Dick Lucas on Preaching the Melodic Line: How Grand Themes Enrich a Sermon

Many musical compositions come back to a key melody time and time again. The sound track of many movies even feature a key melodic line that helps tell the story and carry emotional weight. In a similar way, books of the Bible have a “melodic line” that repeats, sharing the book’s main idea and intended response.

There’s no one more qualified to go deeper on the what, the why, and the how of preaching the melodic line than our preaching hero, Dick Lucas. Lucas, now retired, founded the Proclamation Trust to raise up the next generation of Bible expositors. (Listen to our conversation with Dick Lucas on his life and legacy.)

Listen below or read the transcript of the interview that originally ran on PreachingToday.com.



PreachingToday.com: What do you mean when you talk about preaching the melodic line of a text?

Dick Lucas: I didn’t invent the term melodic line, but it’s become quite well known. The melodic line is taken from the fact that a piece of music has a tune or a line going through it that holds the whole thing together. We want to show that in a New Testament letter, for example, a theme holds the whole thing together. Therefore, to take verses and passages out of the context of that melodic line, that theme, that argument that runs through the letter, would not be profitable.

For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 is often taken out to prove the inspiration of Scripture, which, of course, it does prove. But if you put it in the melodic line of the letter, you find it is Paul’s instructions to Timothy as to how he is to continue his ministry, and Paul is saying the one equipment Timothy needs for his ministry is the Word of God, which will enable him and train him in righteousness and correction and all the rest of it. I know a principal of a theological college who is determined to bring everything in the curriculum under 2 Timothy 3:16. That is, he wants the Bible to control all the other disciplines. That’s really what Paul is saying to Timothy. Although the verse does teach the inspiration of Scripture, and indeed without that the Scriptures would not be powerful to do the work, the verse is talking specifically to the person of God — to the minister, to the pastor, to the teacher — and telling him how he is to be fully equipped.

How does that principle work itself out in the preparation of a sermon?

Say I’m doing a series on the Epistle to Jude. It starts with that wonderful statement that we’re kept by Christ, and it finishes with that wonderful doxology, “Unto him that is able to keep you from falling.” If you look at the material in the middle of the Letter, the emphasis is on how we are to keep ourselves from disaster through obedience to the faith and to the standards God has laid down. There is a remarkable balance. God keeps his people — we all know that. But the letter is saying it’s not enough to know God keeps you. The sign that God is keeping his people is that they’re keeping themselves. That gives me a grip on the Letter. It shows me what it’s about, where it’s going. There are some tricky and important verses in Jude I might spend a whole sermon on, but if I’ve got the pattern and argument of the Letter, it’s going to make a good deal more sense.

When you preach on one section of a Book, do you still scan the entire Book to bring out this melodic line?

It’s one of the most important disciplines of the preacher. It’s alarming if you go to a church where a team of preachers is doing a series on Hebrews, for example, and each preacher has a different idea what the Book is about. It’s absolutely essential to know the way the melodic line, the argument, the theme of the Book, is going.

What are some of the secrets you’ve found for finding the melodic line of a Book and for weaving that in and out of a sermon in a way that keeps people interested?

That is the hard work of preparation. It is exciting to find the reason why the Book was written. The difficulty is that the scholar, in writing his commentary — and of course they’re essential for us as part of our work — inevitably will be a detail man. He will tell you what every word means, where it comes from; he’ll tell you about every dot and comma. That’s fine, but I also want to know why it’s there; and that the commentators are not usually so good at, because their scholarly skills are honed for the technical matters.

If I wrote a letter to a friend saying I was catching a train and would meet him at Cambridge at three o’clock, and that letter was dug up in 2,000 years, the scholar would not be interested in why the letter was written. He would look at the details of the letter and write monographs on them. For example, in the letter I might have said I would call in at McDonalds on the way to Cambridge. The scholar would say, “This fellow 2,000 years ago must have been a Scotsman and had Scottish friends he called in on.” Then somebody else with a Ph.D. would discover McDonalds was a café. All that is interesting, but it’s not what the letter was written about. The letter was written to say, “Will you meet me at three o’clock?” So the letter of 2 Peter is written to warn me that I will be carried away from my stability unless I grow in the grace and knowledge of God. That governs the whole letter. So I need to know why he wrote the letter if I’m going to look at the details.

