It's Okay to Preach Similar-Sounding Sermons
by Peyton Hill
Some critics of the Christ-centered preaching movement push back on the idea of proclaiming Christ from every text because they worry that Christ-centered preaching flattens each sermon into sounding the same. Even some Christ-centered preaching advocates labor tirelessly to preach Christ with variety out of fear that their sermons will point to Christ in the same way as the one before it and the one after it. While good Christ-centered preaching will often “get to Jesus” in different ways, variety in itself does not make a worthy goal for preachers. In fact, it’s okay—maybe even beneficial—for every sermon to sound similar. Here are five reasons why:
1. Similar sermons build the expectation that every sermon is going to get to Jesus.
When preachers care more about variety than consistency, it is difficult to create expectation. But when expositors point to Jesus weekly, even using the same method (e.g., typology, theme resolution, etc.), the congregation learns how to expect the sermon to exalt Christ. The church learns that when a sermon never makes it to the climactic resolution in Jesus, it is to be rejected as a less-than-Christian sermon.
2. Similar sermons teach your people how to interpret the Bible with Christ at the center rather than just leaning on you as an expert.
When preachers proclaim Christ with lots of variety, the congregation will appreciate the preacher’s insights and interpretive skills. But when the preacher allows for consistency and sameness week after week, the congregation learns how to read, interpret, and teach the Bible with Jesus as the focus for themselves. In this way, Christ-centered preachers develop the often-atrophied Christocentric muscles within their church members.
3. Similar sermons highlight the design of the divine author to give the Bible in a specific way to reveal specific themes, types, etc.
If God is the ultimate author, it stands to reason that he will provide the same kinds of links over and over so that we get it. Even though many texts offer multiple ways to point to Christ, sometimes the divine author has imbedded the same types and themes over and over so that we don’t miss it. This is why there are multiple Spirit-anointed deliverers like Othniel, Samson, and David, because they teach us to look for the ultimate Spirit-empowered deliverer, Christ. This is why the theme of God’s presence among his people is displayed over and over, because God is building anticipation for when he comes to dwell with his people in human form.
4. Similar sermons prove the point that it takes multiple repetitions before people hear it.
Leadership gurus remind us that leaders must repeat themselves often, because it is usually when we are tired of saying something that our people are hearing it for the first time. The same is true for preaching Christ. It may seem repetitive and too similar from the standpoint of the preacher when he proclaims Christ similarly week after week, but most of his people will not pick up on the repetition nearly as much as the preacher thinks. Sometimes it’s necessary to use the same method of preaching Christ each week because it takes a lot of repetition for our people to develop ears to hear.
5. Similar sermons increase the active listening of the congregation as they anticipate how you’re going to link to Christ.
Listening to a sermon ought not be an exercise in passivity. There’s a sense in which congregations should be listening actively so that the sermon becomes an interaction and not simply a monologue. When a preacher proclaims Christ weekly, even using the same method, his people begin to listen more actively because they ready themselves for the big climax in Christ. Adults, students, and children alike can begin to guess and anticipate how and when the preacher will develop the link to Christ, and it enhances the entire listening experience.
Variety in preaching has many advantages, and preachers are wise to develop the knowledge and skill to be able to proclaim the Person and work of Jesus in multiple ways. But variety for the sake of avoiding similar-sounding sermons does not make a worthy goal for Christ-centered preachers, because similar-sounding sermons can benefit churches, too. In fact, similar-sounding sermons may be the best tool to change the culture of a church so that Christ-centered preaching from every text becomes the expectation.