A couple of days I wrote a post on the importance of relevance in the church and mentioned that some people avoid going to church because they do not believe it is relevant to their lives. In that post I mentioned some ways the church can change to ensure that people do recognize the relevance of the church and its message. I want to build upon that theme today by looking at sermons.
Any pastor who has been in ministry for a while has a sermon barrel. I have a drawer in one file cabinet that contains the sermons of nearly every sermon I preached for twenty years as a pastor. Some were, quite frankly, a waste of my time and the congregation's. Others were very good. With such a file there is always the temptation to go back and dig out the good ones, dust them off a little, and use them again. That is a temptation pastors should avoid.
In my current role I am often in different churches nearly every week. More than once I have listened to a sermon that I knew had been preached before. The illustrations were old; the applications were dated; nothing about the message seemed to fit. In a word, the sermon was irrelevant to today's culture.
When I was a young pastor I knew I needed some sermon helps and began looking for a set of commentaries. I found a large set of commentaries from a well-known minister from the 19th century for a really cheap price. Not knowing any better I bought it and quickly realized that it was cheap for a very good reason. I was looking for a quick fix to my sermon preparation and learned the hard way there is no quick fix. To be a good communicator and preach sermons that will touch the heads and hearts of our listeners takes time and a lot of hard work.
Some might ask if we're going to put all that hard work into preparing a sermon why can't it be used more than once? In some cases it can, but we have to be careful. Some time back I was going to preach a sermon on family life. I pulled out several sermons on that topic I had preached in the past and began reviewing them, and I soon realized that none of them were helpful. For one thing, I had changed. My sermons from the past reflected more of who I was at the time and the particular family challenges I had at that time. Little of any of those sermons was really relevant to the challenges families face in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the same could be said of most of the sermons I preached in the past. And, tweaking an illustration here and there probably isn't going to fix that.
Our congregations deserve better. They deserve a fresh word from God that speaks to the challenges they face today. As bivocational ministers we are often quite busy, but sermon preparation has to be a priority. Going through the sermon barrel on Saturday night to see if we can come up with something is not what we are called to do. It helps to keep in mind that Sunday will roll around every seven days, and God and our congregations expect us to be ready when we step in the pulpit. Bringing fresh messages that speak to the real issues of our time is one way we ensure that no one can say that our church is irrelevant to the times in which we live.
Now, if you'll excuse me I've got a file drawer to clean out.