I have often heard of preachers who, it was said, never kept their sermons. They would throw them out after each presentation for the purpose of then being forced to put new material together on a given topic or text each time they spoke. While there can be value in such an approach, and there is certainly value in the reason behind it, allow me to give the reason why I have never thrown away my sermons.
I began preaching full-time at the age of 21. Even though I had been speaking for a number of years already and spent 3 years in preaching school, I was by no means polished and complete as a preacher (as a side note, I’m still not). As a general rule, I have always tried to write my own sermons. While I will on occasion take titles, ideas, and such from other sources, I work hard to ensure that the style and presentation of the substance is my own.
In spite of that fact, I can honestly say that it is rare for me to preach the same sermon more than once. I will, from time to time, take a sermon I have prepared for an event elsewhere and preach it here at my home congregation. I will also occasionally take an old sermon, repurpose and retool it, and preach it again a few years after the first occasion. However, by the time I am done with it you would hardly recognize it side-by-side with the original.
So, why keep all of my sermons and articles? One main reason: evidence of growth.
For a preacher, sometimes the evidence for whether we are growing the way we should is hard to come by (at least for me). We see the growth in our families, fellow preachers, and brethren in our congregations. However, even though we study constantly, it is sometimes very difficult to measure our own personal growth in areas like preparation, presentation, style, and use of substance. Brethren can see, to some degree, the growth of the preacher in his grasp of the Scriptures. However, there are not many who will approach you at the back of the building and state, “I just want you to know that your ability to exegete and communicate the Scriptures has improved exponentially over the last _____ years!”
That is why I keep my sermons. There are many of my sermons from years gone by that I would not preach today. It is not because there is anything doctrinally amiss in them, but because I would approach those same topics/passages very differently today than I did then. Understanding in various aspects of Scripture has grown, and the style with which those things are presented has evolved over time.
Sometimes there are sermons I pull out and cringe over the approach that was taken, or the argument that was made from a passage that really did not support it. But that is actually a positive, not a negative. It shows that over time the efforts to continue to grow and develop have been fruitful.
It is for this reason that I would encourage you to keep your work. Whether you are a preacher, Bible class teacher, or just a student of the Bible who writes notes, articles, and food for thought from the Scriptures. As time goes by you have something tangible to which you can turn to see where you have been and how far you have come.
Are we growing as we should? Have we taken the time to check?