Someone sent in the following question that I thought might be of interest to the community as a whole:

What are your thoughts on Preaching on Theme topics ( Pastor Anniversary, Church Anniversary, Women’s Day, Men’s Day, Youth Day etc.). Should I try to build a message off of the topic and/or scripture they have given to me, or should I seek the Lord for what God would have me to preach and possibly offend the Chairperson, Host person or Pastor. And if I do not preach the theme, should I apologize for ignoring their theme. Please help?

Mennonitengemeinde_Kochendorf_KanzelShort answer is Yes…I believe that you should both preach God’s word and preach the theme assigned to you by the worship leaders.

Now let me tell you why…

Does God Only Speak To The Preacher?

First a few things to consider. We must recognize that God works through and with our plans and preparation. By that I mean that we hope that the worship leaders were in consultation with God when they selected the theme of the worship. At least they should have. If God told them to have a Men’s day program or a Youth day program, and you go and do something else, then you have limited the effectiveness of God’s intended plan.

Another related issue that preachers must keep in mind is that they are not the only people that God speaks to and through. God also speaks to the worship planners who have planned this program. Incidentally, God chose you as the speaker through that same organization or auxiliary that decided to give you the theme or scripture.

How Do You Do This?

So I would argue that you should preach the theme and/or scripture assigned. Now. I do wish to clear up another misconception that I feel is in the question. Preaching to a theme is not at odds with preaching the scripture. You always preach the scripture. I say it this way, no matter how you got the scripture, once you get the scripture, the scripture is in the driver’s seat. You do not use the scripture or abuse the scripture to fit any particular theme. I would be very leery if the organization gave you both the scripture AND the theme. I know that happens and it really puts you in a straightjacket and kind of makes it difficult to preach the scripture. However, in many cases they only give you the theme…

OK, so what do you do?

If you have a theme you go find a scripture that you think addresses that theme. You exegete the scripture. If after some exegesis you realize the scripture doesn’t really address the theme, then you go find another scripture until you find one that really addresses your theme.

If they give you both the scripture and the theme and after some initial exegesis you don’t feel the scripture addresses the theme, then let them know and suggest another scripture. Needless to say, you can’t do this and preach a “Saturday Night Special.”

After having said all that, Think about it this way. If you were a pastor and you in consultation with God and your congregation have put together a youth program and you have a theme related to the youth and you signed up choirs to come and address that theme and you invited other people to be there in line with that theme and you decided to invite a preacher to address that theme.. and the preacher decided to preach about how the elderly need to stand up in their golden years. How would you feel? Would you invite that preacher again?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…

19 thoughts on “Do You Preach The Theme or God’s Word?

  1. Great topic and great insite. I have been invited to preach a Youth Day coming up and I always wrestle with this. I’ve always went with the theme but I sometimes would rather go another route to address the youth outside of the theme. When in doubt just go with the theme.

  2. Pastor Toni Mack says:

    A disciplined person who loves Christ and the Word would follow the direction and honor what’s being asked.

  3. I add an emphatic yes and amen to Rev. Cox’s comments. If a church invites you to preach on a theme, common courtesy dictates keeping to the theme.
    Thematic preaching does not contradict expository verse-by-verse preaching, nor does it quench the Spirit. In fact, it is the best way to approach preaching. I usually preach on a topic in a series of sub-themes, but I also preach verse by verse.
    Thematic preaching also does not deny the Holy Spirit’s speaking in our sermons. The verses and chapters make arguments, dramatize the arguments, apply the arguments, and are living and active and sharper than any two edged sword. I cannot imagine my thoughts on a theme comparing to what the Lord says about the theme. When you apply what Rev. Cox says about experiencing the text to the theme of the text you have a timely, powerful, living word from the Lord on the subject at hand. We must be transformed by the text. That way, our people hear what God says, not our opinion.

