If your church or ministry setting requires you to prepare more than one sermon a week, how can you prepare an additional sermon after pouring everything into the first one? It's the challenge you face if your church has a Sunday night or mid-week service in addition to your primary weekend worship service(s). Let me state the question from another angle: if it takes all your time and energy just to produce one quality sermon a week, how can you hope to prepare two better-than-mediocre sermons week in and week out?
If you simply divide your preparation time equally, you may end up with two mediocre sermons.
Admittedly, it's been awhile since I've faced this challenge. I currently prepare only one sermon a week, and I still have my hands full! But I've faced this challenge in previous pastorates, and I have five suggestions for making it work.
First, you must prioritize. Spend most of your time preparing the sermon for your primary worship service(s), and spend less time preparing for the secondary preaching opportunity. This is a strategic move born of a desire to give your people your very best. Usually, there will be fewer people at the secondary events. This does not mean that you should settle for a sloppy, half-baked sermon. But if you simply divide your time equally, you may end up with two mediocre sermons. My theory is that spending 80 percent of your time on your primary sermon and 20 percent on the secondary one(s) can actually produce two compelling sermons. Spending less time on the secondary one will force you down a different creative process and path.
Second, feel free to recycle. A good sermon is worth preaching twice, especially if you re-work it the second time around. Normally, I'll let at least 4 years pass before bringing a sermon backlonger if I'm going to re-use a series. If you re-use a sermon or a series in a secondary preaching setting, make sure to interact with at least one new commentary or resource when you rework it, so that you are forced to do some fresh thinking. Also, change an illustration or the sermon's structure. Make sure to re-read the text a few times and pray through it. You don't have to duplicate all the exegetical work you did before. Just build on it! God's Spirit will honor both your previous work and your new work.
Third, expand themes or material from your primary sermon for use in the secondary setting. Often, studying for your primary sermon will yield more material than you can use at one time, so you should feel free to use it in your secondary sermon. For example, I preached last Sunday on Proverbs 3:112. If I had a secondary opportunity, I would pursue one of several options. I might preach on Hebrews 12:413, since it offers a 'sermon' on Proverbs 3:11-12. Or I might develop the topic of God's guidance which emerges from Proverbs 3:56. I could develop this issue in another sermon, which would have a more topical/theological, rather than expositional, flow.
Fourth, use the secondary setting to wrestle with application. In my opinion, North American Christianity does not devote enough time to application. To counter this tendency, devote the secondary setting to a brief re-cap of the sermon, and then let people ask questions or suggest what it will look like to flesh out the teaching of the text in everyday life situations. Urge people to think specifically. Vague application leads to vague Christian living.
Finally, use secondary settings to let others in the church exercise and develop their gifts. Reserve these opportunities for other pastoral staff members or for preachers-in-training.
Hopefully one of these approaches or a combination of them, will help you make the best use of the time you devote to preaching the Word.
Steve Mathewson is senior pastor of CrossLife Evangelical Free Church in Libertyville, lllinois. He is also director of the doctor of ministry program at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.