I don’t believe a preacher should pull out an old sermon and just preach it, unless the invitation to preach was five seconds before the sermon slot. Any longer notice and the preacher should be prayerfully refreshing the message.
Undoubtedly, a recycled sermon takes less preparation time than a sermon from scratch on a passage previously never preached. But my suggestion, if you are preparing to re-preach an old sermon, would be to follow a process along these lines:
1. Prayerfully consider the text itself before looking at the old notes or outline. Even if you only have time for a brief engagement with the text, there needs to be a freshness about your approach to it, even if the end result remains the same in terms of message outline and details (since the passage does communicate something specific, and that, at one level, does not change). Be sure to feel the impact of the text on your heart as you pray through it.
2. Prayerfully consider the specifics of this occasion before looking at the old notes or outline. It is good to get a clear image of who the message will be preached to on this occasion. What are their circumstances, what are their needs?
3. Prayerfully walk through the whole passage preparation process as you reconsider the previously preached sermon (or ideally, your old exegetical notes). Why are you selecting this text? What are the pertinent elements of exegesis that should drive your understanding of this text? What do you now think was the author’s purpose in writing this text? Is that main idea still the best summary you can make of this text? You may find that your interim growth and biblical studies have changed your level of understanding so that you start tweaking your old passage or study notes. If you only look at the end product (outline, notes, etc.) then you are preaching without the richness of the exegesis that didn’t make it into the notes, but was fresh on your heart.
4. Prayerfully walk through the message preparation process as you reconsider the old sermon. What is your message purpose this time, this congregation, this occasion? Can you improve the message idea to fit this particular preaching event, or to better reflect the text’s idea? Is your old outline the most effective idea delivery strategy? Do the details of introduction, conclusion and “illustrative materials” fit? You may well find that the message also changes in some ways.
5. If at all possible, prayerfully preach it through out loud. Listeners can spot a stale notes-dependent presentation. Just because it looks ok on paper, does not mean it can be preached with freshness from your heart and mouth. Run through it and prayerfully “own it” again.
This may seem like a lot of work, but actually I could do this process in less than a couple of hours (plus the run through of step 5). This is a lot less time than a full sermon from scratch, and as we’ll see tomorrow, time saving is not the only benefit.