  4. Bishop G.D. Phipps says:

    What may not readily be apparent to the invited minister or guest speaker is the amount of time a church may have spent in prayer selecting a specific theme for their celebration. They have also (more than likely) spent a great deal of time praying over who to extend the speaking/preaching honor to. I’m sure that no one was randomly selected. While preaching a pre-selected theme may seem to normally require a great deal more patience, prayer and reflection than usual because you’re conforming to someone else’s vision, it shows a great deal of personal discipline on your part and respect toward those who respected you enough to trust you with the Word of God for their important event. As a Bible school professor, I have access to numerous students each semester. My own personal counsel to them regarding preaching themes is simple: “If they call you and you can’t do what they are asking you to do, don’t be selfish and make the assignment about you. Be honest enough to tell them they should probably seek another speaker more suited for the assignment.” Whatever you do, don’t show up and do something completely different and then blame it on God.” As a pastor, I take offense to asking a person to do one thing, and they come and do something else that has nothing to do with the direction our church is going in. If you can’t comply with the request, simply put, don’t accept the assignment. Don’t force the church to say, “Well that’s alright you just do what the Lord told you to do.” God knew what the assignement was before they asked you to participate, so do your best to comply with the request, as you may only be invited once if you don’t. I know all of that sounds kind of tough (I know, forgive me) but I mean it all in love. I hope this helps someone!

  5. If You were chosen to speak a particular theme then through most likely, and hopefully prayer you were selected by God through the church to preach the theme. So with that in mind you are following the direction of the Lord. Great preachers know they are not the only people God speaks to and through. I’ve done all types of themes. Even in only my four years of preaching I found that through my diligent studying to show myself approved to God, he gives me the ability to preach Gods word even in a box.

  6. Vernetia Miller says:

    If this was FB I would click the “Like’ button on what Elder Cox and Bishop G.D. Phipps posted.

  7. Very well said. If the theme is “Pastor Anniversary” I want the speaker to talk on that and to know enough of the word of Word!

  8. Donnie Pugh says:

    I believe that if you are asked to preach on a certain theme then that is what should be honored. However, if after accepting the invitation and you have prayed, IF the Lord reveals to you another text to preach then perhaps you can address it with the Leader that invited you to speak. The theme shouldn’t be a problem because there are numbers Scripture text to fit any one theme. After praying and receiving confirmation from the Lord BEFORE accepting invitation, if you feel uncomfortable preaching a certain text for a certain theme then I believe it is honorable to decline in an appropriate time frame.

    It would not be wise to take it upon yourself and preach whatever you want because you don’t agree or feel comfortable with the assigned text. Once again it better to decline.

  9. Brady Williams says:

    Brother Cox you never fail to amaze me. Your subject matter has a very intriguing interplay with words. I hope that the lessons you are learning want overwhelm and depress you. I am sure you know that there is only going to be a small remnant who truly understands, until the dream Dr. Martin Luther King had comes true. When righteousness shall flow like a mighty stream (The Kingdom Age). Not because God has ordained it so, as some will dare to think, but simply because Light truly has interred the world but man loves darkness. Until then we must not give in or give up hoping that we can make a difference in the world even though it seems that no one is listening. I still believe that I can and have made a difference by standing in the gap. To address your question; I believe that you should always be lead by the Spirit. As your presentation demonstrates themes can be misconstrued or badly constructed. In any case the Spirit will never mislead you. The fact that we even consider any other alternative is a witness itself. I can be more specific but it will not be friendly.

  10. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:


    Agreement is not necessary to post and I thank you for doing it…And be as specific as you like…Iron can’t sharpen Iron if we don’t pull out the Iron…

