Category Archives: homiletics

Should Preachers Recycle Their Sermons?

recycle2Recycling is good, right?  I mean, if we can reuse a container, or repurpose materials for another use, that’s conserving resources and avoiding waste.  By the same token, when you have labored to prepare a lesson or a sermon, it would be a shame to never use it again, right?

I think the answer is yes and no.  I believe it depends on the circumstances and the reasons.  Let’s start with the no‘s.

You Shouldn’t Recycle a Sermon When…

  • you are a pastor of a church and the sermon may still be fresh in the church’s memory.
  • you are a guest speaker and you’ve preached the same sermon at the same church you are scheduled to speak at again.
  • the sermon was terrible (and you know it).  There are some sermons that I have preached that can make me cringe when brought to mind… better to scrap them and take a completely fresh look at the passage, if I’m preaching on the same passage.  (I certainly haven’t attained to John Wesley’s description of his own sermon preparation abilities described in his journal.  He indicated there that he could not improve on sermons he had preached thirty years before!)
  • you’re too lazy to prepare.  (In this case, tell them you’re not prepared to speak on that date and that they will need to secure a different preacher; that’s much better than going ahead when you don’t care enough to prepare.)
  • it’s been a long time since you’ve preached it and you’re not really familiar with it and it’s just something from the file.

It Makes Sense to Recycle When…

  • you are preaching to a different audience, especially if the sermon is still fresh on your heart.
  • you had a real emergency or essential interruptions that made you so busy that you didn’t have time to thoroughly prepare for a fresh message without having to sacrifice other things, like most of your sleep.
  • you are a pastor, had one of those weeks, and it has been years since you preached the message.
  • you need to write a blog post, article, or book.  If your sermon was worth preaching, it’s probably worth turning into some kind of written form, and may justifiably become the basis for a larger work.  I’m thankful that many preachers from the past “recycled” their sermons into written form so I can “hear” them across the decades and centuries (otherwise, it would be impossible, as audio recording hasn’t even been available widely for a century yet).
  • you’re speaking at a conference or special event (especially if you’re a pastor; if you have the option, use what you think is one of your better sermons, if you think it would fit the occasion).
  • you are speaking at a special event, and a sermon you preached in the past has been requested.

If You Recycle, Freshen It Up

If you decide to recycle, give some thought to how you do it.  If you were to recycle aluminum cans, you’d pour out the stale soda first, right?

If you have preached the sermon once or twice before, you probably can shake a few things out of it that weren’t all that helpful, or rework some parts of it to the audience you’ll be speaking to.  You may be able to use better illustrations, tighten up your introduction, or clarify your explanations.  If you’re not able to preach an absolutely fresh message, the least you can try to do is pray through the recycled message and improve it by tweaking, adding to, or reducing what is there.

Minimize the Need to Recycle

Recycling sermons could be problematic if regular.  It can stunt the preacher’s personal growth and make him stale to his audience, neither of which are good things.  So, what steps can you take to minimize the need to recycle?

  • Evaluate your own walk with God, and your own time in the Word.  Be careful that you don’t read the Bible daily just for the purpose of sermon preparation, but don’t be afraid or ashamed to let your sermon preparation flow from what God is teaching you personally from His Word.  For me, these are sweet sermons, because they have been processed in my own soul, sometimes chewed on for weeks, and the preparation time is easier for having digested the passage from devotional attention to it.  If you are constantly studying God’s Word without a definite preaching appointment in mind, you may be able to preach a new sermon without much trouble, even when called on with short notice.
  • Evaluate your use of time.  Are there some non-essential things you can give up to prepare a fresh message?
  • Evaluate your sermon preparation efficiency.  There may be some ways you can streamline (for example, consulting too many commentaries might be counterproductive, and definitely less helpful to you than directly meditating on and wrestling with a passage).
  • Consider how “on fire” and passionate you are the first time you preach a sermon, if that is your experience.  Many preachers lose that after the initial preaching event of a sermon (not necessarily in all situations, but probably enough to warrant pausing before automatically recycling).
  • Keep a sermon log so you know what you preached when and where.
  • Evaluate your abilities and consider how you can improve your skills.  Sometimes preachers feel at an impasse because they’ve not really learned how to study and communicate the Bible.  Get help from books, other preachers, etc.
  • Study the Bible together with someone else.  This can open a whole vista of ideas about topics and passages for preaching.  Read through and discuss a book of the Bible with your wife, a friend, or a small group of men.
  • If you recycle for the same audience, such as a church that you have preached the same sermon to in the past, it’s good to admit this to them at the beginning of the message.  This keeps you honest, accountable, and should shame you into avoiding this as much as possible.

