Several years ago, I read the story of a pastor who was robbed of all his belongings while en route to a new field of work. While we must feel sorry for him losing his clothes, books, and other valuables, with all due respect to this brother, we must say: “Praise God; they also stole his sermon notes.”
One of the greatest problems in our churches today is the abundance of old sermons being preached again and again. It is common for pastors who move from one church to another to repeat most, if not all, of their sermons in the new church.
When I was a seminary student, one of my professors (of blessed memory) said that he felt sorry for preachers who repeat their sermons, because they do not have an opportunity to grow. On preaching old sermons, Spurgeon said:
“there are persons in the ministry who, having accumulated a little stock of sermons repeat them ad nauseam with horrible regularity. Itinerating brethren must be far more subject to this temptation than those who are stationed for several years in one place. If they fall victims to the habit, it must surely be the end of their usefulness, and send an intolerable death-chill into their hearts, of which their people must soon be conscious while they hear them parroting forth their time-worn production. The best invention for promoting spiritual idleness must be the plan of acquiring a two or three years’ stock of sermons and repeating them in order again and again.”
Because of this, Spurgeon says, there should not be much wonder “if imitators of Eutychus [Acts 20:9] should be found in other places beside the third loft.” When I was a college student, I found two boxes full of papers. In them there were hundreds of sermons, the result of twenty years of ministry by one preacher in Kentucky.
This pastor spent most of his ministry in four churches, and each sermon was preached in all four churches. There, at the end of the outline, was the date and the name of the churches where the sermons were preached.
These sermons had no fresh ideas, no solid study, no great vision in them. As Spurgeon said, old sermons will surely cause spiritual depression in any church.
Preaching old sermons will cause a lack of growth in the minister’s life for several reasons:
1. Preaching old sermons prevents fresh study.
The minister’s life should be one of study. The minister who neglects books and the hard work involved in the preparation of a sermon is committing spiritual suicide. If a preacher studies the outline of an old sermon over and over again, this is not study, but a rumination of old food, and those who ruminate are not discovering the great wealth hidden in the Scriptures.
The Bible has 1,189 chapters and 31,173 verses. Preachers who have a set number of sermons, are cheating themselves, wasting the time of their people, and doing a disservice to the cause of God and the propagation of Bible truths.
It is partly because of old sermons that we find in our churches a great number of “Bible illiterates.” Bible illiterates are people who have never discovered the rich treasures found in the Bible. One reason preachers give for preaching old sermons is that it is very difficult to select a text from the Bible in order to prepare a good sermon.
Spurgeon’s grandfather told him: “The difficulty is not because there are not enough texts, but because there are so many that I am in a straight between them.” If preachers run out of sermons, let them go to the Bible and they will find thousands more sermons there.
2. Preaching old sermons prevents hard work.
Every pastor knows that the work of the ministry is no easy calling, and behind the creative calling and the successful minister there is only hard work. The work of the ministry that God gave to the pastors is to feed those whom God called, and the pastor knows that a strong pulpit means better Christians.
So, before pastors preach an old sermon, they should remember that they are responsible for the spiritual health or the spiritual depression of the people in their churches.
3. Preaching old sermons will not address the needs of the people.
When preachers prepare a sermon, they will have in their mind the needs of the people, the needs of the congregation as a whole, and the situation of the people and of the church at that moment. If the sermon is old and is being preached again, the needs of the people and of the congregation may be the same, but the situation is not, thus the sermon will help some people, but the truth is that most of the people will not be touched by the sermon because that old sermon was addressed to the needs of another church.
All of us are guilty of preaching old sermons. There is no doubt that some sermons do deserve to be preached more than once, but in the majority of cases, these sermons are exceedingly rare. Preachers should not be afraid to work hard to prepare their sermons, for it is through hard work that a sermon is born. And if the preacher has to preach an old sermon, he or she should remember the words of the prophet: “Cursed is the one who does the work of the LORD with slackness” (Jeremiah 48:10).
“Lord, deliver us from old sermons.”
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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