Preaching for the Long Haul
A Case Study on Long-Term Pastoral Ministry
by Bruce C. Salmon
The biggest challenge for me of a long-term pastorate was the preaching. How does one come up with something “new” to say every Sunday? By the time I retired, some parishioners had heard me preach more than 1,000 times. Dr. Dave Thompson, an astrophysicist with NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center, had heard me preach more than 2,000 times since he attended both worship services most Sunday mornings. Yes, the Bible is a vast trove of sermonic material, but the same preacher Sunday after Sunday struggles to interpret a fresh vision of biblical truth that stimulates the mind and touches the heart. Yet it is possible.
The purpose of this book is to illustrate how it is possible. It is a case study in long-term pastoral ministry. Included are sermons from thirty-three years at the same church. Over the years I preached on some biblical texts many times. Yet I never repeated a sermon in thirty-three years, except for preaching basically the same sermon at the two Sunday morning worship services during the school year. The only difference is that I preached the sermon extemporaneously from the floor for the early contemporary service, and I stood behind the pulpit (with manuscript) for the traditional second service. Thus, the sermon wasn’t the same for the two services, but Dave Thompson said they were essentially the same.
Beyond that repetition on Sunday morning, however, no one ever came up to me and said, “I remember you preached that sermon before.” For thirty-three years I preached original sermons every Sunday, except for the Sundays we had a guest preacher or choir cantata or other special event. “Preaching for the long haul” requires commitment and study and creativity and prayer, but by God’s grace, it can be done.