Fresh is always better. Taking a breath of clean, fresh air is way better than inhaling polluted air. Eating fresh bread is way better than choking down a piece of dry, stale bread. And likewise, sermons that are fresh are way better than warmed over messages.
Fresh preaching is not only more enjoyable to hear but also way more fun to deliver. But, the truth is, when you preach week after week after week . . . and year after year after year, it is no small challenge to keep your preaching fresh.
I know I have preached messages that weren’t fresh. I feel confident that my stale sermons were biblically centered, true, and even practical. But they were lacking that intangible “freshness”. So, how do we stay fresh in our preaching?
I know there isn’t any magical formula and the reality is that we will preach some stale messages from time to time. But we all know that the best preaching flows out of what we are experiencing and living. Our freshest sermons come from the overflow of what God is doing in our lives.
The other day I read a phrase in Scripture that I believe gives us a clue as to one way that we can keep our preaching fresh. In the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, verse 31 (ESV) says "Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side."
The professional minister “by chance” crosses paths with someone in desperate need. We would expect him to go out of his way to help the man, but the Bible says he goes out of his way to avoid him.
This week I haven’t been able to escape those words “by chance”. The words “by chance” are an invitation into an unplanned God-moment. And I believe “by chance” moments are a key to fresh preaching. As a pastor, I have spent much of my life meeting needs and ministering to people. But, if I am honest, most of the time I was usually just meeting needs of people in my church and sometimes I was ministering to others because it was my job.
When is the last time I had a “by chance” encounter and met a need just because I am a Christian, not because it’s my job as a pastor? When is the last time you sacrificed personally to meet a need rather than sending someone to a community agency or offering help from your church benevolence ministry?
In my life, there are 3 keys to engaging “by chance” moments.
1. Pay attention.
For me, this is about noticing and not being distracted. I am often pre-occupied with all that I need to get done and sometimes the unintended result is that I don’t notice the person or the need right in front of me. I am always impressed with how Jesus paid attention and noticed people. And when he was with them, he wasn’t distracted. He was fully present.
You always see what your looking for. I remember one time deciding that we were going to buy a certain kind of car… and once we had made that decision it was amazing how many we saw on the road.
So, this week ask God to help you notice people and needs. And, work at paying attention. Look people in the eye. Listen more carefully.
2. Slow down.
If I am going to do a better job of noticing, I must learn to slow down. I can’t always be in a hurry.
Sometimes this is about my hurried step and sometimes it is about a hurried spirit. It's just a fact of life that the slower you go the more you can notice.
You see much more detail and notice more when you walk down the street than when you drive down the street.
3. Be courageously compassionate.
Slowing down and paying attention is a good start, but it isn’t enough. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the priest noticed the man in need but he didn’t engage his need. When those “by chance” opportunities come, the most important moment is not the moment I notice… but the moment I courageously engage with compassion and action.
Do you want to put some new fire in your preaching? Do you want to deliver message that are fresh and life-giving? Then start seizing the “by chance” moments that God brings your way.