the text whenever possible and not just tell, especially when it comes to my main ideas.

Allen Ross in Creation and Blessing writes,

Too many so-called expositors simply make the one central idea the substance of their message. The narrative may be read or retold, but the sermon is essentially their central expository idea–it is explained, illustrated, and applied without further recourse to the text. This approach is not valid exegetical exposition. In exegetical exposition, the substance of the exposition must be clearly derived from the text so that the central idea unfolds in the analysis of the passage and so that all parts of the passage may be interpreted to show their contribution to the theological idea. (47)

In other words, we must labor to help people connect the dots. We must show them how we arrived at the general idea from the particulars of the passage. It is not safe to assume that people will see or make the connections on their own. So show them. Don’t just tell them.

 

Kerry McGonigal

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In Adam by birth but in Christ by grace. That's my story. Husband to one and father of three. Pastor, homiletics teacher, and passionate proponent of expository preaching. If you like what you've read and want to be notified of future posts, take a second and subscribe via RSS or email (on the right sidebar). Opinions expressed here are my own.

4 responses to Show Your Support! Your Main Points Need It.

  1. I enjoy this blog and I will look to follow it in the future. Keep up the good work. The Standard Theme is the best as well. Great job with it!

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Jordan. The process of writing has been very good for my thinking. I love what E. M. Forster said: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.” My prayer is that the blog will encourage pastors and preachers everywhere toward an expository philosophy and practice of ministering the Word.

      • That quote is so true of writing. The quote for the blog I am involved in (hipfellows.wordpress.com) was started after a desire for more fellowship based on Jerry Bridges book, True Fellowship. Bridges says, “Biblical fellowship, then, incorporates this idea of an active partnership in the promotion of the gospel and the building up of believers.”

        But quick question for you: What do your finished sermons look like? Manuscript form? Outline form? Detailed? Bullet points?

        I am preaching this Sunday and I was just wondering how other preachers tend to organize themselves? (I know what you teach and others teach in sermon classes but do you or others actually do that?)

        • Good question. My approach varies depending on the nature of the occasion, the time I have available, and the level of familiarity I have with the sermon text or topic. Personally I prefer to manuscript whenever I can. The Forster quote is why. The process of writing down my thoughts helps to clarify them and helps me make sure I’m doing what I advocated in this post–helping people see the connections. If our thoughts aren’t crystal clear, then how can we expect our listeners to think clearly. I also love having a full version of the sermon available in my files for future reference. However, manuscripting has several disadvantages. It is a time-consuming process and is not always feasible. And most guys who take the time to manuscript end up using their manuscript in the pulpit. That’s not necessarily a problem unless they read their sermons. And in most cases the sermon loses it natural and personal “oral” quality. It sounds more like an essay. In my mind the ideal is to manuscript in preparation and then boil down what you were going to say into something more condensed for presentation. (And by manuscript I mean writing it out the way you would actually talk, not in a formal, academic way.) That way you have the advantage of careful preparation and clear thinking but also maintain the dynamic of at-the-moment, spontaneous, and personal communication. Honestly, I find guys are all across the board in what works best for them. Some guys can think well on their feet and a manuscript is burdensome and unnecessary. Others have trouble putting thoughts together on the spot and really need more in front of them as they speak. So I would encourage you to experiment with different approaches and find out what works best for you. And, like I said, the demands of ministry may not always allow for the ideal. There’s a lot more I could say. Perhaps I can explore this in a future post. Hope things go well for you on Sunday.