With the rise of cable television in the 1990s, journalists started referring to something they called, “The 24-hour news cycle.” Basically, the idea was this: breaking news could happen and be reported on at any time. There were no longer concrete deadlines for stories, as there had been in the days of newspapers. Now, with the rise in use of sites like Twitter for source material, the pace of breaking news is faster than ever.
As a pastor, it can be exhausting to try to keep up with everything, much less change your sermon to reflect something that may have happened less than 12 hours earlier. But, if we don’t talk about the topics of our day, we miss a huge opportunity to speak into the lives of the people attending our church. We’ll be unable to minister to them where they are. And, if that happens too many times, we run the risk of making God look irrelevant or uncaring when it comes to the tragedies and uncertainties of everyday life.
So, here are our four best tips for changing your sermons last-minute in order to speak to current events. We hope they bless you as you strive to meet people where they are.
1. Don’t feel like you need all the answers in a single sermon
When you’re talking about difficult issues, it’s somewhat common to think that people are looking to you to dispense wisdom and tell them how to think. That’s a huge amount of responsibility and, happily, it’s not always true. Sometimes, people just want comfort. They need to know that you see their pain, that you care, and, more importantly, that God cares.
Although we often feel that our desire to have all the answers is a sign of compassion, it might be a symptom of the fact that we haven’t had enough time to process what’s happened. A trite or hasty explanation of a current event will often do more harm than good. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, chances are you know what we’re talking about- sometimes, people’s well-meaning condolences can come off as uncaring. In order to truly be compassionate, we need to acknowledge our own limitations, and that requires humility.
In a similar vein, when you DO have to speak truth into current events, make sure that what you are speaking is Biblical truth spoken in love, and not your opinion. You may be convinced of your opinion, but this may not be the time to bring it up. Make listening a priority before you rush into saying something you regret.
2. Speak from the Bible
We don’t have all the answers, only God does. Most of the time, the best thing we can do is point people to Him. A great way to do that is to simply speak from the Bible. Sometimes, this means you can pull out a passage that speaks to current events or the emotions raised by them. But many times- and this is especially true at the last minute- there just aren’t words. In those cases, point people to Scripture. As you already know, that’s the best thing you can be doing, anyway.
However you have to do it, remind your church that God is in control, and that He never changes. No matter what happens in the world around us, He is still merciful, good, and caring. Your humility and faith will model that for them during this time. You don’t have to defend God in every particular- but you do have to trust Him.
3. Study how the first church dealt with cultural issues
This is something you can start doing now, before you have to make another last-minute change. Start studying how the early church dealt with cultural issues. The book of Acts, particularly in the chapters that cover Paul’s missionary journeys, has some great examples of this. However, don’t stop there! There may not be enough information in the passages themselves to help you understand how to deal with every current issue your church faces. This is where extra biblical study- commentaries and history- come into play. For example, do you know how the historical early church responded to the Roman plagues? (Hint: they didn’t get into political debates on Facebook)
In fact, the early church was very responsive to culture and the events of their day- they had to be, in order to reach more people with the gospel. Building on the apostle Paul’s idea to “become all things to all people, that I might save some,” the early church father Origen encouraged Christians to seek common ground in conversations with people who seemed opposed to the gospel, saying, “It is not therefore a matter of surprise that the same God should have sown in the hearts of all men those truths which He taught by the prophets and the Savior.”
The church has always had to address current events and popular thinking. Understanding how those who have gone before us handled similar challenges can help you navigate them in your own messages.
4. Don’t throw out your sermon.
Sometimes, you don’t need to change your entire sermon based on a current event. Instead, consider taking 5 minutes to address an issue at some point before you preach. A few words, prayer, and perhaps a few moments of silence before a gentle transition into the sermon you’ve already prepared, may be all that the situation requires. Use the regular flow of the service and people’s responses to your invitation to pray as a guide for when it’s most appropriate to begin that transition into your sermon.
Ultimately, addressing current events comes back to what we said at the beginning: you don’t have to have all the answers the minute a story breaks. You just have to be able to point your people to the hope we have in Jesus.
If you haven’t tried Sermonary yet, you’re going to love how easy it is to use it to change your sermons at the last minute! You can seamlessly add points and illustrations, create new notes wherever you are, access commentaries, and even keep track of how long you’ve been talking if you’ve added some new material to your sermon. Sign up for a free trial and check it out for yourself!