the shape of leadership

Four Questions to Ask When You Review Old Sermons

Looking back can help you grow as a communicator

Influence Magazine on January 24, 2019

The new year is a great time to look back as you prepare to move forward. Many pastors look at the budget and baptisms — how the church is doing financially and spiritually.

For a pastor, there are plenty of personal ways to review the past. One of them is revisiting old sermons. If you’re doing a new series on a book of the Bible or a theme you’ve already covered, it’s a no-brainer to look back and mine existing material. But it’s also a good idea to dip into your files and evaluate those old messages.

While doing that, make sure to look back the right way, so you can move forward with sure footing. Here are four questions that should be on your mind while perusing old sermons:

What’s Changed?

As you grow as a preacher, there are specific ways you’ve changed, from how you write out your sermon notes to the places you go for research. Your viewpoint about certain things may have shifted as well.

Which can be a good thing. Perhaps you’ve broadened your horizons by taking a look at the world through other people’s perspectives. You have probably also read more, studied more, and learned more about certain biblical truths and theology. That growth represents real discipleship.

Know what you’re doing right, and avoid the mistakes you’ve made before.

What Can I Reuse?

Looking back over old sermons, you may just find material to rework. This is especially true if planning to cover a passage of Scripture you’ve studied before. Knowing how you handled the text previously can offer great ideas for new sermons.

There may also be old illustrations or applications to which you can return. Sure, many in your church may have already heard them. But some things bear repeating. Don’t be afraid to go back to the well for your best material.

What Have I Overused?

On the other hand, you may find you’ve used a certain story or application once too often. Or perhaps your review will reveal that you spend too much time on one topic.

When reviewing your sermons, take note of the areas you’ve covered. Consider compiling a list of the texts used, the topics spoke on, the doctrine taught, and the tone you set. Then examine it carefully. Are you as balanced as desired in your preaching? Are there gaps in your coverage? It’s never too late to make course corrections.

What Worked — or Didn’t?

Finally, go deep on your best sermons, and briefly review what seemed to resonate with your listeners and what fell flat. Think about why some sermons hit the right notes. Was it the tone? Could it have been the content and Scripture alone? Or maybe there was a specific testimony that tied it together.

As you look over your not-so-great moments, decide on one factor you can change going forward. If you can’t identify it, simply move on. But if the exercise helps you make positive changes, it can be worth the time investment.

Looking back with curiosity will help you move forward with confidence. Know what you are doing right, and avoid the mistakes you’ve made before. That’s the real key to becoming a better preacher.

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