Same Passage, Same People

Sometimes it becomes necessary to preach the same passage to the same people.  How do you handle that?

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!

How Does Preaching Change Lives? – Jonathan Thomas

Here is a great little three minute clip from Jonathan Thomas, pastor of Cornerstone Church, Abergavenny.  Click here for the clip.

To see the full interview, which is well worth it, please sign up to the Cor Deo Online mailing list and we will give you access when it is released later this week.  Click here to sign up.

Thank you to Jonathan for the interview for Cor Deo Online – it has proved to be a very helpful series of clips for this site too!

Learning to Preach in Changing Contexts – Jonathan Thomas

Here is another clip from my interview with Jonathan Thomas, pastor of Cornerstone Church, Abergavenny.  I appreciate Jonathan as a friend and as a preacher.

In this clip he talks about what he has learned from preaching during lockdown – a lesson that we all need to keep learning whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in.

To see the full interview, you just need to sign-up to the Cor Deo mailing list and we will make the full interview available to you!  Click here to sign-up – http://eepurl.com/drPqj1

What have you learned in recent months, or what challenges do you anticipate in the coming months?

Star Wars: Awakening the Force of Reverse Nostalgia in Preaching

Star_Wars_The_Force_AwakensYesterday I wrote about Star Wars and tied one thought into preaching. The critical ingredient in this movie seems to be its use of “nostalgia” – not just familiar score, scenery and action, but especially familiar characters. Almost every emotionally stirring moment in the film is stirred by some moment of recognition or a sense of relational connection (so good to see him again!) – what I loosely referred to as the “nostalgia.”

Pondering how much this features in the rhetorical design of the film led me to ponder preaching. Too often we miss the opportunity to re-introduce people to the emotional moments of biblical story where we can re-experience the thrill of identification with a well-known character. This is possible with Bible stories, and sadly, it is possible with The Character of The Story in the Bible – God Himself. Sermon by sermon we should be stirring affective engagement with God as His familiar character qualities re-emerge through the pages of Scripture.

So what is the force of reverse nostalgia?  And how can we awaken it?

Star Wars is grand in scope – it is a cosmic manichean struggle between good and evil, two sides of the impersonal force behind everything. And yet the story is that of people, not great armies. On an individual level these people are caught up in a great struggle, but their own stories reflect hints of a more biblical worldview – relationship, betrayal, parenting, etc.

One character in Star Wars has a restlessness about their character. Eventually comes, for me, the best line in the film – “Dear child, the belonging that you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.”

What Am I Calling Reverse Nostalgia?  I am referring to that stirred emotion of anticipation, the restless longing tapped by this quote. Sure, the Resistance may long for a cosmos where the dark side of the force is defeated, but such a utopian ideal is not heart-stirring. One character’s yearning to belong is.

Think of Hebrews 11:13-16. In this central section of the great “hall of faith” chapter, Abraham and his like were those who left behind their old country and headed for a better hometown. They died with their faith still intact, still anticipating their “repatriation” in a place that will be home. They did not look back, but instead they hailed home – with an anticipatory recognition of the community of love and joy to come, a belonging they were yet to experience.

Preaching That Taps Into Reverse Nostalgia.  Good preaching cannot be simply about good living now, nor about good living later.  Good preaching stirs that “hailing home” reflex in our hearts. The restlessness of this life stirred in anticipation of belonging. This is not about how nice the streets are in heaven.  This is about a relational bond that we taste by the Spirit, but one day we will experience to the max.

As we preach, let’s be sure to present God as personal so that listeners can be captured by His personality, His character, and all that He is.  As we preach let’s be sure to anticipate our destiny. Some songs capture this with lines like, “and the bride will run to her lover’s arms, giving glory to Emmanuel.” The key is not circumstance, it is interpersonal connection.

Let’s be sure to introduce listeners to the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s tap into that “nostalgia” factor of interpersonal connection as we re-introduce Him each week.  And let’s stir anticipation through “reverse nostalgia” and the anticipation, not of what is to come, but of who is to come! Star Wars touches that nerve purely on a family level. The Bible takes that to a gloriously greater dimension.

