1. Personal stagnation. John Wesley is widely credited with saying “Once in seven years I burn all my sermons; for it is a shame if I cannot write better sermons now than I did seven years ago.” (Apparently, though, he was quoting another preacher, and disagreeing with him. We need to be careful when we recycle quotes!) But there is a validity to the sentiment expressed by whoever it was. If I always recycle the same message, I am missing out on all the growth of personal, devotional, spiritual biblical study and application, as well as the blessing of praying through new messages (since repetition of “successful” messages could lead to complacency and trust in the message rather than God).
2. Ministry burnout. Too much recycling can lead to a dangerous equation. An increase in activity (if I recycle I can preach in every possible gap in the schedule), combined with a decrease in personal feeding (since I can recycle in the wrong way without any time in God’s Word or presence), will lead toward burnout. Easy to be a firework in ministry.
3. Preaching thin. I mentioned this in passing the other day. When I prepare over several days and then preach a message, the message is much more than the outline or notes I record at the time. It is actually more than even the message I record and have on record as an audio file. There is also all the wealth of exegetical study, the supporting biblical content that didn’t make it into the message, but was fresh in my heart at the time of preaching. Returning to that message in the future means returning to a skeleton of the original. I am in danger of preaching “thin” – without the wealth of supporting materials.
4. Loss of attention. If the listeners get the sense that this is old material, rather than being a message from God for them, today, in particular, then the level of attention invariably drops. They will be subconsciously tempted to evaluate your performance, rather than listening for God’s message to their hearts. If it is recycled, it must be prayerfully re-prepared for them – don’t dump leftovers from the fridge, serve them with care! I know the various stories of “I’ll repeat the message until you act on it!” – but the truth is that it is much easier to be bold in an anecdote.
5. Loss of integrity. If the content you are recycling is not your own, then you lose integrity. More on plagiarism tomorrow!