Finding your key message in a Bible passage

This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. I believe that every sermon should have one key message, one point you’re trying to get across. I also think that your key message should be pulled directly from the verse or text passage you’re using. In this post, we’ll show the process of finding your key message in a verse or passage.

1. Study the verse or passage

For me, the starting point is always to really study the passage or verse I’m using. It may be very familiar to you, but it’s good to read it again a few times to let it work in you again. I recommend using several translations to see how they translate or interpret the text. It helps you look at the words afresh and may even give you some new insights. In this phase, I usually don’t look at commentaries yet, I want to extract the key message myself first.

How do you go about finding the key message in your Bible passage?

2. Summarize the passage

As preachers, we often find beautiful things in God’s Word, hidden nuggets of knowledge or wisdom that we’d love to share. But by doing that, we run the risk of going off track and losing sight of what we really want to get across. It’s important therefore to first summarize the passage in one or two sentences, just like you had to do with articles and books in high school. What is it really about? What are main points and what are details?

If you have trouble finding the main point, ask yourself this: Why would God have included this verse or passage in the Bible? What does it show of His character or what does He want us to learn from it? Answering these questions often brings you closer to the key message. Obviously, this step should be done prayerfully, but that applies to your whole sermon preparation.

This should result in a first draft of your key message.

3. Check your concept key message

Now that you’ve written your concept key message, it’s time to make sure you’ve got it right. This is where further study comes in:

  • Read commentaries to gain more knowledge about main issues and key theological concepts. What do others say about the meaning of the passage, do they agree with your key message?
  • Study the context of the passage. This is especially important when you’re only using a short verse or passage. Does the rest of the chapter or book support the key message you’ve found? It is compatible with the rest of the Bible?
  • Check your key message again, have you included anything that is not mentioned in the passage you’re using?

When you’re using the topical preaching route, this step of checking your key message to see if you’ve got it right is a crucial step, because most likely you will have chosen a theme and maybe even a key message before you picked the Bible passage. You have to make sure your key message is actually the central point of the passage you’ve chosen, otherwise you’re treading on very dangerous theological ground.

4. Rewrite your key message

Now that you’re sure what the key message of your passage is, rewrite it into one sentence or if possible into a few words. Make it precise and clear, so that it communicates exactly what you’ve decided is the key message. Write it on a post it and stick it somewhere where you can see it when you’re starting to write your actual sermon. It will help you to stay on track and write your sermon around your key message.

Just to be clear: your key message doesn’t necessarily have to be the title of your sermon, you can pick something catchy or funny for that.

An example:

I preached in a service on Revelations 21 and 22:1-5. The title of my sermon was ‘Home’. They key message was this: Life in heaven will be like life on earth now, only perfect.My sermon focused on how we often think heaven will be so different than earth, so much more transcending and lofty and un-physical while in reality our current earth is a foreshadowing of things to come.

You may ask yourself if every passage or verse only has one key message. This is a tough one to answer. I’m tempted to conclude that indeed every passage has one key message, but it’s really dependent on how big your passage is. Take for instance the Revelation chapters mentioned above, which is a huge passage. There’s a whole lot in there about the symbolism of the stones, about God being the temple, about the River of life. Had I chosen a few verses instead of the whole chapter, the key message would have been different.

How do you approach finding a key message? Any insights or advice you’d like to add?

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