Do you generally find a key verse that tips you off, or is it repetition that cues you in on the key thought?

Sometimes it is a key verse. One of the verses we used recently was Hebrews 13:8. It’s what I call a “kitchen calendar text”: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Few people have the foggiest idea what it actually means. But it’s a key to Hebrews, because it is saying that Jesus Christ, in his work as a priest and in his bringing the revelation of God, is remaining forever and ever. If the Queen of England remained forever and ever, Prince Charles would never be king. So if the priest stays forever and ever, there will never be another priest. That tells me that the theme of Hebrews has to do with the finished work of Christ on the cross and that there doesn’t need to be another priest, because he’s the priest forever and ever. If he’s a priest forever and ever, that means he’s finished his redemptive and reconciling work, and there’s a final message the church has been given to which nothing can be added. Hebrews begins by saying God has spoken many times in the past, but he’s spoken finally by his Son. If you put those two things together — the finished work and the final word — you have the message of Hebrews, but you’re not likely to get that without going through the Book and saying, What’s the argument running throughout it? The writer is saying: Don’t slip away from this Word. Don’t add to it, because the work of Christ as a priest has been finished and you are reconciled to God. If you’re reconciled, then nobody can do anything to make you more reconciled and more acceptable.

How do we train people to have the mental discipline to follow a line of reasoning, to get into the text and see the big picture with us?

Most people prefer order and logic to muddle. We sometimes should say to the preacher, “Order! Order! Where are you going? What’s your order?” Most people prefer the preacher to have some kind of order so they know which direction they’re meant to be going. We call that “logic on fire.” That comes from Martin Lloyd-Jones, who said the sermon should be known by its logic, but that logic must be on fire, so it’s not just cold, academic logic.

The great sermon of Paul to the Athenians is exactly that: logic on fire. It has a clear line of teaching about their ignorance and why they are ignorant and what they ought to do about it. Some people like emotional muddle, but after a while they prefer to have their mind addressed and satisfied. It’s like when we were kids. We liked all the wrong food, but as we grew up we preferred more nourishing food. As you grow up spiritually, you prefer something that nourishes your mind as well as your heart.

On Sunday I’m going to be preaching on the Ethiopian in Acts 8. One of the things we have to do when we come to a familiar story like that is to look at the structure the writer uses in telling the story. The writer has a hand in this and is telling the story with a point in view. Now you can use that story in a number of different ways. I read a book on personal evangelism based on the Ethiopian story, and that is legitimate. I’ve often kept that story up my sleeve when I’ve been asked at short notice to speak to businessmen, because it’s a story of a businessman who met Christ. But neither of those reasons is the reason Luke tells the story. Luke tells the story because the church in Acts 8 is beginning to go out into the whole world. It’s the time when the disciples are driven out of Jerusalem, first to Samaria and then to the outermost ends of the earth. So Acts 8 stands as the first chapter in that great expansion of the church out into the world. And Luke wants to tell us what is true evangelistic ministry.

Now I imagine Luke’s study was pretty untidy, because he’s got material coming in all the time of preaching, of campaigns, of wonderful things, of persecution and so on. But he actually spends a whole chapter with two stories — Simon the magician, which is a false picture of ministry, and the Ethiopian and Philip, which is a true picture of ministry. So I want to know what he’s got in his mind when he writes the story. He’s wanting to say to me: Philip, led by the Spirit, is giving you a pattern of how to evangelize. The first point is that the Ethiopian says to him, “How can I understand this Book without a teacher?” Luke is saying the Bible is not self-explanatory, that God has appointed teachers. Then when I turn to the Pastoral Epistles, I discover only one professional qualification is needed to be a minister: he’s got to be an apt teacher. So when I come back to the Ethiopian, I find it fascinating that the Holy Spirit sends Philip into the desert, into an evangelistic campaign that can’t have been a very welcome invitation, where he meets one person reading a Bible he doesn’t understand. The Ethiopian says to him, “Will you come up and guide me?” And the Greek word simply means “explain it,” “teach it to me.”

