Over the years I’ve taught preaching in university courses and mentored a number of preaching apprentices and preachers-in-training. This series summarizes some of the most basic yet most useful preaching points I’ve emphasized in these settings.
Preaching Point #1: Decide if your message is going to be expository (focus on one text) or topical (focus on several texts).
This is one of the most fundamental decisions a preacher must make. Definitions of expository and topical abound. I’ve found it helpful to put it very simply: expository sermons focus largely on just one text while topical sermons utilize numerous texts to explain what Scripture says about a topic.
This is a sermon-by-sermon decision and a series-by-series decision. For example, several years ago I preached a series on the Holy Spirit. I decided to make the series expository and base each sermon in the series out of Jesus’ discourse in John 14-16. This year I am once again preaching a series on the Holy Spirit. This series will be topical – each sermon will utilize a number of different texts throughout Scripture rather than coming from one block of text(s).
I face this same decision with each sermon. For example I began this year with a sermon from Col. 3 which was mildly expository in nature in that it based in Col. 3:1-5 (it was part of a series rooted in Col. 3:1-17). Yet, in order to press home the main focus of this sermon, I found it necessary to bring in a number of additional texts which fleshed the idea only touched on in my Colossians text. This sermon was thus somewhat topical. The next sermon in the series, once again from Col. 3, was strictly expository. It focused solely on the words of Paul from Col. 3.
I’ve found that listeners feel strongly about this distinction. One listener of mine wrestled with my preaching for years because I am generally expository and she believes topical is more “biblical.” She finally came to appreciate the strengths of expository preaching (and I’ve come to a greater appreciation for topical preaching). Historically, preaching has swung from one end of this continuum to the other. There are strengths to both and weaknesses to both. Ideally, a preacher’s sermons ought to reflect a balance of both.
Will your next series be expository or topical? Will your next series be expository or topical? This is a basic question that must be answered with each series and each sermon.
How do you make this decision? Is your preaching more topical or expository? Which do you prefer listening to?