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.

Helpful Historical Commentary Series

I like scholarly commentaries, I really do. Anytime I preach or teach through a particular biblical book, I make a point of reading through two or three such commentaries, knowing that if they are worth their salt they will interact with other scholars and tell me what I need to know. But as I prepare a sermon or lesson I try to read at least as many “homiletical” or “devotional” commentaries and “pre-critical” commentaries as I do modern scholarly works. I have specific reasons for this practice.

I read through homiletical or devotional commentaries because I want to teach or preach Scripture to God’s people. I firmly believe that it helps to read others whose commentaries are based upon their own teaching and preaching, preferably in the context of the local church. I find they often bring out pastoral insights and relevant points of application that are often absent from scholarly commentaries.

I read through pre-critical commentaries because, in addition to normally being homiletical or devotional in nature, such works force me to interact with writers whose context was different and who often did not belong to my particular ecclesiastical tradition. Some of my favorites are John Chrysostom, John Calvin, the Puritans, and occasionally other church fathers or earlier Baptist writers like John Gill. You can find a lot of helpful resources on the internet.

A great blessing to the church in recent years has been the rise of commentary series that focus on pre-critical writings from particular periods of church history. I want to highlight three series, two of which I presently use and one forthcoming series I eagerly await.

First is the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (IVP), edited by Tom Oden. You can read Dr. Oden’s general introduction to the series here. This series covers the Patristic era. My SEBTS colleague Steve McKinion contributed the volume on Isaiah I-39.

Second is The Church’s Bible (Eerdmans), edited by Robert Louis Wilken. This series covers the first millennium of church history. Wilken’s fine introductory essay was republished by First Things in March 2008 and can be read here. Three volumes have been published so far.

Finally, the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (IVP) is a forthcoming series co-edited by Timothy George and Scott Manetsch. This series covers the Reformation era. My SEBTS colleagues McKinion and David Hogg are each contributing a volume to this series.