Some Considerations to Remember about Recycling

Truth is truth and the Holy Spirit can use a message whether it is being given by that messenger for the first time or it is a reuse of the sermon.  The Bible itself contains much repetition, including some parallel passages.  Some famous preachers from the past have recycled sermons.  One example is R. G. Lee.  He preached “Payday Someday” over 1,000 times!

Nonetheless, generally speaking, it is probably best, even for supply preachers, to keep a fresh supply of messages coming, for the nourishment of their own souls and for the body of Christ.  Seek God through reading His Word and prayer.  If you have to recycle, recycle those messages that most spoke to you and that you think would help others look to God.  On the one hand, if it was good enough to preach once, it’s probably good enough to preach again, but, on the other hand, there are 66 whole books in God’s inexhaustible Word, and you could preach through each one in a lifetime and still never have to recycle a sermon.

Updates, Links, and Deals for 5/11/2014

Updates Links and Deals

Interview with Pastor Kevin DeYoung about taking God at His Word (Hoping to post a full review of this book in the next few weeks)

Interview with Dr. Alex Chediak on preparing your teens for college

Top Ten Christian Books (Plus One) For Graduates (in case you missed it last week)

Three on the Trinity:

How Does the Trinity Apply Practically to My Life

Trinity as Foundational for Family Ministry

How Does the Trinity Apply Practically to Your Life Today

“Ultimate Proof of Creation” – a good overview of apologetics by Dr. Jason Lisle:

Deals:  The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts is FREE in multiple electronic formats this month, from Ligonier Ministries.

10 Awesome and Free eBooks online

My book Keeping the Faith in a Christian College is FREE each Sunday in May for Kindle.  I wrote this in hopes that it will help students and graduates of Christian colleges that do not hold firmly to the truth.  It’s also just 99 cents the rest of the time if you buy the print version from Amazon.

300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans – FREE for Logos this month

Updates Links and Deals How to Make Sure Your Marriage Ends in Divorce – The title of this series should get our attention; the content in the series can change our lives and marriages for the better (to avoid drifting apart!).  I highly commend all five parts to your reading; if you are married or counsel those who are, this is well worth your time: Part 1       Part 2      Part 3       Part 4       Part 5

Children’s Bible Reading plan – This plan is very flexible, adaptable and brief.  It gives a good jumpstart without overwhelming.  We now have three children who have been engaging with God’s Word daily, which is good for mom’s and dad’s accountability as well.

Is Genesis 1-11 a Derivation from Ancient Myths?

4 Practical Ways to Welcome Autism into Your Church

Have you heard of Brian McLaren?  Beware if you hear of him or his influence.  Tim Challies tells us about the danger of McLaren’s false teaching.

Deals: My book Keeping the Faith in a Christian College is FREE each Sunday in May for Kindle.  I wrote this in hopes that it will help students and graduates of Christian colleges that do not hold firmly to the truth.

300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans – FREE for Logos this month

Theological Triage and Pulpit Supply Ministry

I was recently reminded of an article Dr. Al Mohler posted almost 9 years ago, entitled “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity” (click here to read in full).  In his post, Mohler makes a case for a first, second, and third order classification of Christian doctrine.  Just as the medical community uses triage to assess the urgency of a situation they must address, theologians, preachers, and churches can make use of a method to determine what issues matter the most and deal with them accordingly. 

A broken arm and a heart attack are two different things, and both need addressing.  However, a broken arm is not necessarily life threatening in the way that a heart attack is.   Yet, you would not want to let a broken arm go without treatment, despite the fact that it is not the first order of importance.

In a similar manner, the three levels of doctrine proposed by Mohler do not imply that any of those doctrines is unimportant.  So, what are those three levels?

1. First-order doctrines “include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith . . . such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture,” as well Jesus’ virgin birth, perfect life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and future bodily return to earth.  These are “the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself.”

2. Second-order doctrines differ from first-order ones “by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident.”  Among second-order matters are the meaning and mode of baptism, the structure of church government, and qualifications for leadership (which would define one’s view on whether women can serve as pastors).

3. Third-order doctrines include issues on which believers “may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations” and would include the interpretation and timing of biblical eschatology (end-times) and certain matters of Christian liberty (matters about which the Scriptures do not directly say what is or isn’t permissible for Christians to do).

How Theological Triage Should Shape Pulpit Supply Ministry

I find Mohler’s three-tier categorization of doctrine helpful.  He doesn’t argue that any doctrine is unimportant.  But he does provide a helpful distinction so we can know which are of the greatest urgency to get right, and as a gauge for what constitutes proper fellowship.  If you preach outside the bounds of your local church and denomination, there are several implications for filling the pulpit as a guest preacher.  (If you are uncomfortable in settings outside of those where you find agreement on all three levels, this article will have little significance for you.)

