The first time someone is scheduled to preach they typically wonder if they will have enough to say. It doesn’t take long to discover that the real challenge is not filling time, but knowing what to cut out to fit the time you have. However, over the long haul of ministry, the risk of running out of things to say becomes very real.
Here are several “wells” that may run dry for us:
1. The Well of Training. If you have had the privilege of formal study then you know that it can be a great source of content for future ministry. What is poured into you during your training should be flowing out of you in the years that follow. Some might assume that three or four years of lecture material will provide a lifetime of sermons to preach. Not so. The training content has a limited shelf life. It decreases over time unless it is mixed and stirred into further study and growth. You might come out of Bible School, or even a great conference, with material that can be preached for the good of others. But that same material, if pulled out years later, will be stagnant and far less effective. It is not just that time has passed and the information has become outdated (this may sometimes be true), rather it is that you have not engaged with that material and grown in the meantime. Stagnant truths offer little life to listeners.
2. The Well of Experience. Over time we gain experience in life and ministry. This can and should enrich our ministry. We should grow deeper yet clearer, sensitive yet bolder, more spiritual and yet more relevant. And with experience should come an increasing store from which to speak to others. But there is a problem here too. Experience is not simply a matter of the passing of time. Nor is maturity. It is possible to grow older, to gain experience, and at the same time to have less and less to say. If we are merely cruising along we are losing our cutting edge. If we are standing still, time may move us forward, but we can still be fading backwards within. Experience is valuable, but it cannot become a well we trust to consistently provide helpful material for others. I have known some very experienced people whose input to others is profoundly unhelpful at times. Experience does not guarantee maturity, nor does it guarantee accurate perspective or helpful insight.
3. The Well of “Old Notes.” There is nothing wrong with preaching a message more than once. Jesus did. The danger comes when we trust in a set of old notes because the message seemed effective before. Old notes are a great head start, but we need to refresh each message we preach. We cannot rely on past effectiveness any more than we can ultimately rely on our Bible school teachers or our years of experience.
4. The Well That Never Runs Dry. Truly there is only one well from which we can draw fresh water for a lifetime of ministry. Let’s appreciate our training, process our experience, refresh our past ministry materials, but most of all, let’s be sure to draw from the well that will never run dry – the well that is Jesus himself. If we want to have a fresh and helpful ministry that will last for a lifetime, and have an impact for eternity, then we need to continually spend time at the feet of Jesus.