Juggling Sheep
Welcome to Juggling Sheep, Jay Perry's blog about time management and personal productivity for pastors. Learn to balance work, life, family, and personal spirituality.

Share your best practices, tips and tricks, processes, sermon planning ideas, and resources. Feel free to email me: jaylperry[at]gmail[dot]com.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Preaching Topigetical Sermons

adj. [syn. topositional]
"A style of preaching characterized by exegetical sermons preached in the context of a topical sermon series."
- Jay Perry's Exhaustive Dictionary of Made-up Words (JPEDMW)

Topigetical preaching is really the best of both worlds, in my opinion. It is a preaching combination of both topical and exegetical styles. It maximizes the strengths of both styles, while drastically minimizing their weaknesses:

Topical Preaching
Topical preaching is very good at being immediately interesting and relevant to the listener. You can preach a series about stewardship, marriage, The DaVinci Code, Understanding God's Will, The End of the World, worship, community, stress, etc.

Typically, one major problem with a "topical" approach to preaching is the sparse use of the Bible. Typical topical (typtop?) sermons would be the preacher getting up with a three-point outline, a joke, some stories, a poem(?), and maybe a Bible verse thrown in for good measure. (Hey, I used to go to that church).

Another problem with a "topical" approach to preaching is "proof-text" preaching. The pastor gets up with a three-point outline and 28 unconnected, out-of-context Bible verses. Give this preacher a gold star for owning a concordance. The real, underlying problem is that we're not engaging the Bible text on its own terms, in its own context. Just being able to find a verse "supporting" your idea does not make your idea biblical.

(BTW, "Line upon line, here a little, there a little" is also taken out of context, if we think it means we should be preaching proof-text sermons.)

Exegetical Preaching
Exegetical sermons are really good at finding out what the Bible actually says in context. The exegetical discipline is supposed to include a historical survey, word studies, context mapping, etc. as a way to understand the original audience and original intent of the biblical text. Hopefully, this leads the expositor to larger principles that lead to an overall biblical world view.

One problem I've seen with exegetical preaching is the pastor who thinks it's his job to impress the listeners with how much he knows about Greek, Hebrew, History, blablabla. This type of preacher can turn the biblical text into nothing more than interesting Bible trivia.

Another problem I've seen with exegetical preaching is the pastor (no names, please) who preached an entire 13-week series on the church of Laodicea (if the church wasn't "lukewarm" before, it certainly was afterward). Great word studies, amazing scholarship, thorough grasp of the historical context. Would have made a great book. Not a great sermon series.

The problem here is not taking into consideration the actual life issues of the congregation. Preaching must be a divine intersection between the word and the world, between the truth of God and the authentic needs of the people.

Topigetical Preaching
As you can see by now, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. When you preach a topigetical series, you are operating within the larger framework of a topic that is actually going to be relevant or interesting in the life of the listener. When each sermon in that series is exegetical, you are making absolutely sure that the core of your teaching is radically biblical - coming from a disciplined study of the text itself.

In an article called Pulpit Evangelism, Outreach Magazine called this "topositional preaching:"
Brian Mavis, former pastor and general manager of the pastoral resource Web site SermonCentral.com, suggests that pastors combine an expository and topical method to be both biblical and relevant. He describes the style as “topositional” preaching.
I think this middle road is more difficult. It means you have to understand what the needs are in your congregation and community. And you have to know your Bible well enough to see larger biblical principles faithfully in context. It means you must be connected and disciplined.

But who said being a faithful preacher was going to be easy?


Kristin said...

Jay-I really enjoy your blog. I am a novice GTD-er and a Episcopalian/Lutheran Christian. So I'm interested in your productivity thoughts AND your more "churchy" posts.

Topigetical is a good word. Of course, as an Episco-Lutheran, I've been raised on the common lectionary. It's hard for me to imagine preaching (or listening to preaching) without that structure in place. Do Seventh-day Adventists ever use the lectionary?

Jay said...

Kristin - In an earlier post on why to plan out a sermonic year, I mentioned how much easier it would be if you used a lectionary system.

I don't personally know of any Adventsts who use the common lectionary. That's not to say there aren't those who do (and there would be no reason not to...).

Perhaps many pastors in many denominations would benefit from preaching through the lectionary at least one year. It might be a useful exercise to bring balance to some who might naturally tend to preach on their same three favorite topics.

Again, I don't know of any Adventist who does preach through the leactionary, but I don't know of any reason why an Adventist pastor couldn't or shouldn't.

Thanks for the question.

Ben said...

G'day Jay.

I like your explanation of Topigetical sermons - not a word I've come across before, but a good idea.

I think both topical and exegetical sermons have their place, but to be honest, I don't think you represented exegetical sermons very faithfully.

It's not just larger principles and a biblical world view that are the result of good exegetical preaching, but it's actually how the Bible is designed to be read and preached. God's word is presented in the way it is for a reason and working through books, 'allows' - if I can use that word - God to speak. Choosing topics, despite its advantages, leaves the selection of what's important to us, and we know we don't know better than God.

I'm sorry if you've experienced exegetical preaching that's been broken by an attempt to impress on the grounds of Hebrew, Greek, history etc - that sucks. But surely God's word *as he has revealed it* does actually speak to each of us as Christians. It's not for us to pick and choose the bits that we think are relevant to us - God has given us his whole word because he thinks it's all relevant to us, and he's right.

Jay said...

I didn't represent either topical or exegetical sermons faithfully. I was seeking (primarily) to point out the ways they are commonly misused (or abused).

I believe in going through larger portions of scripture so that God can communicate to us in revealed context.

But how far is too far? I start with Genesis my first year in a district. By year three, I'm in Deuteronomy. Finally we get to Christ in year 12.

This is the extreme of exegetical preaching. We say the Bible was put together in a certain order for a reason. Who are we to jump around and decide what we want to present? So we are obliged to start at the front and work toward the back. Only ever linear.

Interestingly, exegetical preaching is not a biblical preaching model. When you think about the great sermons of Christ, Peter, Stephen, or Paul, none of them went verse by verse through any large portion of scripture.

Just a thought.

Ben said...


Fair point about the Acts sermons. I'm not suggesting preaching the whole Bible from start to finish, just working through books, or parts of books. So we might preach through Philippians and then John 1-12 and then Gen 1-11 and then John 13-21 etc. This way, we're letting the Word set the agenda.

I concede that at some point we have to make decisions about what to include and what book to preach on etc. And I take your point that you were just explaining the 'dark' side of exegetical preaching.