Two Reasons Why I Avoid Topical Preaching

Part Five of Series: The Distracted Worshipper: A View from the Pews

I’m not a big fan of topical preaching, but not for the reasons you might think. I avoid it because…1) I’m lazy and, 2) I don’t trust myself.

1. I’m Lazy

Let’s pick a topic – how about prayer? Where do I begin? The Lord’s prayer? Paul’s prayers? Daniel’s prayers? The upper room discourse? The prayers of the saints in Revelation? And that’s just scratching the surface! There’s so much that can be said, and from so many different places. If we’re going to be faithful to the topic, we are going to have a ton of texts to peruse.

But it even worse than that, because if we’re going to be faithful to the different texts, then we really need to study the context of each. Wait a minute! That’s starting to sound like several truckloads of work. Isn’t there an easier way?

2. I Don’t Trust Myself

So I need to pick and choose several specific texts. But which ones? I’ll probably pick my favorite ones. Or, the ones that I understand the best. Or, the ones that best explain my view of things.

This is getting uncomfortable – I’m not sure that I’m the best starting point. “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not the teacher, but the preacher, yes it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer!”

The Safe & Easy Way

I’m going to pick just one text and preach it. Much easier because I’ll just need to study the context of that one passage. It’s also easier for the distracted worshipper – less bouncing about the Bible.

Of course, to stick with one text, I really ought to study the entire book so that I preach the text in light of the overall message and flow of the book. Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I ought to simply preach through the entire book. That way, I’ll be more confident that I really do understand the context.

Preaching a book does something else for me – it allows God’s Word to dictate the conversation. If I’m picking the topics, I guarantee I’ll avoid certain ones out of sheer self-protection. I’ll steer clear of my hidden sins, and even some of the not-so-hidden ones. If I’m picking, especially tough or confusing topics probably won’t make it onto my preaching schedule. And I’ll probably take a pass on any passages that seem irrelevant to today’s cultural issues and ethos.      

I’d rather preach a book of Bible any old day. Like I said, I’m lazy and I don’t trust myself. 

Questions to ponder…

  • How do you decide what to preach?
  • What vulnerabilities does that approach bring?
  • How do you know you’re being faithful to the particular text?
  • And faithful to the whole counsel of God?

Craig Parro

Since joining Leadership Resources International in 1989, Craig directed its international ministry, and as of January 2010, he now serves as President. A graduate of TEDS (M.A., Mission), Craig is a stimulating teacher and has equipped and encouraged pastors and churches throughout the U.S., Latin America and Asia. Craig also serves on the Board of Directors of TOPIC (Trainers of Pastors International Coalition), an association of pastoral training organizations focused on accelerating pastoral training worldwide. Craig has authored articles appearing in several magazines. His first book, Unlikely Warriors, was published in 1992. He is also co-author of Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout.