Levi Sisemore, Texas Normal Singing School
I suppose that younger people don’t really understand the phrase “repeating like a broken record.” (To be honest, we had a record player when I was a kid – and I did have a couple of records myself – but I am very much a child of the cassette tape era.) However, I still know that a broken record repeats a section over and over and over and over and … ad infinitum (and even ad nauseam!). While we don’t like to hear the same things repeatedly, there is a strength in repetition: those things which we have heard repeatedly become part of our “mental DNA,” so inextricably welded into our minds that we hear the echo those words long after the original speaker has become silent.
Preachers are tasked with an interesting challenge: each week (and usually three or four times each week) they are called upon dredge the depths of the Scriptures and bring to the surface a life-giving message about the God and His Gospel to all those who would hear it. The Bible is a vast book, providing a great quantity of truth and wisdom and stories which illustrate those principles. Often times this breadth of material does not make for easier preaching; often, because there is so much material, a preacher wishes he knew where to start!
In our American culture, one of the worst things a preacher can be is boring. We’ll forgive biblical ignorance or a shallow message more readily than we’ll forgive boring. The pressure for novelty in preaching (“keeping it fresh”) can often be greater than the pressure to preach “the whole counsel of God” (cf. Acts 20:27) or to speak “the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11). I’ve read much in the Bible about God’s spokesman being faithful to the God’s message, but I don’t remember a verse about “thou shalt entertain as thou speakest.” (I’m not wishing for more boring preaching. I wouldn’t advocate someone trying to bore an audience to tears! Also the Bible does encourage effectiveness in communication, so there’s an encouragement to be relevant and engaging).
Matthew 3 introduces us to John the Baptizer, a preacher in the wilderness. He was a hugely effective preacher, but he only had one sermon: “Repent! for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). He wasn’t entertaining, conversational, comfortable, friendly, approachable, or even novel. Every time you heard him, he preached the same message: “Repent!”
I wonder what would happen if before we ever allowed another sermon to be preached we asked people, “But have you applied last week’s yet? If you’re still working on implementing that, are you sure you’re ready for another lesson?” What if we said, “Until you’ve put these things into practice, we’re not moving on to the next lesson”? How long would you listen to a preacher if he only had one message? But what if that one message is the one that we all needed to hear until it sunk in?
Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…” (Matthew 7:24)