I am of the firm belief that almost every sermon should be clearly centered around a certain text of the Scripture. Now I do not object when other supplemental texts are brought in to enhance the message, but I believe that the primary reason why people come to church is to hear a message from God. And there is no other clearer way to demonstrate that a message is from God than by using a good-sized chunk of Scripture in your message.
I am very aware that there are some very famous preachers out there who use a lot of little verses to support what they have said on a certain topic. And I do that occasionally also. But for the sake of congregational health, I believe you want to do what you can to deliver portions of God’s Word to the people when you preach. Here’s why:
1. People read less Bible during the week than you think they do.
Most people in ministry enjoy reading the Bible and spend time every day in the Word. For many of the people out there in the seats, that is not the case. Their weekdays are often filled with rushing off to work, first thing in the morning, and then coming home to busy activities with the kids and family, before falling into bed exhausted to do it again. This is not to excuse people who do not regularly read the Word. It is just reality, and I believe that it is good for preachers to be aware of reality. So when they come to church, I like to give them the Word.
2. People need to understand the Word in context.
When you teach from a portion of Scripture, you are better able to explain the context. Context includes historical, cultural, linguistic, and Biblical context. If you speak to a lot of different texts in your message, it is very difficult to provide that much explanation for each of the many verses you pursue.
3. If the sermon is more text-based, then there is likely to be less of my thoughts, and more of God’s thoughts.
Frankly I don’t have a lot of faith in the high-quality impact of my thoughts. But I have a lot of faith in God’s capacity to speak to the depths of the human heart. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) So I like to give them a nice portion of God’s Word in my messages.
4. It is easier to prepare a text-based sermon, than a topically-based sermon.
If you believe in expository preaching, then you know that your sermon outline should simply reflect the outline of the passage. This makes preparation much easier than trying to develop your own set of mains and subs. Let the Bible speak for itself, with its particular emphasis. The end result is that your message will be more powerful.
5. A text-based sermon delivers sustaining power long past the sermon.
If I preach on a topic, they may forget the message. But if I preach on a passage, then the next time they read that passage, portions of my message will come back to them. It could be the application of that message, for example. But as they read God’s Word, their understanding of His Word will increase, because they have already had someone teach them the contextual, historical, linguistic aspects of that passage of God’s Word.
This is on on-going topic, and while I lean towards the textually-based sermon, I have done both textual and topical. But if I had to choose in terms of sustaining impact and power, I would choose the textually-based message every time.
For powerful preaching,
Dr. Bill Miller