Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On
A near-miracle happened in Acts 17:32. After the Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians, the people responded: “We want to hear you again on this subject.” Imagine that. A bunch of people heard a sermon and asked for it to be preached again. I cannot recall anyone ever saying, “Great sermon, Pastor Daron. Please preach it again next Sunday.” On a handful of rare occasions, someone has heard a message in the first service and stayed through the second to hear it again, but no one has ever requested an encore. My experience has been more like that of Paul’s, chronicled three chapters later, where his sermon put poor Eutychus to sleep.
Those of us who spend years in the same church know the joys and struggles of long-term ministry. The joys outweigh the struggles, but the struggles are real. One problem is that we simply run out of new things to say. Whether you are a lectionary preacher or not, at some point you find yourself treading the same terrain again and again. What can we say about Easter that we did not say before? How can we provide new insights into Pentecost after preaching Acts 2 to the same people a dozen times? There are times when preachers search in vain for new weapons in our homiletical arsenal. In those moments we may be tempted to consider another assignment to gain fresh hearers for old material. Some may be tempted to serve up the readily available sermons of others as their own, which crosses ethical lines. However a preacher chooses to deal with it, the quandary is universal. What do we say when we feel we have said it all?
The world around us is changing exponentially. Technological advancements occur at speeds previous generations never imagined. Today, we feel the need for novelty in our preaching, as we hunt for fresh perspectives on old passages. William Willimon describes it as looking for ways to present the gospel “with a lime twist” (Undone by Easter: Keeping Preaching Fresh, 2009). In an accelerated world, novelty is virtuous, and repetition is perceived as almost sinful.
The apostles began their preaching ministry as the Spirit of God swept them into Jerusalem and beyond. Throughout the book of Acts, we are given glimpses of their sermon content. Interestingly, they seemed to preach one-point messages as they traveled throughout the known world. In fact, they repeatedly preached the same one-point message over and over again. The message was this: Jesus was from God. You killed Him. God raised Him. Now everything is changed. You can be changed too. The primary point of the apostles was always: Christ is Risen.
I have come to believe redundancy may not be so bad, and have given myself permission to share a story a second time (or a third time). When I do, I tell my congregation it is one of the hazards of keeping me around. I am not advocating laziness or failure to study, but I also allow myself to preach a passage again with the same main point.
There is an upside to prayerful, Spirit-led repetition when it comes to our preaching, and several reasons why redundancy can be appropriate. First, the important things we say in life are worth saying again. Second, people forget. Don’t flatter yourself. Most people do not recall most of what we preach. Third, the gospel is not relevant because we make it so. The Word is living, and God applies it in the lives of people regardless of our words. Fourth, a sermon cannot technically be re-preached. Different hearings bring different outcomes. You can preach the same sermon twice, and it will, mysteriously, not be the same.
I have never had a parishioner request that I preach the same sermon again, but there are times when I sense the Spirit urging me to tell my people something I have shared before. On those occasions, I tell God something I have repeated many times: "Yes!"
Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.