I taught a Doctor of Ministry intensive last week on leadership in the 21st century at Ashland Theological Seminary. I had ten thoughtful students. One of them asked me on break, "How do you keep your preaching fresh year after year after serving thirty years in ministry?"
I spent a little time pondering the question. After a day of thinking about the question, here was my response:
First, read, read, read. Nothing keeps preaching fresh like reading. Read theology, biblical studies, church history, and in other disciplines that might directly and indirectly assist in preaching. But even more than that, read in other areas of interests-- history, science, philosophy, sociology. Pastors by necessity are generalists. So read in other areas of interest. It does aid in preaching.
Second, while new is a good thing, fresh does not always equal new. For example, I have been preaching Advent sermons for thirty years. In that time, I have offered much repetition. Just because I have said it for thirty years every December does not mean the folks in the pews have heard it. As a preacher, I must remember that it is not about me; it is about those who are listening. I may have offered an important insight in 1990 to people in one church, but it remains just as relevant to the folks listening to me in 2014 in another congregation. Good teachers know the importance of repetition. Shall I repeat that?
Third, work on new angles of Scriptures that are familiar. I have preached several times over the years on being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and then reading Scot McKnight's commentary on the Sermon on the Mount has given me a new perspective on the passage. So I will now, at some point, prepare a new sermon on a familiar text, the result of which is from reading, reading, reading.
Fourth, exegesis in only the beginning of the sermon. A good sermon is about art and craft and effective communication. The exegesis is only the beginning of wisdom when it comes to fresh preaching. Exegesis is the fertile soil... preaching is the growth the comes from competent handling of the biblical text.
Fresh preaching is not necessarily new; but it is faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ that challenges the new fads and ideas that our modern world deems significant.
Fifth, the sermon must leave one with a conundrum. In finishing a sermon, my task is not to leave an individual with a sense that all is well, but that something must happen. Proclamation leads to transformation.
The one who has ears to hear, let her/him hear.