Focus on the Family

For a better experience, check out our new website,

The Usefulness of Topical Sermons

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.”–2 Timothy 4:2

In my first preaching class in Bible college, the professor assigned me to preach a topical sermon. In my youthful arrogance, I equated the phrase “topical sermon” with “waste of time.” I had grown up in a church where consecutive exposition was the norm. If you had asked me what a sermon was, I would have said it was an explanation and application of one passage of Scripture. My Bible college was ardently committed to expository preaching, so I was surprised by the assignment. Could God use topical sermons? Two decades of ministry have thankfully sanctified my attitude toward topical sermons. While I still recommend a church’s primary preaching diet should be consecutive exposition, my experience has convinced me that topical sermons and topical series are valuable tools in the preacher’s toolbox. 

To use any tool well, a craftsman needs to understand it. Pastors organize a topical sermon around a particular topic rather than one primary text of Scripture. A topical series of sermons is a series on one topic, while a topical-expository series is a series of expository sermons on passages that deal with a particular topic. In a topical-expository series, each sermon is an exposition of one primary text of Scripture, but the series doesn’t advance through a book of the Bible. 

Topical sermons and topical series serve the church by addressing specific needs, showing the practical relevance of God’s Word, and reflecting the holistic nature of the Bible. This is not to say expository sermons do not accomplish these same ends. It is to say that topical sermons and topical-expository series are especially effective for them. Before we consider how topical sermons serve the church and when we should use them, we must note a few cautions.

“Topical sermons and topical series serve the church by addressing specific needs, showing the practical relevance of God’s Word, and reflecting the holistic nature of the Bible.”Topical sermons and topical series serve the church by addressing specific needs, showing the practical relevance of God’s Word, and reflecting the holistic nature of the Bible.”

Topical preaching comes with two particular dangers. The first danger in preaching topical sermons is preacher-centric message crafting. This pitfall happens when the preacher’s bottom line question in sermon prep is, “What do I want to say?” Our calling is not to preach our word but to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). If we are the source of our message, we may mistakenly believe we have something to offer over and above the Spirit-inspired Word of God. 

A second danger in preaching topical sermons is proof-texting. Proof-texting happens when we martial Bible verses stripped of their context to support our ideas in violation of their author-intended meaning. By nature, topical sermons will have many Scripture references. We must be mindful of the context of each and be sure that they indeed fit the occasion. With these cautions in mind, topical sermons and topical-expository series can bless the church in critical ways.

Topical sermons or topical-expository series serve the church by addressing specific needs in a timely fashion. This is the most apparent benefit of preaching topically. At one point in my ministry, the economy took a severe downturn. We paused our preaching series through a book of the Bible and took four weeks to focus on Scriptures that helped us respond to economic crises and poverty. These were expository sermons, but they were in a topical-expository series designed to help the saints navigate a particular set of circumstances. While we may have a tidy sermon schedule laid out, there is humility in calling an audible for the best interest of the saints. When we take time to do this, we demonstrate to our congregation that God’s Word is relevant to our daily challenges.

Topical preaching also serves the church by reflecting the holistic nature of the Bible. A topical sermon functions as a mini-session in systematic or biblical theology. Systematic theology is summarizing what the Bible says on a particular topic. Thus, a topical sermon on salvation would include key Scripture passages and concepts that help summarize the Bible. Biblical theology presents how a specific theme or idea progresses through God’s plan for redemption. For example, a sermon on the sacrificial system could start with highlights from Exodus and Leviticus but culminate in the gospels or Hebrews, showing how it points to and is fulfilled in Christ. Both systematic and biblical-theological topical sermons help people see how different pieces of God’s Word fit together.

When should we use topical sermons or a topical-expository series? This point is where different preaching philosophies come into play. Consider using it in context-specific situations—when current events demand it. One Sunday, we experienced a virtual hurricane in Superstorm Sandy, and our church building didn’t have power. We met anyway, but instead of continuing our series, we looked at Psalm 29 and how storms demonstrate God’s power. It was an unplanned but blessed Sunday of corporate worship.

After a series through an epistle or longer book, a short topical series is a great way to shift the congregation’s focus to another aspect of God’s Word. In this use, a topical series can serve as a bridge between longer series. It may be overwhelming to think of crafting a longer topical series, but a shorter run can be just as effective. I recommend including other church leaders in sermon planning. They will often think of areas of need that you as the senior pastor might miss. 

Making good use of topical preaching is a matter of pastoral discernment—knowing when to rebuke, correct, or encourage. As a carpenter knows when to use which tool, preachers need to know when to use topical sermons to benefit the flock of God. As we do so, we will not only bless our congregations but also be blessed.

Dynamic CTA Template Below

Focus on the Family Plugged In logo

Entertainment Reviews Your Family Can Trust

Plugged In shines a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving families the essential tools they need to understand, navigate, and impact the culture in which they live. Let us help your family make wise and informed choices about movies, TV shows, music, video games, and more!
Close up of a young, pensive Asian woman listening to someone talking to her on her phone

Talk to a Counselor

If you need further guidance and encouragement, we have a staff of licensed, professional counselors who offer a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective. They can also refer you to counselors in your area for ongoing assistance.
Reach a counselor toll-free at 1-855-771-HELP (4357).

Understand How to Respect and Love Your Son Well

"Why doesn’t my son listen to me?" Have you ever asked yourself that? The truth is, how you view your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. We’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Focus on Parenting Podcast

Mom or dad, could you use some encouragement and support? Put your ear buds in for this Christian parenting podcast and get practical, faith-based inspiration through all stages of parenting. Hosted by Dr. Danny Huerta, in every 8 to 15 minute episode, you’ll hear parenting experts share Biblical truths, effective parenting techniques, and useful resources that will help you feel equipped as a mom or dad in today’s culture.
Parenting a strong-willed child resource promotion

Learn How to Speak Your Strong-Willed Child's Language

In this free 6-part video series, Cynthia Tobias, author of many popular parenting books including You Can’t Make Me, explains why your strong-willed child thinks in certain ways and gives you effective tools you can use when communicating with him or her. Start today!

Journey with Jesus!

This holiday season, take a journey to Galilee and discover what it was like to walk with Jesus! Get your copy for today for FREE with a donation of any amount!

Get Equipped With the Truth So
You Can Bring Light to the Lies

Abortion is not an easy subject to talk about. You want to defend the truth, to expose the realities so easily confused during these times. Yet, it is so easy to tense up, to get nervous, to get so concerned with wanting to say the “right thing” that you end up saying nothing at all. If you feel at a loss when these conversations come up, this video series, “8 Lies About Abortion,” can help equip you with the truth, and the confidence to engage in the discussion.

About the Author

Read More About:

You May Also Like

a young man stands on a stage in front of an audience

Pastors as Guardians of Sound Doctrine

Pastors must be theologians and apologists in this world awash in false doctrine, theological confusion, and spiritual deception. As shepherds of the church, they must guard the flock. They must shoulder the duty and take up the privilege of being truth-tellers about what matters most.

Shown from behind, a shepherd dressed like a hiker leading a flock of sheep down a narrow tree-lined path

Celebrating Pastor Appreciation Month

Pastor Appreciation Month is a special time that congregations set aside each year to honor their pastoral families for their sacrificial dedication.


Pastoral Care and Discipleship in a Time of Crisis

Christians have been here before, and we can take comfort and wisdom from the actions of those who faced these kinds of things well. During the first 100 years or so of the early church, there are letters written by Roman governors during times of plague talking about the behavior of this strange new group of people, Christians.