Creative Repetition in Preaching

REPETITION IS THE MOTHER OF LEARNING.

Repetition is the mother of learning, they say, and I don’t altogether disagree. It’s the kind of thing that requires balance in preaching over the long haul. On one hand, if you’re too repetitive, you’ll sound like you’re just riding a hobby horse to death, and you’ll lose people’s interest. Worse still, even the people still listening won’t be getting the sort of balanced diet that can help them grow and mature in the Lord—one dimensional preaching isn’t good for anybody. Your preaching needs a sense of breadth. On the other hand, preaching that has no element of repetition loses its sense of depth. The church needs some level of repetition to get the import of certain concepts, and to have a chance to really weave them into her life, so that they become part of the church’s identity and ethos.

“Balance” may actually be a misleading word for what I think we’re trying to find here, because I don’t think the significant question is “How much repetition?”, but “How should we handle repetition?”. What I mean is, we want to employ repetition that doesn’t necessarily feel like repetition. We want to use creative repetition, so that even what we’re preaching about regularly can feel new and carry genuinely new dimensions each time. The repetitive element needs to be blended in, needs to become one of the layers just below the surface of sermons and series. If it’s always on the top level, sitting in the titles and showing up in the punch lines, it will lose its heft. But if it only shows up those places every once in a while, and the rest of the time is woven into the fabric of the sermons, it will add texture and continuity to your sermons.

This isn’t sheer manipulation, by the way—it’s just good art. Good designers know how to use common elements across a series of pieces to tie them together, without that element of cohesion being the up front subject of each piece. Rather it becomes part of the framework that allows each work to speak to its own subject in a way that is part of a larger conversation. I think good preachers develop a sense of how to do this, how to weave certain motifs into their preaching over time, without hammering it in each particular sermon. Sometimes the motif comes to the fore and is the distinct subject of the sermon, but many other times it is just there in the background, a line or two in the introduction or a certain word choice in the narrative.

It’s a useful technique to double back through certain themes and motifs in your preaching—just make sure you do it creatively. Otherwise, repetition will cease to nurture learning, and will only be the mother of monotony.