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what’s your one sermon – rhett snell

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I’d been an associate pastor for nearly 5 years, and I was on the cusp of heading off to be the sole pastor of a church. The thing I was most excited about was getting to preach more regularly, to finally be let loose to plan out a preaching year myself.

Just before I left, I was chatting with a non-church goer who asked me, “How do you come up with new things to say every Sunday?”

I jumped at the chance to tell my friend, “Well, you see, I try to preach biblically. That means I open a bible text each week and do my best to say what it says. Since there’s so much in the bible, I don’t think I’ll ever run out!”

I even made a joke about how, since some people seemed to forget the sermon by Sunday lunch, if I did ever have to go back over old ground, they probably wouldn’t notice.

These days, coming up on a year and a half into my time as a sole pastor, I realise I was both right and wrong in what I said to my friend.

I have preached expository sermons, and that has kept my preaching fresh. I find myself constantly excited to discover and to preach new portions of scripture.

On the other hand, I’m finding that the old saying that “all pastors only have one sermon” can be uncomfortably true. I have begun to realise that I have hobby-horses which emerge a disconcerting amount of the time. There are themes in scripture I tend to return to often enough that they risk over-emphasis. I even have a certain way of phrasing things which can become wearisome, if I’m not careful.

Would this be true of your preaching too?

This is what I’ve been doing to help myself to branch out a little bit…

First, I’ve done a “sermon audit”. I’ve looked back at the sermons I’ve preached over the last few years, making a note of the big point I drew from each text, as well as the themes I majored on each time. This has helped me to become more aware of my thematic blind spots.

Second, I’ve been trying to listen to sermons from a wider variety of preachers than I usually would. As I’ve gone, I’ve jotted down some of the themes I’m hearing them emphasise, particularly if that theme is something I don’t tend to talk much about myself.

Some examples from the list I’ve made…

Prayer

How Jesus can heal our anger and frustration

Finding joy even in struggles

The place of habits and disciplines in our Christian walk

There are many more. My goal with these is not to crowbar them into a sermon. It’s just that, being aware that these are themes I haven’t really given a lot of time to, when I’m studying a biblical text, I want to think more about them. To be asking questions like…

What does this passage have to say to someone struggling with anger?

How does this truth help us to pray more confidently?

What are some habits we could develop to really make sure this fact beds down in our hearts?

The point of it all, at least for me, is to make sure I see both my congregation and scripture with a wider, more considered lens. And so, hopefully, preach more faithfully and effectively.

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