So Luke is telling me that evangelism starts at understanding the Scriptures and that evangelism is not collecting scalps; it’s not getting people emotionally tied up, and it’s not asking for a decision when people don’t know what they’re being asked to decide about. It starts with Bible teaching. It’s immensely encouraging to a young minister who feels he ought to leave evangelism to the professionals when he’s told, “If I teach the Bible, I’m beginning the evangelistic enterprise.” That comes from looking at the structure of the story.

At Proclamation Trust we have a preaching principle called “Question Time.” We take that from the passage in the synoptic Gospels where Christ is under fire with questions. He often asks a question in return. In fact, occasionally he says, “I won’t answer your question until you answer mine: Where did John the Baptist get his authority from?” And they don’t want to answer it, so he says he won’t answer. What we learn is that the preacher is not there primarily to answer the questions people have; he’s primarily there to present the questions God is asking us.

When I was ministering at universities, I used to be pushed up against the wall by students, and they used to batter me with questions. God was in the dock. The impression was that if I could tell them why God had made the world in such a rotten way, they might possibly presume to believe in him. That is a completely wrong way to go about Christian apologetics. God is not in the dock. It is we who are in the dock. My job as a preacher is to bring to people’s attention the great questions God asks that they would never hear otherwise.

When I was preaching to yuppies in London, many of whom in their twenties were beginning to make a great deal of money, I asked them questions like, “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” I would simply put before them a profit-and-loss account and say, “I can gain the whole world. I can take over Harrods. I can take over the Bank of England. I can become a multimillionaire and then die and lose my soul and go to hell eternally. Where is the profit in that?” They never had anybody put that question to them before. That question which God asks us in Christ’s words is infinitely more important than a question they might ask me, which is largely a result of their ignorance, because they’ve not sat under Bible teaching.

So in “Question Time” we’re trying to say the church ought to be on the front foot, not the back foot — not because we want to be proud or difficult, but because actually we are the people in the dock and God is the one who is asking the questions. The preacher needs to know his responsibility.

Take Psalm 2 It begins with that magnificent question: Why do the rulers and kings of the earth unite together and rage against the Lord and his anointed? That’s not a question anybody ever asks. The questions we ask and that are on our daily paper are: Why do the Palestinians and Jews fight against each other, and why can’t we stop them? That’s an important question. That’s not the question the Bible is asking. The Bible is asking: Why is the world fighting against God? “Well,” says Mr. Jones, listening to that, “I never knew it was.” We can then go on to the New Testament and show that we are all by nature not apathetic toward God but antagonistic. You and I didn’t learn that until the Holy Spirit began to teach us what an enemy we’ve got in our own hearts toward God. But you soon learn that as a pastor or a Christian worker, because you talk to people about Christian things and find an enormous hostility whenever the thing comes close to them. Psalm 2:1 raises that great question, which people would never otherwise hear.

Interview used with kind permission of Preaching Today and The Proclamation Trust.

New Release from Bill Mills: A Gospel Worthy of Your Life: Orienting Every Resource, Attitude and Passion Around the Cross

LRI Founder and teacher Bill Mills recently released a new book titled A Gospel Worthy of Your Life: Orienting Every Resource, Attitude and Passion Around the Cross


A Gospel Worthy of Your Life - ebook coverHow do you disciple a church to give themselves wholly to the gospel? As we walk through the book of Philippians, we will hear the Apostle Paul teaching this beloved church what it means to partner together in the gospel. This Bible study is designed as a resource for churches, small groups and classes as they grow with one another in evangelism, missions and worship. Consider it a strong and encouraging personal devotional tool as well.

IN THIS BOOK YOU WILL LEARN HOW…

  • God has been building in your life a unique platform for the gospel
  • God has designed suffering as His means of carrying the gospel to the world
  • Our great enemy seeks to distract you and your church from the gospel
  • You can be set free from the past so that you can give yourself to the gospel

Available in Paperback and for Kindle

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Mills and his wife Karen are the founders of Leadership Resources International, a global mission based in Chicago, Illinois. Bill’s career has been focused on encouraging churches in the West and equipping pastoral leaders in the developing world. Bill also serves as a staff pastor in his home church.

