One of the strange things that happened to me, when I moved back into church-based ministry, was the experience of preaching the same sermon, repeatedly. I’d had it before, but I’d forgotten what it’s like.
I don’t mean that thing where you need to preach at short notice, dig up a golden oldie, and pray it back into life. That’s called bunging one in the microwave.
Nor do mean that lovely luxury of being able to give your ideas and sermons a couple of outings first before they actually take root and take wing in your church.
No, I mean successive services with the same message. Previously I’ve worked in a church where there were two identical services; now I’m in a church where there are three.
What it’s underlined for me is that preaching a sermon involves a journey: intellectual, emotional, spiritual. We start with people in one place, and we aim to leave them in another. The proud, broken. The broken, rejoicing. The sinner saved.
And the more experienced we are as preachers, the more conscious we are of the elements of that journey, and the minefields of manipulation that surround us as we seek to lay the path to repentance and faith.
What I’d forgotten is that we as preachers are also the addressees of our sermon as well as its herald; God’s Word passes through us as it goes to others.
Which means we go through an inner journey as well; not exactly the same as our hearers’ perhaps, and we are consciously and consciously aware of so many things going at the same time. But we also travel a journey.
What’s highlighted this for me is realising that after the first service I have to reset my internal compass to begin the journey all over again. And a third time.
There’s a lovely old summary of preaching: ‘First I thinks myself clear, then I prays myself hot, then I preaches myself empty’. But the problem comes when you can’t quite preach yourself empty because you still need fuel for the other trips.
So, as series of questions for those of you who have faced this for years:
- Is this experience a common one?
- How do you ‘reset the clock’ speedily?
- How do you avoid not investing in the sermon fully, because that conserves energy for later?