For instance, maybe you used a passage in a topical series, or on a special occasion, but then a later series is working through that Bible book and so you need to preach it again. This happened to me this weekend. The prayer of Acts 4:23-31 fit perfectly in our current Acts series. But I preached it as a fitting New Testament conclusion to an Old Testament series on revival from 2 Chronicles less than two years ago.
So it may be the same passage, to the same people, but the series and the situation is different. In fact, everything feels very different in 2020 than it did in 2018! Here are four ways to handle this type of situation:
1. Same frame, different colouring. If your outline is a close representation of the passage, one approach is to use essentially the same outline, but adjust the illustrative details, the introduction, the conclusion, etc. (Yesterday my intro, conclusion, application and illustrations were all different to last time.)
2. Same frame, different emphasis. Another approach is to preach the same outline, but to shift the emphasis. For example, the first time I preached the passage my emphasis was on the actual petition of the prayer – they asked for boldness. This time my emphasis was on their view of God that led them to pray as they did.
3. Different outline. It is possible to vary the outline of a message on a repeat passage and still be true to the text. Effectively this is what I did yesterday. In my first sermon I used three points to overview and present the content of the prayer relevantly to my hearers. Yesterday I used a sequence of seven truths as they emerged from the prayer to preach the passage to a contemporary situation. On this occasion the shift in emphasis naturally adjusted the outline (from their prayer for boldness, to their view of the God they were praying to), but I believe I preached the passage with an expository approach both times.
4. Same message, new context. There may be occasions where it is appropriate to preach the same message with essentially the same emphasis, the same outline, and the same illustrative material to the same people. However, this should not be done because the preacher didn’t do the work to prepare for this particular Sunday. Here are three quick thoughts about the same message being repeated to the same congregation:
A. A long time ago. If it is years later, it can be interesting and helpful. “On my first Sunday as pastor, twenty years ago today, I preached this message. I was looking through my notes and decided to preach it again on this anniversary Sunday because the truth of this message is still so important for us all to hear…” I can imagine that being appropriate and helpful. (Technically, this is very unlikely to be mostly the same people listening!)
B. A recent repetition. If it is a fairly recent repeat, then the preacher is essentially suggesting, implicitly, that the listeners need to hear it again, or maybe haven’t applied its message yet. Again, you will need to be clear with the reasons for re-preaching your message. Better they hear your motive than guessing it.
C. A secret repetition. Whatever the time lag, I would suggest not trying to sneak it past your listeners as a new message. If it is essentially an old message, from old notes, then be honest about it. You don’t want listeners feeling a weird sense of unidentifiable familiarity, nor do you want a keen listener to suspect you of pulpit foul play, nor do you want the discouragement of nobody having the slightest recollection of it!
Generally speaking, old notes do not equal a shortcut for this Sunday’s message. A familiar text may require less exegetical work, but be sure that your listeners are getting fresh preaching because you have prepared your heart as well as your message, in anticipation of this Sunday!