Indonesian Pastor: “TNT has been an answer to prayer and an encouragement to our family”

Training Indonesian Pastors in Expository Preaching

The video below features Herediki, a pastor from a remote Indonesian village, sharing how LRI’s Training National Trainers program has transformed his life and ministry by equipping him to preach biblical sermons.

Traveling to his town to film this video was the first time LRI staff has had contact with Herediki. Herediki receives training from his pastor, Audy. Audy has been trained and faithfully passes his training on to Herediki and others in their remote Indonesian village.

Transcript of the Video: 

My name is Herediki Lupon. I attend a Baptist church in the village of Atep Oki. I joined this church to understand the Word of God related to me personally. This church has an emphasis on helping us understand the Word of God more clearly. This church is different than other churches around us: how we follow Christ is seen in our lifestyle with God’s Word.

I am an assistant pastor for the church. I wanted to become closer to the Lord and take the steps to become a minister, but I have not had the opportunity to go to seminary. Since I was young, I have had the desire to enter theological school, but was not able to follow my desires. All of the pastors that come to pastor here have encouraged me to attend theological school. But there are many challenges to getting to a theological school. It is quite far away, very time consuming and finances are very limited. And besides, I am forty-nine years old now. But it’s OK. So far, I have learned the training from Pastor Audy, and I can understand the Bible much clearer now.

TNT Training has been an answer to prayer and a great encouragement to our family… When Pastor Audy returns from a TNT training, he teaches me and others what he has learned, lessons about finding the big idea of a text, understanding the context of a passage, and many other lessons. This allows me to have a much more detailed understanding of the Bible, a better understanding of the context of the text.

Before I learned the TNT method that Pastor Audy taught me, when I would preach a sermon, I would just speak about any idea I found and would like to talk about. After learning the TNT methodology, I have become much more careful. I try to be an encouragement to the congregation so they can understand the true meaning of God’s Word. This has been helpful for my own family and the church members as well.

We try to give the training to our whole family so that our family can continue to be faithful. Not only our children, but also our grandchildren. I would really encourage you to continue the TNT training because it is having a very big impact—not only to the pastor, but to the church members. It has really become an encouragement to me personally.

Herediki is living proof of how God is using second generation TNT training to further strengthen the global church and is another example of why we love being a 2 Timothy 2:2 ministry!

“…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2

God’s Word spreads by equipping faithful pastors to rightly handle and proclaim God’s Word. Learn how you and your church can join us in this important work.

Read more stories of how those we have trained are impacting others by passing on their training.

A Golden Opportunity for the Word in Cuba

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Dear Partners & Friends,

“Cuba!” An island in the Caribbean, white sandy beaches, classic cars, the rhythm of rumba and salsa…what comes to mind? Many thoughts. But one that never came to this mind was a visit.

Cuba 2An Unexpected Visit

The times in which we live and the events we experience shape our view of the world. I grew up during the height of the cold war. A trip to Cuba (or Russia) seemed as likely as one to the moon. Yet, this past February, Patricio (LRI Latin America Director) and I boarded a plane to jump the puddle from Monterrey, Mexico to Havana, Cuba.

We walked out of the airport and stepped into what seemed like the set of an old movie. Sun-drenched skies, beautiful palms, classic Chevys, the smell of the sea, each made the experience more surreal. Historic Havana was an interesting mix of architectural influences, American included. It spoke of the power of the Soviet empire yet clearly communicated it was from an era long past, a state of disrepair.

Questions and Answers

Why did our partner invite us? What was the state of the church? What would we find when we met the pastors?

