I used to worry that I repeated myself.
I used to worry that I had said things in sermons that I had said before. I used to worry that applications in Bible studies kept reeling round again. I used to worry that I had written blog posts that largely said similar things. I used to worry that podcast episode were overly similarly. Surely people don’t want to be hearing the same things over and over again?
But if I sound a bit repetitive, I make no apologies for it.
The fact is, applications roll round in sermons again and again because they appear to be ongoing things that we need to hear in our church. Blog posts sound quite similar because the issues they are speaking about haven’t gone away. Bible study applications find their way into things again because our sin doesn’t disappear just because it cropped up in a study one time. Above all else, the gospel still remains relevant to all these things and I make no bones about holding it out as the solution over and over and over again.
The fact is, we are prone to forget things. I don’t remember the overwhelming majority of sermons I have heard in my life. That isn’t necessarily the fault of the sermon (though, some of them were, no doubt, eminently forgettable!) It is just the reality of things. They may well have done me good at the time but, unsurprisingly, 25 years on, I can’t remember all the applications I heard in sermons when I was 11. The idea that I preach a sermon once and the applications I make one time mean the problem they’re addressing will be gone forever is just an unrealistic expectation to put on a single sermon. It may well land, it may well do people good, but it can’t be the only time we ever mention it if the matter is going to be credibly addressed in people’s minds.
The other fact to contend with is that I’m just not that compelling. I am well aware that the person who best remembers every sermon I preach is me. The folks in my church hear it for the first (and only) time on a Sunday for half an hour whereas I have been in the passage about 30 times longer than most of them. I’ll be honest, even I don’t remember every point and application I ever make in every previous sermon even with that amount of prep and I certainly don’t presume my delivery is so compelling that the single half-hour shot, of itself, means the application has been fully absorbed, understood and acted on.
I think we have to high a view of what we are able to achieve in half an hour – and the quality of what most of us (and I include myself here) have to offer in terms of both content and delivery – if we think a single sermon or Bible study will mean we never have to revisit whatever we are discussing. Applications need repeating at least as long as the things they are encouraging or discouraging are or aren’t happening. And, when they do eventually land, they need returning to sometime again because we’re so prone to forget.
Likewise, the problems and issues we are addressing in blogs, articles and podcasts still exist, they will continue to be spoken about. That is what we do with issues, isn’t it? We keep highlighting them – even to the point of embarrassment – until something happens to change or fix them. The issues of deprived communities, moving believers from middle class communities to reach the deprived unreached, financing churches that aren’t self-sufficient, will continue to be spoken about until that is no longer a problem. If we don’t like listening to it over and over again, doing something about it will stop us banging on about it because there will be nothing to moan about if we resolve the issues that are highlighted.
I always liked George Whitefield’s response when somebody asked him why he preached so often on ‘you must be born again.’ He simply replied, ‘because you must be born again!’ Why do I speak so frequently on the things mentioned on this blog? Because they are issues that matter. Like Whitefield, I’ll mention it less when it’s no longer an issue.
I used to worry about repeating myself. But not these days. If the message needs to get through, it’s worth saying again and again until it lands. And, as they say, repetition is the key to learning. Repetition is the key to learning. Repetition is the key…