Choosing A Sermon Subject


Do you ever have that sinking feeling as Sunday draws ever closer that comes when you can’t decide what to preach on? I have had some tell me that this problem is the hardest they face in the pastorate. If they preach three times a week, that pressure can be strong. What can be done about it?

Some grow to believe that there must be something wrong with them since ideas don’t come easily at a rate of three a week. Some just change pastorates often so they can just use the same sermons. While there is a place for the use of an old sermon, it ought not be simply because I can’t think of a new one. Some wonder if they just aren’t close enough to the Lord anymore!

Could the problem be more the whole approach than a lack of creativity? Could the normal method be doomed from the start? The normal method is first I chose a subject or idea, then I select a text to highlight my subject or idea. From there I may chose to go the topical route. That presents quite a problem in a long pastorate. Just how many good topical sermons can one person come up with on a specific subject?

I heard one famous preacher once claim he really only had 20 topics he preached on and he just rotated them. He had quite a following. His sermons varied from topical to loosely textual. I suspect that would not be effective for most of us.

The problem is that we would likely try to make a connection with our “found” text and our topic. After we make that connection to our satisfaction, we likely will fall into the same old platitudes we said the last time we preached on the subject. Imagine the topic is prayer–you’ll just start saying we need to pray more with no new reason from last time. If you’re not careful, you’ll even use the same illustrations. (We’re talking about the preacher’s problem today, but maybe the discussion should be on the congregation’s problem!)

Even if we went the textual or expository route, which is far preferable, we have to find the text that really matches our subject. What will we do if we start deeply studying and finally figure out that our text in its context is not really talking about our subject? Sunday will be even closer! That seems living on the edge.

So what do I suggest? You would never guess it from my misleading blog title. Give up choosing a sermon subject! Just choose a text! See where it takes you and just preach it.

I keep a sermon seed plot that is nothing but a list of texts that jumped off the page at me. In reading or studying you will be all across the Bible, so there will be many opportunities. You may be reading books and the author mentions a text in passing, and there’s another one for the seed plot. I probably never have less than thirty of these in my seed plot, so it’s just a quick prayer of “Which one, Lord?”, and I am on my way. No agonizing over a subject for me. I may not even know my subject till I’ve studied for a few hours.

You may ask, How does that allow for trying to address perceived needs in the congregation? Of course, a text may come because I am thinking about a perceived need, but not necessarily. This is hard for me to prove, but I have often been amazed at how the text addressed these needs. As for me, I believe I would be far less likely to address needs were I to try to pick that first. I’ll offer the flimsy evidence that I have on occasion thought a text would address issues only to find a careful study of the passage led me somewhere else and was far better than where I thought I was going.

This doesn’t only refer to preaching through a Bible book or a series. In my ministry, I have settled into not doing a series on Sunday morning. We may be anywhere in the Bible at that service. By the way, this is how Spurgeon did most of his services.

This method has other advantages. Remember our discussing how our topical preaching may fall into triteness? If you preach topically on prayer, for example, you will run out of things to say quickly. But the Bible is full of passages on prayer that approaches the subject freshly and creatively in every case. What you can do, then, is tap your preaching into the Bible’s natural creativity. You’ll never have to be dull or trite again! Plus you won’t waste all that time just trying to pick a subject any more. Happy preaching!

8 thoughts on “Choosing A Sermon Subject

  1. Pastor Reagan:

    There’s a lot to be said for the wisdom in letting the Bible speak for itself. Thank you for making the point again in this post.

    Independent Baptists are exposed to a lot of preaching, and most of it is of the devotional and topical variety. As both a teacher and congregant, I’m wondering why that is the case. I’ve come up with a few ideas regarding this, and wondered what you and your readership thought on them.

    1) Time – Many pastors have three to four lessons to prepare weekly. Truly, the topical route does take less time than the expositional route, especially if you have the supporting passages already in mind. Presenting the Bible in an historical-grammatical context however, takes a lot of energy and time that the pastor might not have.

    2) Temperament – Preaching in a Baptist church is an emotional affair, and many pastors wear their emotions and passions on their sleeves while they preach. Verse by verse exposition doesn’t always lend itself to that type of delivery.

    3) Convenience – Whatever issues the Lord is laying on the pastor’s heart to preach, he can go with it at any time. This is not as much the case if he’s tied down to a expositional series, of if he is going to exclusively preach a passage during a sermon.

    4) Lack of faith in the Holy Spirit – Admittedly, this is a very cynical idea, and one that I hope is not true. But, if pastors truly believe that God’s word is quick and powerful, would not preaching his word suffice? Pastors should be rightly concerned with the proliferation of sin and apostasy in the world, and that those lifestyles could and do invade the church. However, Bible preaching and Christian lifestyle preaching are not necessarily the same. It seems like the first would require more trust in the Holy Spirit to work in believer’s lives. The second is a shortcut.

    I trust you’ll continue speaking your heart in this blog. They have been a challenge and benefit to my heart.

    • I’m glad you touched on ‘Lack of faith in the Holy Spirit’, because if pastors/preachers truly believe they are God’s spokesperson, wouldn’t He communicate what is on His heart? On the other hand, I have heard teachers/preachers give condemning sermons… not just hard, but condemning and guilt-manipulating… and if anyone brings it to their attention, or perhaps even if they feel a ‘prick’ in their spirit, they have said, “Well, if you don’t like it, take it up with the Lord, because I’m just preaching the Word!” even though they’ve added their owns words. [sigh] Anyway, my point is if the preacher/teacher has been called by the Lord to preach/teach 1 or 7 sermons a week, wouldn’t He give you the resources and communicate what’s on His heart, so you can deliver His message? If He gives you only one, then maybe that’s all He wants you to say.

  2. As a non-preacher and congregant who has a Pastoral Studies BA, thank you so much for this post. It is such a blessing to hear a sermon that evidences the preacher has studied and learned more as a result, about the passage he is preaching. No matter how “dry” his style, when he does that there is a certain life-giving energy and fullness to his sermon for those who desire to hear God’s Word. And no matter how excellent, and emotionally moving, the delivery of a sermon from a preacher who has not done that, there is a certain hollowness that leaves the spiritually-hungry listener feeling there was something missing, even if he/she can not quite place their finger on what it was. I don’t mean to be harsh, but the difference for us listeners is profound and refreshing.

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