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“Hotel Nacional de Cuba”—Completed in 1930

Answers emerged. MOCLAM (a partner ministry serving in Latin America) invited us to help the church in Cuba. For the past 9 years they had worked with a dozen pastors based in Havana. These 12 have trained 100 more throughout the country. Perfect setup! The training helped them understand the Bible but now MOCLAM felt it was time to strengthen their preaching. The training helped them see Christ as the focus and fulfillment of the Bible’s redemptive story but now it was time to accelerate discipleship and encourage a movement of God’s Word. A match made in heaven! They and we long to see God’s life spread through and mature this country.

The next day we drove to our destination. We spent a few days with these dozen pastors. It was more like a gathering of old friends than a first time meeting of strangers. Welcoming and warm, they were ready to draw us in. Laughter and enthusiasm characterized much of the time. Yet, along the way we also learned that life in Cuba is hard. Ministry is fraught with difficulties, persecution common and poverty acute. The younger generation is fleeing the country in pursuit of the better life. The older one is stuck, nowhere to go and no one to help. Discouragement operates at a level I rarely see. This made them hungry. They craved the unstoppable force that brings hope and life, the Word of God.                                                                          

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“Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta”—Fortress built from 1589–1630.

A Golden Opportunity

Friends, I don’t know if you see what is unfolding to the south. Relations with Cuba have warmed. U.S. airlines are securing direct flights. The Cuban missile crisis of yesteryear has given way to American Cruise ships today. Investment dollars will soon show up in droves. What does this mean for Cuba? What does this mean for the gospel?

We have a golden opportunity. Three things I know:

  1. This is a moment of historic proportions.
  2. God’s Word and the good news of Jesus is the only power that will make the difference.
  3. We have the invitation and partner to bring the hope and life Cuba desperately needs.

Will you pray and give to help Patricio and his team be able to respond to this call?

With gratitude for your generosity,

Todd Kelly

Director of Global Ministries

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PS: The gospel is taking root in Cuba. The most strategic role outsiders can play is to equip pastors to study, teach and preach God’s Word. Your gift this month will enable us to do just that!

Why Training Indigenous Pastors in Biblical Exposition is Essential for the Global Church

Leadership Resources’ ministry focuses on encouraging and equipping pastors around the world to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Our Training National Trainers program equips indigenous pastors to preach biblical, Christ-centered sermons and pass their training on to others.

It is our conviction that training nationals to preach biblical sermons is one of the most effective ways of strengthening the global church.

Why is training indigenous pastors in biblical exposition essential for the global church?

1. Training pastors is an important part of obeying the Great Commission.

A major part of Christ’s Great Commission is to teach disciples to obey all of His commands (Matthew 28:20). We teach pastors to obey what Christ has commanded, and these pastors in turn better teach others to obey what Christ has commanded. This type of multiplying ministry is what Paul had in mind when he wrote 2 Timothy 2:2, our key verse, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

2. Indigenous pastors can reach their culture better than we can.

The best way to overcome the culture barrier is to avoid it all together. Equipping indigenous pastors to train others is more effective than trying to reach everyone ourselves, is safer, and substantially cheaper. It is also easier because nationals know how to navigate their own transportation systems, cities, and culture much better than we do.

They also often have intimate knowledge of where training is needed, as the story of one Burmese pastor who traveled four days to train in a remote village would indicate. Watch Rawang Pong’s inspiring story.

3. We do not impose a foreign mindset.

Our training has a simple goal: to equip faithful men who will preach God’s Word faithfully. We achieve our goal by training pastors to read and preach the Scriptures. We don’t tell people how to run their church or contextualize (unless they ask!); we make the Bible more accessible to them so they can shape their ministry according to it. Our goal is to transfer Kingdom values, not impose American ones.

4. Pastors need to be able to handle God’s Word correctly.

Unfortunately, 85% of the world’s pastors have little or no biblical training. Each Sunday, many of those pastors preach and shepherd their congregations. Our targeted method of training 15-20 pastors over four years allows us to gauge each pastor’s progress in handling the Scriptures and help them be closely shepherded to ensure their training makes a lasting impact on preachers and their congregations.

“The training helps to avoid heresies and helps focus on the word and avoid your framework. Most of the time in Africa, because of the background in Animism, we try to enforce our points of view on the text, instead of letting the text speak to us. We want to speak on behalf of the text.”

