Dave Ferguson, Jon Ferguson and Eric Bramlett, The Big Idea.
Grand Rapids
: Zondervan, 2007. Paper, 208 pages. ISBN 10-310-27241-8.

The “Big Idea” is the reframing of an old preaching idea. The homiletics texts used to call it the proposition or thesis statement. In his teaching and writing, Haddon Robinson began using the term “Big Idea” to capture the concept of a single driving concept from a biblical text that gives shape and direction to the expository sermon. These days, many seminarians learn to preach on the basis of a “big idea” model of exposition.

Now pastor Dave Ferguson and friends are taking that “big idea” and implementing it in a more comprehensive fashion. In other words, what if the “big idea” of this Sunday’s sermon was to become the same “big idea” used in the children’s program, youth worship, and small group studies all through the week? That’s what their new book, The Big Idea, proposes and explains.

The authors argue that not only is information overload a challenge in the wider culture, it is also a danger within the church. This contributes, they believe, to the reality that most people who call themselves Christians reflect little difference in their lives from those who do not claim a relationship with Christ. Could this be because we have thrown so many ideas at them each week that they have come away with little or no real understanding of what it means to follow Jesus?

Acknowledging that the question “What did you learn in church today?” is usually met with an uncomfortable silence, Ferguson writes: “How is it possible that so many people, young and old, can respond with nothing but silence to such a simple question after spending an entire Sunday morning in church? Is it too little teaching? Is it too little Scripture? Is it too little application of the Scripture in the teaching? What’s the problem?”

The problem, he says, is that we are bombarding them with too many different ideas. An average Christian family could be hearing “more than a thousand little ideas every week explaining what it means to be a Christian. . . . We have bombarded our people with too many competing little ideas, and the result is a church with more information and less clarity than perhaps ever before.”

The Big Idea proceeds to prescribe a solution to that problem: each week identify one big idea on which your church can focus, then develop a strategy for implementing that across all the teaching platforms of the congregation. The authors spend much of the book showing how their own Community Christian Church of Naperville, Ill., has done precisely that. They offer an abundance of ideas on planning and developing a “big idea” model in the local church.

This book is packed with solid and helpful ideas, and the “big idea” of the book is one that churches should carefully consider trying in their own setting.

There are a few concerns. One is that the authors should have acknowledged Robinson’s role in popularizing the “Big Idea” concept in preaching. They mention him once, stating that in his book Biblical Preaching he urges pastors to preach using “a single idea.” But you would not know from this book that the use of the “Big Idea” concept came from Robinson in the first place. Ferguson clearly extends the concept in new and different ways, but a little acknowledgement would be appropriate.

Second, the book seems to presume a topical approach to preaching. There is no reference to the role of Scripture in the process of developing the “Big Idea” concepts that are to be taught. This is not uncommon in many contemporary churches, but the lack of biblical grounding is a weakness that can ultimately limit the spiritual maturity of such congregations.

Third, the book offers little if any help in understanding how to frame the “big idea” you’ll be teaching. It assumes you can create that on your own, and simply talks about how to extend the teaching of that idea across various platforms.

Despite these cautions, The Big Idea is a useful guide to enhancing the clarity and power of preaching and teaching in any local church.

Review by Michael Duduit

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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