As a general rule, we should limit ourselves to explaining and applying first-order doctrines in our preaching.  This does not preclude mentioning various interpretations related to second or third-level issues when preaching.  But if we deal with these, we should be fair by representing the major diversity of viewpoints briefly, identifying them as important but secondary, and moving on, not seeking to push any of them in this particular setting.  

One of the reasons we should limit ourselves to preaching first-order doctrines is that the basic level of fellowship as fellow believers, for many of us, may be the very basis on which we are legitimately invited to that church in the first place.  I am not ashamed to reveal that my view on second-order issues includes a belief in congregational church government, credo-baptism (baptism by immersion for believers only) and complementarianism (which understands the Scriptures to only qualify godly men as pastors), and that my third-order views include premillennialism and that I personally abstain from all alcoholic beverages.  Yet, I have found myself invited to speak in churches with real believers in our Lord Jesus Christ who have a different type of church government, different understanding of baptism, pastoral ministry, the millennium, or Christian liberty.  Frankly, some of these churches are ones I can preach in but could not join as member!  Nonetheless, we share a commitment to Scripture and the Gospel of Christ, and there is no lack of preaching to be done as relates to the first-order doctrines, matters of which many in our pews and chairs have a deficient understanding.  

There could certainly be exceptions.  If a Baptist is supplying in a Baptist church or a Presbyterian in a Presbyterian church, it may be suitable to get more specific on baptism or church government.  A church may even invite you to speak on a second-order or third-order doctrine precisely because they want more instruction on the specifics of a particular interpretation.  But to go into a church with a different view of a second- or third-order doctrine and seek to change them in one sermon could be seen as uncharitable, unwise, and the waste of a good opportunity to speak of what is most urgent.  (And probably a good way to not be invited back.)

This discussion may also raise another question: should I preach in a setting where I know the church is in error on first-level doctrines?

I would say YES – BUT.  

Yes, but don’t pretend to agree with a church that denies a first-level doctrine in order to get such an opportunity.

Yes, but in this situation you are positively obligated to speak on first-level doctrines.  Whereas you want to generally avoid second- and third-level doctrines in many churches, you never want to avoid first-level doctrines.  

Yes, but make clear what is so important about first-level doctrines.  And make it clear that you cannot deny these teachings of the Bible and still be a Christian.

Yes, but make it clear that you disagree with them and show them from the Scriptures, not just your opinion, why they are wrong and what is correct.

Yes, but don’t do it with a hatred or malice toward the people.  Patiently, clearly instruct, as Paul says to Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Yes, but don’t expect to be invited back.  It may be the only time you have to bear witness to the truth in such a circumstance.  And there may even be believers there who have been waiting for someone to tell them the truth.

All this emphasis on first-order doctrines should not discourage us from knowing what we believe about the secondary doctrines.  It should not make us shy away from joining a church based on agreement with first- and second-level doctrines.  And if you are a pastor, it shouldn’t make you second-guess whether you should preach in your church doctrines that are not first-level.

Theological triage should help us deal with the most urgent issues when we serve as guest preachers, and leave those matters of important, but lesser urgency, to our own churches and the personal conversations we have.  After all, why should we try to fix a broken arm if the person needs treatment for a heart attack first?

Updates Links and Deals

Please make time to listen to this message from Kevin DeYoung: “Never Spoke a Man Like This Before: Inerrancy, Evangelism, and Christ’s Unbreakable Bible”  For professing Christians who claim that the Bible isn’t historically accurate…. well, JESUS disagrees with them. Faith-strengthening, encouraging — praise be to God for giving us His trustworthy Word!  DeYoung has a book, just released, on this topic, Taking God at His Word.  I just read it and I cannot recommend it highly enough (here’s the link for Amazon).

Sermon Description:  In this sermon, primarily from the Gospel of John, Kevin DeYoung argues that Scripture’s inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency provides a foundation for both the truth of the gospel and our confidence in evangelism. Christians believe this not because of a modern, man-made ideal of “inerrancy,” but because Jesus himself thought and taught this way. As DeYoung said, “It’s impossible to uphold the Bible more than Jesus did.”

I am working on the final touches of a book addressed to students at Christian colleges, particularly about the compromise some may face in the classroom.  Lord willing, it will be released on Amazon Kindle this week.

I’ve also read a bit in The Diary of Alvin York, the World War I hero.  Fascinating first-hand account.

Tim Challies says that in our preaching we may be shortchanging folks of the most important thing we can share with them.


The following deals are good through April 30:

John MacArthur’s books on prayer and worry are 99 cents.  (Alone with God: Discovering the Passion and Power of Prayer and Anxious for Nothing: God’s Cure for the Cares of Your Soul.)