—Francis, a church planter in Togo. Watch Francis explain the importance of TNT for church planters in Togo.

5. Pastors who rightly handle God’s Word are vital to a church’s health.

It is often said that a congregation will never rise above their pastor’s spirituality. If a pastor is unable to rightly read and minister God’s Word, his people will remain unfed instead of being taught, reproofed, corrected, trained in righteousness, and equipped for every good work through Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Rolando

“When God called me to pastor a church, I didn’t know how to preach. I was praying… ‘Lord, I want to know how to preach.’ I want that somebody helps me. I pastored three years with no one to help. Since then, I came to know LRI…and I loved that training because they started to tell me that I should only read the Bible and from there they will teach me the principles.”

—Rolando, a pastor in Oaxaca, Mexico. Hear the whole Before & After story of God transforming Rolando and his ministry through TNT.

6. God has already been working in indigenous pastors’ lives.

Why start from square one when you can partner with existing networks of pastors (schools, denominations, fellowships) who can easily gather for training and spread it through their networks?

Read how 32 Brazilian pastors trained over 1,300 pastors throughout their country and more around the world.

7. Training Pastors in Biblical Exposition is on the frontlines of gospel ministry.

We look for where God is already at work. There is no greater need than for Christ’s church to hear and be shaped by His Word. Training national pastors around the world in Christ-centered biblical exposition strengthens the global church with the Word of God and marches forward with the banner of the gospel.


Join the Movement

Pray

We firmly believe the words of J.C. Ryle, who said, “The wheels of all machinery for extending the gospel are moved by prayer.” The enemy does not want God’s life-giving Word to go out and bear fruit and will do whatever it takes to hinder our work and discourage us and those we train.

Please pray for us and with us that “the Word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1). Email Melanie to find out how you can partner with us in prayer.

Partner with us

We rely on the financial partnership of individuals and churches to train pastors in the 25+ countries where we work. You and your church can partner with us to ignite a movement of God’s Word by training national pastors to preach God’s Word clearly and powerfully.

Training National Pastors in Biblical ExpositionCurrent opportunities include:

Travel with us

We have select training opportunities for pastors who want to see our work first hand. Depending on the pastor’s experience and what type of training it would be, we may invite you to be a part of the teaching team. This is a great way to see God’s work and create a heart for missions in your congregation.

Connect with us on social media

Stay in the loop  with how God is using our ministry by subscribing to our Fuse Line monthly eNewsletter, “liking” our Facebook page, following us on Twitter, or subscribing to our YouTube channel.

Join our team

Leadership Resources is looking for experienced preachers to train with us and administrative staff to support our work around the world from our Palos Heights, IL office. If you have a heart for the nations and desire to make a global impact for Christ and His Kingdom, learn more about current opportunities.

Interview with Colin Marshall on The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Around Disciple-Making [Video]

The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple Making Interview

In the video below, Todd Kelly of Leadership Resources sat down with Colin Marshall, CEO of Vinegrowers and co-author of The Vine Project (a sequel to the influential The Trellis and the Vine), to discuss shaping church ministry culture around disciple making.

Learn more about The Vine Project by reading our review.

Buy The Vine Project on Amazon or Matthias Media’s website.

Table of Contents:

00:00 — Introductory comments
00:45 — Why did The Trellis and the Vine need a follow up?
01:52 — Making disciples who make disciples is an inspiring idea. How can pastors achieve it?
04:33 — What is church “culture” and why is it so important to understand?
06:49 — What should a pastor’s goal be in shaping the culture?
08:55 — Colin Marshall describes how a disciple is a “transformative learner.”
10:05 — Does The Vine Project offer a path toward a transformative discipleship community?
16:38 — Do you have a word of encouragement for discouraged pastors?
17:55 — How does prayer relate to this process of culture change? How do you consciously bring prayer in?

Download Mp3 | Watch on YouTube | Watch Interview on The Trellis and the Vine

Related Posts:

How to Find the Big Idea of a Book of the Bible

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Want clarity in your preaching? Finding the Big Idea of a passage or biblical book is one helpful tool for doing just that. That’s why we teach it in the Training National Trainers program.

