A topical message is a sermon when a passage of scripture is used to support a single topic. You should be able to state what the topic is in a single sentence. This topic is then communicated to the hearers through the use of several different scriptures that all address the truth of this topic.
There are many pros and cons to topical preaching. Many Bible scholars feel that expository preaching is the only way to preach. They point out that you must preach verse by verse through the text in order to keep the story in its context. This is correct and very true, but a good topical sermon can also be kept in context if prepared properly.
When you look at the New Testament examples, both Peter and Paul preached on topics and used scripture to support their points. They did this very well in the epistles. The most famous sermon in the entire Bible is a topical sermon. The Sermon on the Mount is considered by most Bible scholars to be the greatest sermon that Jesus ever preached. The beatitudes are in this sermon, the Lord’s prayer is in this sermon, and The Golden Rule is in this sermon. Jesus spoke on topics and used Old Testament scripture to supports His teachings. He did not preach verse by verse through entire chapters or books. Even the Old Testament prophets were very topical in their messages. If we are using the Bible as our example on how to live, we should also use it as our example in how we preach.
Topical preaching is a great way to preach, but it should not be the only way you preach. The danger of a pastor preaching in this fashion all the time is that he may never preach on certain texts. When you preach through the Bible, or through a book, then you have no choice but to preach on every topic in that book. You must address everything, even the controversial topics that some may want to avoid. The audience is getting the milk and the meat. Every pastor should use a combination of preaching styles in his approach. I like to preach somewhat topically during an evangelistic sermon, and more expository in Bible study settings. But you can also combine these and have great results. By that I mean, you can be somewhat expository in a topical sermon.
A great way to build a topical sermon is to build it around a chosen text. Don’t just start with a topic. Choose your passage of scripture and build your sermon around that text, then use some supporting scriptures to give a more comprehensive understanding of the topic. This does two things; First of all, you avoid falling into the trap of taking scripture out of context.; Secondly, it is much easier to tell a story from a passage of scripture rather than single verses here and there. A topical sermon can be very confusing to follow if the minister jumps from book to book and verse to verse. It is like shooting a shotgun off at the congregation and the little pellets are falling where they may. I believe every sermon needs a story. Jesus was a master story teller, and almost all of His messages were illustrated through stories (parables).
33 And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it.
They were able to hear His message because of the story. That is what connected His messages with the people. If all you do is get up and preach point a, point b, point c and read a scripture for each, then you are not connecting. Preaching must connect. If you do not connect with people, your preaching is in vain. The key is to connect in a biblical way. Stories, props, and illustrations can all work to accomplish this, but the best way is to have a central text to share from, bring the story of your text alive, and then build your sermon from there.
Topical preaching can be very beneficial to your congregation when done properly. Paul talked about dividing the Word of God. That is what topical preaching really is, dividing God’s Word. There is a right way and a wrong way to do so;
2 Tim 2:15
15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
2 Cor 4:2
2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
When done correctly, topical preaching can lead to a greater understanding of a biblical subject. But if done incorrectly, it can lead to ideas that the Word of God never intended to say. Make sure you ‘handle’ God’s word with a love and desire to share truth!