Reader’s Response: Topical Sermons

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Whenever I encourage people to stick to one passage when they preach, I inevitably get this one particular question: what about a topical sermon?¹ The short answer is this: I have no problem with topical sermons. They’re actually quite useful for teaching if done properly. For those of you who don’t know, a topical sermon is exactly that—a sermon based on a particular topic (i.e. “temptation” or “Holy Spirit”). A topical sermon gathers together various passages and verses to support the chosen topic. Although I’m not against sermons of this type (some people are squarely against it), there are certain disadvantages that I’d like to point out:

(1) The Bible wasn’t meant to be read that way.

The Bible was written in whole units (a book, an epistle, a story, a poem, etc.) and was meant to be read as such. The Bible wasn’t meant to be cut up into various passages and verses and then pasted together to form another unit (i.e. a sermon). I do agree that there’s value in gathering together various passages and verses to support a specific topic. However, simply take note that the Bible was naturally meant to be read in entire units at a time.

(2) It’s actually much harder.

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s actually much harder to do a topical sermon well. First of all, you have to gather the pertinent information. If you’re not well-versed with the Bible, it’s going to take you a while to gather all the passages and verses that matter to your topic. On the other hand, preaching from a single passage generally sticks to the verses assigned. Additionally, when you do gather the verses for a topical sermon, you have to ensure that each one is used in its proper context. Again, that entails extra work on your part.

(3) Topical sermons are prone to audience confusion.

Since you’ll be jumping from passage to passage, the likelihood of confusing your audience is much higher. At the end of your topical sermon, your audience will have several passages fighting for retention in their minds. Contrast that with preaching from a single text where your audience will be left with one cohesive passage to remember.

I’d like to repeat that I’m not against topical sermons. I’m simply pointing out the fact that it takes more time and effort to prepare and present a topical sermon properly.

¹The question was in response to this article: Content Crisis: The Source of Content

Join the discussion: What are your thoughts on topical sermons?

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2 thoughts on “Reader’s Response: Topical Sermons

  1. When I preach a sermon from a single passage, I find that a topic or theme seems to naturally emerge anyway. I have found it’s MUCH easier to preach topically with an expositional sermon than it is to gather many verses to try to prove my point or points.

    • I do agree, Tim. In my experience as well, every passage has a particular theme or big idea. Even if somebody wanted to do a “topical” sermon, I’d still suggest having a complete passage as the text. They can always augment the sermon with additional verses to give a more holistic view of the topic.

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