This clarity should make others take notice—like the wife of one Indonesian TNTer. She said this about her husband’s improved clarity in preaching:

“Even though you are only preaching a ten or twenty minute sermon [now], the message is very clear. Before TNT, you could preach for 30 minutes to an hour, and the congregation still didn’t understand anything!”

Finding the Big Idea of a book helps us see the focal point around which all of the ideas in the book are organized. It acknowledges that the writer had a message he was trying to communicate through the whole book, not just different ideas in separate passages.

Sweating through this exercise encourages greater fidelity in communicating what God is saying through His Word. What He says will be more clear to us, and we will be less prone to teach our own thoughts and ideas.

How Do We Find the Big Idea of a Book?

Finding the Big Idea of a book is hard work and a long process of working through a text with our hermeneutical principles in mind.

1. Read through the book several times.

There are no shortcuts for the hard work of Bible study. This can’t be a quick surface-level skim, but a deep and curious read.

2. Ask a lot of questions.

Try to understand the questions the book is deliberately raising and answering. We must move beyond the questions we have to the questions that the text is concerned to answer. The questions the text is raising and answering are the important ones for determining the meaning and the Big Idea.

The four questions below will help you discover what the author is communicating:

  • What does the author say?
  • How does the author say it?
  • Why does he say it here? Why in this way?
  • What is surprising about the text?

See more good questions under the heading: Asking Good Questions.

3. Look for clues to the Big Idea in the way the book begins and ends.

Often a writer introduces his reason for writing as he opens the book and comes back to it as he closes. Observing the way a book begins and ends will usually share themes that can be traced through the entire book.

At this point, it is vital to look for clues for the big idea, which is not the same as having a one-sentence Big Idea. That point will come, but there are a few more steps to take first.

4. Break the book into smaller sections and try to summarize what those sections are about.

This step finds the book’s structure and writes a big idea for each major part.

Looking for the structure of a book involves:

  1. the parts of a passage – the units of thought that contain the major ideas of the passage
  2. the connections of thought that hold the sections and major ideas of the passage together

5. Ask: What are the connections of thought between the major ideas of each section of the book?

Understanding how each section relates to each other will help us to see what the author is getting at in the book’s overall message.

6. Look for patterns, like the repetition of key words and ideas.

The repetition of key words and ideas shows us what is important to the author. Contrasts and progressions also aid our understanding of the book and may play a key role in arriving at the Big Idea.

7. Capture the Big Idea by stating it as one complete sentence.

This step pulls all of your thoughts together into one clear sentence. In order to do that, ask two questions:

  • What is this book talking about?
  • What is it saying about what it’s talking about?

Combining the answers to those two questions will help us state the Big Idea.


Below is merely an example seeking to demonstrate this idea and not to be considered the “right answer.” (Perhaps you can come up with a better Big Idea for 2 Timothy.)

What’s 2 Timothy talking about?
Answer: Enduring in ministry

What’s it saying about enduring in ministry?
Answer: That it depends on God’s grace and power.

Big Idea: 2 Timothy is saying that we should depend on God’s grace and power in order to endure in ministry.

How Should We Use the Big Idea of a Book?

  • Work hard to understand how a passage in a book connects to the Big Idea of the book.
  • Allow the Big Idea of the book to shape the message we preach or teach.
  • When preaching, draw attention to the Big Idea regularly. That will bring clarity and power to our preaching.
  • It will also stay with many people as they read the book on their own in the future.

May God richly bless your study of His life-giving Word!


For information on Leadership Resources’ ministry training pastors, learn more about the Fellowship of the Word (US) or Training National Trainers (worldwide) programs.

This post has been adapted from a previous version of our Dig & Discover Hermeneutical Principles Booklet. You can download our latest version in multiple languages.

“Powerfully Effective”—An Outsider’s Perspective on TNT Training in Central Asia

agc-logoMike Erwin, a friend of the ministry and former chairman of deacons at Anchorage Grace Church in Anchorage, Alaska, traveled with us to observe our pastoral training in an undisclosed country near Central Asia.

