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As a young pastor, I couldn't repeat a sermon any more than I could eat yesterday's breakfast again. Each sermon was a one-time thing. When it was over, it was gone forever.

But then, invitations began to come in to preach in churches pastored by friends who thought I had something worth sharing with their people. That's when I had to get serious about repeating a sermon. After all, my friends' members hadn't heard my stories or sermons. Anything I did would be new to them.

Those early attempts to preach repeats in my late 20s and early 30s were fairly pathetic, I think. Since my sermon notes were always one thing and the actual sermon something else entirely, nothing in writing told me what I had preached the first time, so I couldn't reproduce it verbatim. I had to go from memory, or better, get with the Lord anew on that sermon.

These days — I'm now 70 and retired — almost every sermon I preach is on a topic I've preached before (with the occasional exception; hey, I'm not living on reruns here!). As a result, I have more or less figured this thing out, at least to my satisfaction. Maybe pastors will find something of benefit here.

Don't expect it to be an exact copy of the first time.

The absolute worst thing you could do in repreaching a sermon would be to take the earlier manuscript and deliver it verbatim. After all, a lot has changed since you preached it:

The world has changed. Circumstances change, cultures evolve, technology advances. Illustrations get outdated and language changes.

You are at a different place in life. You've grown. You know more about the Lord and His Word than you did even a year or two ago.

You are preaching to a different congregation. As any preacher will tell you, the hearers of a message have a lot to do with how it is preached, and your congregation has changed (physically and spiritually) since you last preached the message.

I think of the pastor who preached in the afternoon to a different congregation the same message he delivered to his own people that morning. Asked why it had been so powerful in the morning and had bombed four hours later, he said, "Poor preaching is God's judgment on a prayerless congregation." Every congregation is different. Therefore, sermons will not be the same everywhere or work in the same way in every setting.

Go to the Lord to see what He wants updated.

The fact that the Holy Spirit led the preacher the first time does not automatically mean He has said all He has to say on that subject or has nothing to new to add. In fact, on the second time around, the pastor is ready to receive more from the Spirit than he was when he first produced the sermon. He now has a grasp of the basic text and a good understanding of the thrust of the message. So, as he prays over it and rethinks the material, he is able to do something pastors rarely get a chance to do: improve on a sermon he has already preached. This is one of the most exciting aspects of repreaching an old sermon. You get to make it better. As a result, you become a better preacher yourself.

Ask any schoolteacher. The first year a teacher covers a subject, he or she labors every night trying to assemble the material for the next day's class. It's an ordeal. The second year improves, since the teacher has been through the jungle before. He has carved out a path and knows he can get to the destination. Fortified by the experience of the first year, she looks around to see if there is a better way to teach this difficult event or explain that hard-to-grasp concept. The second year is typically more fun, more effective, and more productive than the first. At this point, the teacher faces a crucial decision: He can reteach the first year's material again and again, or he can keep learning on the subject and trying to perfect his methods.

Pastors sometimes have the experience of a church member hearing him preach a repeat in another church and observing, "That was great, pastor. You ought to preach that for us sometime." He thinks he did, but he didn't. He preached an earlier incarnation of that sermon. A slimmer version. The embryonic form.

Pastors who simply regurgitate previously delivered sermons without restudying them, praying them through anew, and looking for better ways and sharper insights, are failing their people. I expect we all have known pastors who went from one short-term pastorate to another doing this — and they wonder why the people in the pews never grew. The number one reason people in the pews are not growing is that the man in the pulpit has long since ceased to grow.

Always be working to improve your best sermons.

A good preacher reads something and realizes it fits with the sermon on grace. He finds a great illustration that works for the sermon on stewardship. He stumbles across an insight from Scripture that is ideal for the message on God's Word. How he incorporates these into his files so it will be there waiting the next time he preaches that sermon is up to him. If, like I tend to be, he is a totally right-brained preacher (that is, spontaneous in his impulsiveness, disorderly in his scheduling, and haphazard in his filing system), he will drop the note into a drawer or file it in the pages of his Bible and may or may not find it when he needs it. The stories I could tell about searches for those gems I had hoped to use the next time I preached a certain sermon!

Experience the sermon anew with the congregation.

This little insight came straight from the lips of Professor James Taylor, teacher of preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the mid-1960s. This is also how Christian entertainers like Dennis Swanberg and Andy Andrews do it. They relive whatever they're sharing along with their audiences. Look at their faces, and you know in a heartbeat that even though they have their material down pat and know exactly what comes next, they are experiencing it afresh along with you. It's a neat trick (or, if you prefer, a masterful art) that comes from loving people and devoting oneself to one's craft.

Revisit the material you couldn't use the first time.

You can't preach every insight you have found, can't use every good story you have uncovered on a subject, and can't bring in every text that pertains to the message. You will have to pick and choose. This is great, because it means you can give your very best stuff to your congregation. They get to hear the choicest offering you can give.

Young pastors have to learn the hard way not to toss in every insight, every story, or every text that fits a sermon. Audiences do not have an infinite capacity to take in and retain all the preacher throws at them. He needs to respect their limitations and keep the sermon at a reasonable length by laying aside all but the most important elements. After all, the pastor's goal is not to convince his audience he knows all there is to know of a subject; he's trying to convey the Lord's message on that subject.

Don't hesitate to preach repeats to your own people.

Most pastors I know tell the congregation when they are preaching a repeat. They might dress several up as "summer reruns" or "back by popular demand." I know at least two pastors who, each year on the anniversary of their arrival at that church, will deliver the same message year after year. I have no idea how well they do it, and I sometimes wonder why they do it.

However, if the sermon was preached more than a couple of years earlier, calling attention to its being a rerun is completely unnecessary. After all, as we've seen, the sermon will not be the same as it was before (or, it shouldn't be!).

