5 Crucial Questions Every Preacher Needs to Answer Before Preaching a Text


A preacher’s task is not easy.

Practically, preaching takes many hours to write a good sermon to preach to a congregation, and theologically, preaching is a heavy responsibility not to be taken lightly. Scripture exhorts preachers to handle the Word of God correctly (2 Timothy 2:15) and to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).

In 2 Timothy 4:1, Paul charges Timothy, in one of the most forceful ways imaginable, to preach the Word – reminding Timothy in the presence of God and of Christ of its necessity: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the Word…” 2 Timothy 4:1-2a

Faithfully proclaiming the Word of God needs to be a goal of every preacher. The Bible is a complex theological book, and finding the full meaning and richness of a passage will not usually happen without digging deeper into the passage and looking at it from different angles.

The five questions listed below are based on categories of thought about a text that we use in our Fellowship of the Word and Training National Trainers programs, in which we teach pastors around the world to faithfully exposit the Scriptures.

5 Crucial Questions Every Preacher Needs to Answer about a Text

  1. What is the Context of the passage?

You may have heard the common adage: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text,” which is to say that if a person does not study a portion of the Scripture in its proper context, the passage can be used to say things that God never intended.

  • Understanding the literary context of a passage (the surrounding paragraphs, chapters, and rest of the book) allows preachers to know how the passage fits into the flow of thought of the author’s message through the rest of the book.
  • Understanding the historical context (historical events, culture, religious practices, and geography) allows preachers to understand the situation into which the author was speaking. This is important because in most cases the biblical writers wrote for a specific audience in a certain time and place. Thousands of years later we can easily miss vital details that help tell the story or communicate the whole message.
  • Understanding the biblical context (or how a passage fits into the whole story and message of the Bible and how it points to Christ) allows preachers to see the heart of God in a deeper way as they see how a particular text relates to the gracious purpose and plan of God that comes to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The biblical context helps connect major biblical themes and show the unfolding of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.


  1. What is the Structure of the passage?

The structure of a passage involves: (1) the parts of a passage – the units of thought that contain the major ideas of the passage, and (2) the connections of thought that hold the sections and major ideas of the passage together.

As we analyze a passage’s structure, we are better able to understand the main idea, supporting ideas, and smaller details. A faithful preacher seeks to understand the ways the author made his points, and then arrange ideas in a sermon the same way. This allows the Word of God to be communicated most like it was originally communicated.

An awareness and understanding of structure in the Bible brings a clarifying power to our preaching by understanding the major building blocks of the passage.

How do you find the structure of a passage?

  1. Look for patterns and shifts in thought. As you read the passage, what kind of patterns do you see that point to the major ideas the author is trying to convey? Also as you read, look for shifts in thought or a change in direction. These can be detected by a change in patterns.
  2. Divide the passage. After seeing the patterns and transitions in thought, divide the passage into sections that contain the major ideas. Write down the chapter and verse numbers for each section.
  3. Describe the major ideas. State the major idea of each section of the passage in one complete sentence.
  4. Find the connections of thought between the major ideas. How does one major idea connect or lead to the next? How do all of them connect together and reveal the direction of the author’s thoughts?

The main ideas in a passage should be like the beams of a bridge that hold up the overall message and help the reader get from one side of the passage to the other.


  1. What is the Main Idea of the passage?

Once a preacher analyzes the structure of a passage, he is then able to find the main idea of the passage because he has seen how the biblical author makes the points he is making; which points are major, which are minor, and which are supporting points.

Finding the main idea of a passage helps us discover what God is saying through that passage and remain faithful to God’s intent. This main point becomes the focal point around which everything in a sermon is organized.

Here’s a helpful illustration: The Main Idea is like the rope or string of a necklace. A passage may have several important but smaller ideas (like beads on a necklace). The Main Idea is the central thought that connects all those important ideas and holds them together.


Finding the main idea of a passage involves combining the answers to two essential questions into one complete thought (a complete sentence):

  1. What general idea is this passage talking about?
  2. What specifically is it saying about that idea?

A few tips for finding the big idea of a Bible passage:

  • Pray for God’s wisdom and insight
  • Look for connections between how a passage begins and ends
  • Look for a repetition of key words or ideas
  • Look for a summary verse
  • Look for conclusions or purpose statements (typically beginning with “so that” or “therefore”)
  • Analyze the flow or development of thought through the passage
  1. How does this text point to Christ? (Biblical Theology)

The Bible is not a random collection of books; rather, it is one united book made up of several books that come together to tell one story about one person, Jesus Christ, and the salvation He brings (Luke 24:27; John 5:39-40). Without understanding how a text relates to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, a preacher’s work can at best be labeled incomplete.

Nobody reads random chunks of Shakespeare on its own without knowing the greater story. In the same way, preachers are to understand how the text they preach fits into the entire story of the Bible and how it points to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not every text will relate to Christ in the same way or to the same degree. It can be helpful to imagine the Bible as a system of roads that all lead to Jesus Christ. Some portions of Scripture act as a main highway that quickly carries readers directly to Christ, while some passages act as a series of side streets, boulevards, avenues and on-ramps that connect to Christ more indirectly. No matter what road one is on, it is eventually leading to Jesus Christ.


  1. How can we apply this text to our lives today? (Application)


The ultimate goal to reading and preaching Scripture is not to know information, but rather to be transformed by the God’s Word to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Application involves knowing what God’s Word says and conforming your life to it. If you read the Word and neglect to be a doer of the Word, you deceive yourself (James 1:22).

Application is not simply making a list of do’s and don’ts but rather involves a change of heart and mind. A preacher has the task to not only explain Scripture clearly to listeners, but also to apply it in a way that listeners know how they need to think and live differently in light of God’s truth.

Preachers should ask the following questions to help apply the text to life:

  • What does this passage tell us about God?
  • How should that change our hearts?
  • How should we live as a result?
  • Is there any application already in the text?
  • Does the passage give some command or exhortation for how we should live?
  • How does the situation of our lives today correspond with the situation of the original audience? What is similar?
  • What did God say to them about those things that are similar, and how would that apply to the similar circumstances in our lives?


Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Father. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.