Here is a glimpse into his experience:

I’m so impressed by LRI’s leadership vision—to empower and support local men to evangelically share the Good News through preaching, teaching and mentoring new pastors in their home country and language. Raising up talent in-country, rather than external/traveling pastors strikes me as powerfully effective. These local pastors live their faith under challenging circumstances so unlike what we’ve considered normal in America.

This workshop provided teaching, training, and encouragement to local pastors with little or no access to seminary or classroom training in their home country. Not only did they receive in-depth Gospel training, but techniques to determine the broader context and message in scripture.

What next struck me is the commitment of local pastors attending the workshop. Several came knowing their homes, churches or families could be at risk during their absence. Many expect persecution… Yet all came with joyful hearts, engaging fully in the workshop, praising the Lord Most High, and enjoying the fellowship of Brothers.

LRI dutifully hosted this workshop on a tightly managed, well thought out budget. Expenses were minimized, nothing was extravagant, and the committed team overachieved on a shoestring budget. After attending the workshop I’m committed to financially support the LRI team and their mission.

—Mike Erwin
Former Chairman of Deacons at Anchorage Grace Church


Browse more testimonials from friends who have witnessed our work first hand.

You and your church can partner with Leadership Resources to train national pastors in expository preaching.

From 12 to 2,000 (and Beyond): A Movement of God’s Word in Brazil

At the 2016 Global Proclamation Congress, we sat down with David Merkh and talked about the mighty ways God has used the Training National Trainers Program in Brazil since training began in 2006. David Merkh serves with Pregue La Palavra (Preach the Word), a ministry founded to expand TNT training in Brazil.

In the video, David mentions several keys to our ministry:

  • LRI’s strong partnership with our Brazilian partners (PIBA).
  • A laser-focus on transformation from God’s Word.
  • Training that immerses students in the Bible.
  • Equipped men passionate to pass this transformation to others (2 Timothy 2:2).

David also mentions the substance and scope of the movement:

  • Training is expanding all over Brazil, even to remote villages in the Amazon region.
  • Training is crossing borders and reaching pastors in Venezuela, Cuba, and Angola (Africa).
  • Our partners are frequently approached to begin new training groups. With their growing team of trainers, they are able to respond to many calls for training.

Learn more about Training National Trainers or partner with our work in Latin America.

You have infected us…

You have infected us…

Have you ever been described as a virus?

If you have, was it meant to be a compliment?

But that is exactly how the words of one pastor from Central Asia* were meant when he declared: “You have infected us with TNT!” (TNT is the acronym for Training National Trainers, the name of LRI’s pastoral training ministry.)

This exclamation came while pastors were reporting to our staff on the spread of TNT in their country and even beyond that nation’s borders. What’s so amazing about this story is these pastors live in one country. They travel to a second country to be trained through TNT in handling and proclaiming God’s Word, which they then bring back home and pass along to their own countrymen. But then, they travel to a third country and multiply the training there as well! One group of pastors, three different countries, all being transformed by the Word of God through LRI’s TNT pastoral training… AMAZING!

While LRI is not planning to integrate this virus imagery into a rebranding and communications campaign any time soon, the analogy is a highly virulent one. When exposed to a virus, the human body is provoked to react, often in a way that is beyond its control. In a similar way, the Word of God provokes a response in the life and ministry of the pastor. But whereas a virus causes damage and maybe even death to its host, the Word brings life! Once these faithful brothers were “exposed” and became “infected” through TNT, there was a spiritual reaction that was beyond their control. No longer could they help themselves, for they had to reproduce this training in the lives of others. The “virus” had to spread!

It’s as if nothing can stop the spread of TNT, but only because it carries along the Word of God with its power to transform the hearts, lives, and ministries of these pastors. TNT is like a virus, but a life-giving strain that is spreading around the world.

Not to stretch this analogy too far, but may there be a pandemic of the Word through TNT, the likes of which the world has never before witnessed.


*For security purposes, the name of the pastor and country in this story have been withheld.

Author: Joe Paglia, Director of Operations at Leadership Resources

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