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How to Prepare a Topical Sermon

Even if you preached the Word every day until the day you’d die, you’d never exhaust its riches. It’s endlessly practical; no facet of human existence goes unaddressed. And one of the best ways to demonstrate its practical wisdom to the people you serve is by preaching topical sermons. Here, we’ll outline the essential steps to creating a topical sermon outline. It’s simple:

1. Pray for guidance

The true power of preaching isn’t in the amount of study we do, the books we rely on, or our personal charisma behind the pulpit. If we want to preach to change lives, then we must rely on the Holy Spirit. By beginning your sermon prep in prayer, you express your utter dependence on God to be the true source of power for your preaching.

The Preacher’s Notebook: The Collected Quotes, Illustrations, and Prayers of John Stott
The Preacher’s Notebook: The Collected Quotes, Illustrations, and Prayers of John Stott

Legendary preacher John Stott captured thousands of illustrations, quotes, and prayers on note cards throughout his ministry. Published here for the first time, they provide a fascinating glimpse into the spiritual life of a minister—including his prayer life.

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2. Pick your topic

Here are three questions to ask as you select your preaching topic:

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture
Preaching Christ in All of Scripture

Whatever topic you choose, ultimately it’s all about Jesus. This book will equip you with the principles you need to identify how the passages you cover are ultimately about Jesus and how to communicate that to your congregation.

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3. Prepare with the Right Tools and Books

Unlike an expository sermon, a topical sermon isn’t necessarily built around a single biblical text. More often than not, your topical sermon will include references to multiple biblical passages centered on a particular theme. Having a good topical Scripture index is a good start, but be sure to check out the resources below for the other essential resources for a solid sermon.

Commentaries

NIV Application Commentary
NIV Application Commentary

Few commentaries are as practical as this one. Featuring contributions from some of the most trusted scholars and preachers, this is the go-to commentary for preachers who take life application seriously. You’ll love the way it works through the biblical text. You’ll get only the essential cultural and historical context, followed by clear exposition and down-to-earth practical application. There are even sections that explicitly describe how to “bridge the gap” between the ancient context of Scripture and a congregation full of smartphone-wielding, modern Christians. A must for any preacher.

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New American Commentary
New American Commentary

Too many commentaries feel like they’re written only for people who write commentaries. This isn’t one of them. The editors of this series are passionately committed to the importance of the local church, and it shows. You’ll find the clear-headed exposition immediately helpful in your sermon prep—and the authors never skip practical application. And they always go out of their way to provide the theological principles that undergird every passage. The perfect combination of theology, exposition, and application.

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Preaching the Word Commentary
Preaching the Word Commentary

Preaching commentaries need to be in your arsenal. Because they are typically drawn from sermons, they are structured in a way that makes it easy to apply their insights to your own sermons. It’s edited by legendary preacher R. Kent Hughes, and it delivers on everything you’d expect from a solid preaching commentary.

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Bible Software

Logos 8 Silver
Logos 8 Silver

Imagine you have a personal assistant who has memorized every word in hundreds of sermon resources. All you have to do is ask, and they tell you exactly the info you need in less than a second. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to ask. This friend anticipates your needs, bringing you resources from your library before you even think of it. That’s what it’s like with Logos 8 Silver, which is why this is the package we recommend for preachers. Everything you need to know about a topic or passage is summarized in handy guides drawn from the digital books in a built-in digital library of trusted resources.

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4. Polish Your Message

After you’ve identified your topic and studied various Scripture passages with the right tools, it’s time to bring all your notes together into a polished outline. At this stage, you are simply organizing all of your thoughts into an easy-to-follow order. But before you develop supporting points, it’s important to identify the one big idea you want your audience to takeaway. Then, each individual point should support that primary message. You might use rhetorical tools such as alliteration or metaphor to influence the phrasing of your individual points.

The Sermon Outline Bible Commentary
The Sermon Outline Bible Commentary

This is a treasure trove of historical sermon outlines that are just as relevant today as the day they were first preached. The 12-volume set contains nearly 4,800 sermon outlines—including sermons from the Prince of Preachers himself, Charles Spurgeon.

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5. Preach for Life Transformation

It’s not a sermon until you preach it. So what do you need to know about preaching a topical sermon before you step onto the platform? Keep in mind that it’s not just what you say—how you say it has an impact, too. By practicing tried and true methods of effective sermon delivery, your words are more likely to have a lingering impact.

Basic Elements of Preaching
Basic Elements of Preaching

Dr. Gary Carr provides a brief survey of the basic elements of sermon preparation and delivery. His analysis of delivery is especially helpful, covering topics such as the preacher’s character, humor, logic, mannerisms, and speech.

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Preparing and Delivering Christ-Centered Sermons II: Communicating a Theology of Grace
Preparing and Delivering Christ-Centered Sermons II: Communicating a Theology of Grace

Though largely focused on expository preaching, Bryan Chappel’s expert advice is largely applicable to topical sermons as well. In this second course in a two-course series, he focuses on delivery. You’ll learn how to communicate God’s grace not just through the words you say but how you say them.

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Conclusion

Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the one who changes lives and hearts. But he has chosen to do this through the preaching of his Word. As you dig into Scripture and prepare your topical sermon, you may feel ill-prepared and under-equipped. Take heart, knowing that God delights in showing himself strong through those who feel weak. As the apostle Paul said of his own ministry, “When I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).