Can A Preacher Ignore The Theme?

“Hey Doc, I have to preach a sermon for senior’s day.” The question jumped out at me in my email box.

“I want to know, should I preach the theme they gave me or the theme God gave me to preach?” The questioner continued.

I chuckled for a moment thinking about the times I have been given a theme that I just didn’t feel like preaching. That feeling of wanting to preach something else I sometimes attributed to God’s Spirit.

I gave the preacher my number and he called me so we could talk about it.

After a few minutes, we got to the core of the issue. The preacher was having difficulties finding a sermon that would explore the theme.

We all can understand this issue. It is one thing to preach whatever you feel like preaching and thus simply allow the theme to emerge from the text, but it is another thing altogether to have your theme and go to the text.

Now some preachers would grab a text that is only marginally related to the theme and then force it to say what they want it to say.

That is not a good approach. It is a problematic one, and will lead people to preach something that ain’t got nothing to do with the text.

The preacher then asked me, “OK, what do you suggest?”

A few issues. First, if you can’t preach the theme that the people have assigned to you, then you should tell them that. Ask for a change in theme, or decline the assignment.

I know you don’t want to give up an assignment, but think about someone putting a lot of effort, praying, and planning into structuring a special day according to a theme and then the centerpiece decides to ignore all that and come up with another theme.

Yeah, I know “God told you” but are you saying God didn’t tell them about that theme that that group put together?

OK, but you don’t have to do that. You can address the theme. You can address the issues.

Take your theme. Go to your hymnal (you remember, the preacher’s secret weapon) and look up your theme in the hymnal.

You will find a lot of information and texts (in the responsive readings section) that will point you to the correct place.

Take those texts and grab your Treasury of Scriptural knowledge and look up cross references. And now you are well on the way to finding a scripture to preach.

Then once you find a Scripture you are ready to start the full sermon construction process. I can’t fit all of that in an email, but you can find out about my homiletic approach at

But what if they assign me a theme and a text, I hear someone asking.

Good question, let’s take that on tomorrow…Check your email at roughly the same time and same place…



Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

Posted in 11Instruction, blog
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