Inside the preacher’s head (3): The journey a preacher makes


24/01/2014 by Chris Green

walkOne of the strange things to have happened to me, moving back into church-based ministry, is the experience of preaching the same sermon, repeatedly.  I’ve 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 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 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?

Pile in!


8 thoughts on “Inside the preacher’s head (3): The journey a preacher makes

  1. James Hils says:

    Thanks for this. Very helpful. This problem has been exacerbated for me since moving away from a full script to shorter notes. When I had a full script I found it actually easier to preach the second time round because I knew it better, I knew the journey and the contours of the landscape we would be going over better. I knew what worked and what didn’t.

    Now moving to preach with notes. The Lord has graciously changed thoughts, brought things out clearer, or emotionally engaged with my heart more as I preached it from my heart than my script. Yet I’m concerned that as I head to a church with a similar scenario to you that I won’t remember/be able to produce those moments that were more provoked than planned.

    Do you have any additional tips therefore, not just for resetting myself emotionally, but ensuring that the 2nd and 3rd time is just as good as the first one, if not better, when fewer notes leads to more impromptu moments?



    • Chris Green says:

      I think it’s a trade-off James: for me, the gain of being fully engaged with preaching, rather than reading a script, outweighs the cost of a certain nervousness (which is in itself a good thing anyway). it’s the lack of time to regroup that’s catching me out.. I remember Charles once preaching a sermon where an illustration he was using caught him out emotionally and unexpectedly. Before he preached it again, we talked and he replaced it with another – equally powerful but without the danger of repeating the emotional effect on him personally – because of the risk of its being fake.

  2. Similarly, we have two back to back and I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. I too feel strange second time round but have to keep telling myself that those coming haven’t heard it. I have found it’s go easier to push ‘reset’ over time – the first few months were hardest – now 3 years in it’s easier. The danger with the ‘conserve energy’ mindset is you cheat the first service, and the second (or third) gets the best material. I think you just have to go for it and I find God somehow gives me strength to go again – though by Sunday night I’m drained – that’s life! Sorry, no easy answer. Hopefully when we’ve built our new mega-church we’ll go back to one service – until we fill it and then do it all again 😉
    Be interesting to have a post on your thoughts transitioning from the academy back to the ‘real’ world. What are colleges (and college teachers) missing?

  3. Dave says:

    I enjoy second time round. Although we have the same passage/topic at both morning services, they aren’t exact replicas -different people and different needs between the two groups -so different illustrations and aspects of application.

    Which links to Martin’s tongue in cheek comment. I don’t think that if someone were to turn up tomorrow and say “Here’s a new building that you can fit everyone together into it for” that I’d necessarily jump at that. I might still keep the two congregations. Might be on my own with that one though

    Also, we don’t always repeat with the same speaker because we’re trying to develop leaders within both congregations so some people will just speak at one which means there are two people preaching the same passage, it gives chance to compare notes in the week and to sit in and listen to the other person.

  4. Dave says:

    oh yes just thought of a question. What do you do between the services? What’s the most helpful use of your time for resetting your compass?

  5. In my last post I used to start in one church for a 10 minute preach, drive to the next church for a 20-25 minute preach (usually with kid’s talk or it might be family service) and then go back to the first church for an older congregation 20-25min talk all on the same passage.

    I now do two church with two talks on the same passage in the morning.

    I think there’s something important about thinking through the talk with respect to the distinct congregations to help make it fresh. Eating between services helped energy-wise. Actually the space on your own driving between the services was helpful too. When I did 3 talks I reckoned I peaked on number 2 and tailed off a bit on 3 (tiredness, and I almost knew it a bit too well).

    • Chris Green says:

      Yes, I think I’ve spotted that it’s the lack of break of any kind that’s the issue; and some of my colleagues have said that they slip out even for five minutes, to regroup

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