10 Pointers for Older Preachers

10 targetcI offered 10 pointers to young preachers without being old enough to be a sage. There will certainly be better advice out there, but I am going to take the risk of offering some thoughts to older preachers before I fully arrive in that category:

1.    Keep getting to know God. You may know more than others, but you never know God enough. Keep your life ambition to really know and love Him, and the impact of your life and ministry will keep growing!

2.    Doggedly maintain a teachable spirit.  This will allow you to keep teaching others.  If you stop learning and growing we can tell, but we can’t tell you.

3.    Never trade a goal of gospel transformation for behavioral conformity. As energy for leadership and ministry wane, so pushing for conformity in others will become more attractive.  Hold out the gospel always!

4.    Embrace the transition from king to sage.  Too many leaders have undone their good work by resisting this transition and clinging to power. As we age, “strategic ministry” shifts from a position and office to an attitude and role. We need sages freed from leadership responsibilities, who have a fresh passion for the gospel, and enthusiasm for the next generation of leaders!

5.    Become a champion, not a liability. You have seen older folks become crotchety/awkward/negative and others age with dignity/delight/enthusiasm. You already know what I’m asking.

6.    Always be a Bible person, not an issue person. It is tempting to let issues define your ministry, and these will shift over the years. Instead of heralding a personal pet peeve, keep growing an infectious passion for the Bible.

7.    Please stay humble. Even with all your experience and insight, God still doesn’t need you.  But He really loves you.  The kingdom of self is ugly at any age. Those of us who are younger need the humble you.  Your experience and insight, salted with humility, is priceless to us.

8.    Don’t try to be cool, but do stay up-to-date. This applies both to wider culture and to theological content. The greatest examples of older preachers have always been refreshingly aware, rather than defensively resistant, to a changing context.

9.    Discriminate feedback. People will praise any public speaker. Just as people automatically encourage a young preacher, so the polite thing to do is thank an older preacher. Don’t maintain a ministry on a diet of ambiguous politeness.  Get genuine and honest feedback.

10.    Past ministry glories don’t shine from your face, but a close walk with Jesus does.  There are lots of older preachers feeling frustrated as their energy and opportunities for ministry fade.  The few who love Jesus more than ever are one of God’s greatest gifts to the church.

So Why Do We Preach?

why preach2This week I’ve been pondering the motivations for a preaching ministry.  Here are the eight points, followed by a summative two:

1. We preach because God is a God who speaks, therefore we have something to say. 

2. We preach as an act of service to others.

3. Because the Gospel is thrillingly good news.

4. Because people need to hear the Gospel.

5. We preach to build God’s kingdom.

6. We preach to equip others for ministry.

7. Because we can’t help but speak of Someone so wonderful. 

8. Because we care about the people to whom we preach.

9. (Odd Numbers) – We preach because we love the Lord.  All of the odd numbered points have been different angles on the same issue.  I certainly haven’t exhausted the possibilities here.  Preaching as an act of devotion, an act of worship, and even preaching as obedience to God’s Word and as obedience to His calling on our lives – these could all be added.  But the bottom line surely is this: as we take stock of our own motivation in preaching, are we still gripped and driven by a vertical responsiveness?  This can so easily grow dull or become corrupted by a self-elevation and self-worship. Surely the best thing to do here is to spend time on our face before God and ask Him what our motivations are (ask yourself and you may respond with a lie!)

And what if motivations aren’t good here?  Chase Him.  Seek Him.  Recognize that you cannot fix your own spirituality through personal resolutions and effort.  The solution must always be a fresh vision of who God is.  Open the Word, open your heart and here I come, ready or not!

10. (Even Numbers) – We preach because we love our neighbour.  All of the even numbered points have been different angles on the same issue.  Again I have by no means exhausted the possibilities.  We could add preaching to strengthen the relationships of others (both vertically and horizontally), or preaching to influence society, or preaching to mark eternity.

Again, the bottom line is whether we have a horizontal outgoing motivation, or whether we have been corrupted by our flesh into a self-serving ministry that uses others to pursue our own goals and agenda.  I find that the vertical spills into the horizontal.  When I am the god of my life, then others become servants in my subconscious motivations.  When God is clearly God from the perspective of the eyes of my heart, then I gladly reach out to serve others.  Love the Lord, love your neighbour . . . always in that order.