Invariably, some church member will seek out the preacher following the sermon with her finger pointing to a verse in her open Bible. "Pastor, you preached this same sermon three years ago." Count on it happening. But don't let it bother you. The proper answer to that is: "I preached the same text. But it's a different sermon. And by the way, don't be surprised if I preach on this again. It's a great Scripture, isn't it?"

Have fun preaching those repeats, pastor. At least this is one time you do not have to reinvent the wheel or discover fire all over again. What a privilege to be a co-laborer with the Lord in preaching this Word!



Dr. Joe McKeever is a preacher, cartoonist and the retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Currently he loves to serve as a speaker/pulpit fill for revivals, prayer conferences, deacon trainings, leadership banquets and other church events. Visit him and enjoy his insights on nearly 50 years of ministry at JoeMcKeever.com.

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Talk about it...

commented on Jun 25, 2013

Thank you for this insightful article.

Denn Guptill

commented on Jun 25, 2013

Great thoughts Joe, one of my bible college proffs told me "If it isn't good enough to preach twice then it's not good enough to preach once."

William Douglas Johnson, Sr

commented on Jun 25, 2013

Joe, I love your thoughts on this and may I say, it is so timely. I have been the Associate Pastor here, now, for just over two years. I have labored too many nights to try to preach what is relevant. I believe God is seeking to address His people, over and over, until they get it! This article of yours is relevant, timely, and appreciated. God bless you in your retirement.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 25, 2013

@Denn, I also heard someone make that statement before and I believe it to be true. In fact, I have preached the same sermon series before. Why? Because people need to be reminded of the same truths over and over. Isaiah 28:9-10 "Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:" I usually wait at least three years before preaching it again, and I do update it and pray anew for the message. I agree with the author, preach it again!

Richard Grisham

commented on Jun 25, 2013

I have pastored six different churches in my 41 years of ministry. I learned along time ago that it is good to save your sermons. After all, if you have put hours of study and preparation into a sermon, why throw it out! Sure you may need to update some things if you preached it 10 or 15 years ago, and maybe use a different illustration or two, and I also usually restudy them to a light degree to renew the message in my own heart. But God's Word is always relevant and useful and it's truth never changes!

Robert Taylor

commented on Jun 26, 2013

Joe, this is Robert Taylor and I have been serving our church at New Covenant Fellowship for six years now. It's funny that we always seem to find the right article or inspiration after the struggle. LOL. The points you made were very enlightening and some of them I can relate to in a wonderful way. I do remember the nights of my early ministry, pouring over information for hours trying to make it just right for the lord. Strangely, I could look at my notes after the service and they hardly related to my sermon notes. However, I always felt terrible about preaching with the same notes. Thanks for sharing and letting me know that I am not the only one who has went through that battle this just allowed me to sharpen my sword for the next one. Thank you and have a blessed day.

Robert Taylor

commented on Jun 26, 2013

Joe, this is Robert Taylor and I have been serving our church at New Covenant Fellowship for six years now. It's funny that we always seem to find the right article or inspiration after the struggle. LOL. The points you made were very enlightening and some of them I can relate to in a wonderful way. I do remember the nights of my early ministry, pouring over information for hours trying to make it just right for the lord. Strangely, I could look at my notes after the service and they hardly related to my sermon notes. However, I always felt terrible about preaching with the same notes. Thanks for sharing and letting me know that I am not the only one who has went through that battle this just allowed me to sharpen my sword for the next one. Thank you and have a blessed day.

Robert Taylor

commented on Jun 26, 2013

Joe, this is Robert Taylor and I have been serving our church at New Covenant Fellowship for six years now. It's funny that we always seem to find the right article or inspiration after the struggle. LOL. The points you made were very enlightening and some of them I can relate to in a wonderful way. I do remember the nights of my early ministry, pouring over information for hours trying to make it just right for the lord. Strangely, I could look at my notes after the service and they hardly related to my sermon notes. However, I always felt terrible about preaching with the same notes. Thanks for sharing and letting me know that I am not the only one who has went through that battle this just allowed me to sharpen my sword for the next one. Thank you and have a blessed day.

Robert Taylor

commented on Jun 26, 2013

Robert Again. My apologies for the repeated text. As you can see I haven't made a lot of post on this site. I was expecting it to be at the bottom and when it wasn't there I hit post again. Need to look at the top next time. Have a great one.

Hubrecht Luyk

commented on Jul 4, 2013

Last week I delivered the same sermon, on the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, thrice here in Baguio City, Philippines. The first was to a small congregation on the 23rd, then morning and vesper service on the 30th. I thought I did pretty well on the 23rd, but some questions of my wife about my teaching made me think. In fact when I prepared for the morning service of the 30th, I had a hard time deciding how to go about my delivery and ended up, prayerfully, changing much of my sermon. The sermon for the vesper service, before a significantly younger part of the congregation, was delivered with different illustrations, but the same "backbone". I understand and appreciate the thoughts pastor McKeever shared. I now think it is a great idea to re-preach some of your earlier sermons and to discover how the Lord has taught you to preach better each time around! Just like a good, tasty, well-aged Dutch cheese, a sermon needs to be turned over a few times before it is delivered! Huub Luyk

commented on May 31, 2014

Lyall Phillips, South Australia, Uniting church Thank you brother Joe. I have struggled with this concept of repeat sermons. Recently when placed away from all sermon prep aids, I did repeat and God saw fit to deeply bless the attendees with it. But if the preacher is truly committed to the ministry of preaching, such repeats are always like new sermons for a particular congregations. The same amount of prayer, research, and leaning on the Holy Spirit is central to the message.

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