Several years ago I read this critique of topical preaching. In the mind of the author “relevance” was not a positive motivation for preaching:
The great advantage of topical preaching is its relevance. The preacher can choose topics he knows will be of immediate interest to his listeners. The assumption is that in a culture like ours only that information which can be put to use quickly and easily will engage people. The topical sermon meets that need.
I understand this idea, and I agree that this kind of topical preaching is done in many churches today. I also don’t think it’s wrong, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.
However… I think some/many pastors have a different (AND MISUNDERSTOOD) rational for preaching “topical sermon”. The assumption this fellow makes, as well as many others who are critical of topical preaching, is that the topics are chosen solely to interest and engage the congregation. This would be unhealthy, and should usually be avoided, but…
If a pastor, acting as a shepherd, observes an aspect of his church’s life which needs to be addressed (such as lack of evangelism, unfriendliness, forms of worldliness, etc.); isn’t it incumbent on this pastor to preach sermons which address this topic?
It is my contention that a good portion of any preaching schedule should include topical messages which specifically address the spiritual health of the congregation. While every section of God’s Word always has something to say to every believer, if a church spends an entire year working through the Gospel of John, they have neglected the opportunity to teach a vast amount of the Bible’s truth; and may not be adequately addressing systemic issues and opportunities which exist in the life of the community.
In closing, I’ll make a short observation. Read Matthew 28:20. There Jesus taught that discipleship is:
teaching obedience based on content
teaching content which leads to obedience
Of course, this is not a necessary dichotomy and the two should not be played against each other. Rather, we should recognize in preaching, that sometimes TOPICAL messages (which are, of course, biblically based and biblically coherent) are necessary to truly disciple a church body to obedience.