R. C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross is free this month as an MP3 audio download.

The following deals are good through May 11:

J. I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (99 cents)

Andreas J. Köstenberger & Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus:  The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived  (99 cents)

James N. Anderson, What’s Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (99 cents)

John MacArthur, The Silent Shepherd (book on the Holy Spirit) (99 cents)


Mark Dever’s book, The Church: the Gospel Made Visible is 99 cents for Kindle.  Gospel eBooks doesn’t say how long this deal is good, but the print list price is $12.99.

Updates, Links, and Deals for 4/20/2014

Updates Links and Deals

Placing the Cross in History – Can we know the exact date of Christ’s death, based on the information we have in Scripture?

Five Errors to Drop from Your Easter Sermon

Why It Matters Theologically and Historically that Women Were First to the Tomb

David Platt on Why We Should Not Believe “Heaven Is for Real”


The following deals are good through April 21st:

R. C. Sproul, The Work of Christ – 1 cent (yes ONE CENT) through April 21.

John MacArthur, Saved without a Doubt: Being Sure of Your Salvation – 1 cent through April 21

More e-book deals that are good through April 21 (although one of the books on sale ends today) at the David C. Cook Super Sale

The following deals are good through April 22:

D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers – $3.99 and worth every penny.

Zach Eskwine, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons That Connect with Our Culture – also an excellent resource/handbook for $3.99

Not sure how long these are for, but they’re likely temporary:

Mark Dever & Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice (99 cents)

An Approach to the Extended Memorization of Scripture – practical help to memorizing entire books of the Bible and long passages (and retaining them) – 99 cents

Best Evidences Pocket Guide from Answer in Genesis: Science and the Bible refute millions of years. Written by Larry Pierce , Dr. Terry Mortenson , Dr. Jason Lisle , Dr. Don DeYoung , Dr. Georgia Purdom , Dr. Danny Faulkner , Dr. Andrew Snelling and Ken Ham — Use Code EBFREE to get it free

For the whole month of April:

John MacArthur’s books on prayer and worry are 99 cents through April 30.  (Alone with God: Discovering the Passion and Power of Prayer and Anxious for Nothing: God’s Cure for the Cares of Your Soul.

R. C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross is free this month as an MP3 audio download.

Crossway has good deals on several books now through April 20 (Kindle editions).

Preaching the Cross is a good collection of written versions of the messages delivered at the 2006 (inaugural) Together for the Gospel conference.  Included are two very helpful messages by Drs. Ligon Duncan (Preaching the Old Testament) and John Piper (Why Preaching Is Particularly Glorifying to God), as well as sermons by the other speakers.

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (which I have reviewed here) is an excellent work and only 99 cents this week.

Updates Links and Deals

Answers in Genesis has a list of Christian colleges and seminaries that take a firm stand on the historical account of creation as given in Genesis and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture.  And here are some good questions to ask when checking out a school.

How Important Is Projection When We Preach?  Some good pointers from Brian Croft on the use of the voice in preaching.  No one will get the message if they can’t hear you.

Is the Date of Easter of Pagan Origin?

Ten Lessons from a Hospital Bed – useful for ministering to others or approaching your own hospital stay

Deals (for this week and this month)


Everett Coates, Why the Gospels Witnesses Agree and What This Means for Us is 99 cents through April 14.

John MacArthur’s books on prayer and worry are 99 cents through April 30.  (Alone with God: Discovering the Passion and Power of Prayer and Anxious for Nothing: God’s Cure for the Cares of Your Soul.

Free Audio Book:

R. C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross is free this month as an MP3 audio download.


Updates Links and Deals

Scripture Memory: Great Tool or Old School?

A couple more links about the Noah movie. The takeaway from both: read the REAL, TRUE story in Genesis 6-9.

“Drowning in Distortion” by Dr. Albert Mohler

‘Noah’ [movie] as Fable – Reminder to Read the Original Story by Bryant Owens

Kindle Deal:

John MacArthur’s books on prayer and worry are 99 cents through April 30.  (Alone with God: Discovering the Passion and Power of Prayer and Anxious for Nothing: God’s Cure for the Cares of Your Soul.

Free Audio Book:

R. C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross is free this month as an MP3 audio download.

Excellent challenge to pastors & teachers from Dr. Paul Bufford from Abingdon Bible Church:


Updates Links and Deals

I guess this week is “movie edition.”

A number of much-hyped movies related to Biblical themes and issues have been released lately or are on the verge of being released.  Answer in Genesis has some good, thought-provoking articles on whether these are worthwhile to see and how to respond them.  If you’re thinking about seeing or taking people to see these, you owe it to yourself to be informed about them to see if you still want to do so or if you want to prepare your group for what they will see.