  11. Bishop G.D. Phipps says:

    I believe that it is important to grasp that what we offer here is simply opinions. I am personally grateful for the forum that Dr. Cox has afforded us. Expressions and opinions are not always concrete. Some things are not simply a matter of fact. Many things are fluid and a matter of personal preference, of biblical and administrative understanding; a matter of denominational protocol, and/or dependent upon the level of academic and ministerial training or experience. As one of my undergrad professors once noted, “None of us have a monopoly on the truth.” We may not always agree as to how we approach ministry. We can, however, agree that each person and each person’s observations and opinion are deserving of respect and of contemplation. After 33 years of ministry I’ve seen a lot of changes in the way the church functions. In another 10 to 15 years of so, I’ll be headed for the emeritus’ chair, and things will continue to change and to flow. What’s in today will be out tomorrow. Some things will never change. Some things will never be a matter of opinion. Some things will always be timely and in season. That being, that we love one another as dear children of our Lord Jesus Christ. If I could pass anything on to the next generation of preachers, I would say, “Don’t strive for greatness because we have not been called to be great! Strive for faithfulness.” If I could offer a few important ingredients to the next generation of ministers, I would advice these things: “Love genuinely and fervently; avoid contention; be patient with those of us who have not yet arrived or who have a differing approach. It’s a journey and we are all on our way. If I could turn the clock back 33 years, and do it all over again, I would love more fervently. I would forgive more quickly, I would listen more attentively, and I would speak more sparingly. When everything else is said and done effective ministry is measured by how much we look and love like Christ. Love is the thing that causes people to see our Lord in us. Love is what draws them to Him. By this shall all men know whose we really are. Dr. Cox, I enjoy these conversations. They are refreshing, bold and well thought out. It is obvious that you acre deeply for our Lord’s body, and for that I applaud your labors. Thank you sir, for your labor of love. If you’ll keep writing, you’ll force us all to keep thinking and learning.

  12. Prescott Jay Erwin says:

    The question is posed in regard to an invitation to preach. I say, “Honor the theme as far as is possible, but preach what God has to say about that theme.” Thanks for your ministry, Bro. Sherman.

  13. Ed Hightower says:

    I must have come to your topic a bit late; however, I would pray about the theme, and be obedient and preach Christ while creatively using the theme as a backdrop. The occasion hardly matters, who knows, one might just meet a need unintentionally; preaching Christ has a way of doing just that. Personally, while I would do the best I could, I really don’t like “special day preaching”; my reason is because it lends itself to giving more opportunity for the “flesh” to raise it’s ugly little head. Don’t forget we’ve got to eat. Anyway, this is a great topic, I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

  14. Keep loving one another my brothers in Christ: Amos 3:3 Can two walk together if they be not in agreemant.
    As the Holy Scriptures say 1Cor !4 God is not a God of confusion but of order. If you are a true man of God you will carry out the asignment give to you to preach, you should see it as an honor and priviledge to be the chosen man to carry out whatever the Theme might be as long as the Theme is an inspired theme that going to inspire the body of Christ and lift up the Name of Jesus. A preacher that is not of God will do whatever he wants to an be an embarrasment and than turn around and say ” I got to say what God wants me to say” to me that baloney its a cop out because of laziness on not wanting to study on the Theme. My friends don’t be lazy and try to blame your failure on God but rather study to be a man aproved of God that needeth not to be ashamed rightly dividing the the word of truth. Your servant in Christ.
    Bishop Hector Lopez

  15. Kristin Patrick says:

    This was an excellent topic and it has come up on many occassions. I feel that order is very important when doing anything with the church especially preaching. Part of order is being on one accord. It is always a wise idea to consult with God prior to delivering any message and He will also give one the words to say on the topic and/or scriptures provided.

  16. Pastor J.B. Woods says:

    Bishop Phipps, your comments are so eloquently and lovingly stated and full of wisdom. Thank you. Being young in the ministry, I find these questions and dialologues very helpful. Thank you Rev. Cox for sharing your gift and training with us. On the matter of preaching on themes, I believe that seeking God diligently in prayer will always lead to a relevant word regarding the topic/theme chosen. May God continue to bless each one of his servants to do His will.

  17. Rev Keith Gardner says:

    While I agree with most that has been said about theme preaching and special day preaching. My experience has been when I am routinely invited to preach each year for the same occasion and based upon relationship with the church and pastor, I tend to address the occasion. For example for church anniversary I preach on a scripture that deals with the church and encouragement to the church- faith, unity, love etc. Be honest and ask if you have to stick with the theme/scripture given

  18. Rev.Bernard I.Melton says:

    I personally believe that if you are given a theme to preach on ,then by all means follow the theme.All of GOD’s word can be used for effective preaching no matter what the theme or scripture given is.

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