A recent front-page article in “The Wall Street Journal” introduced pastors who use the sermons of other ministers. A photo of Ed Young Jr. was sketched to the side, with information that this pastor sells his sermons for $10 apiece from a Web site.
You can go online, buy a sermon and pretty much use any and all of it without fear of plagiarism. Apparently, this trend is gaining in popularity, as busy pastors buy sermons so that they don’t have to spend their own time in preparation. “He’s a better preacher than I am,” one pastor commented.
The argument is that more time can be spent in administration and vision-casting instead of sermon preparation.
A few of my church members read the same article. One jokingly recommended that I buy sermons instead of spending time studying for them. Another said my sermons were good enough to sell and I ought to be in on the business. I much preferred the latter comment. In fact it got me thinking about the whole process of preaching.
The Apostle Paul said to “preach the Word,” and that pretty much is what I have tried to do for the last 10 years or so. I’ve tried not to preach someone else’s word.
Looking back at some sermons from my first pastorate, I wonder what I was thinking at the time. It is a wonder that people sat through those early attempts, and I suspect the same is true of many other pastors as well.
The process of preaching, beginning with prayer, preparation and planning, is a daunting task and one I take very seriously. It really isn’t any of my business if other pastors take shortcuts and get their sermons off the Internet. I’m not accountable to the Lord for their congregation or how they “feed the sheep.”
On the other hand, I am concerned about the state of preaching in Baptist life if this indeed is a growing trend. Somewhere along the way pastors have started thinking that preaching is a secondary concern and their time is better spent doing other things.
There’s a place for “casting the vision” and “equipping the saints.” But, there is no greater responsibility and privilege than preaching. Those first disciples knew that the church was growing and that meant more people and more ministry to do. However, they called upon others to wait upon tables while they maintained focus on “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4).
Stories and illustrations from other sources are fine, and some of them have been passed around so much that it’s hard to know where they originated. They are like public domain.
However, something is missing when pastors use entire sermons from other preachers in their own churches. Otherwise why not just play a video of the celebrity preacher giving his own message? Why does the church need you if they can plug into a satellite feed of someone else? It sure would save money.
There is a special dynamic when the pastor stands before the people to share God’s Word, and it starts way before Sunday morning.
For me, it starts in planning my preaching several months ahead. That is so I might “preach the whole word” instead of my pet peeves.
I enter study with both my books and the faces of my congregation. I recognize that many of them are going through difficulties, and they give me 30 minutes every Sunday to speak God’s word into their lives. This is an awesome task, and one of which I feel unworthy.
It isn’t only the preaching part that’s important, but the time spent digging into the text and allowing the Holy Spirit to bring it to life.
Preaching is more than a prepared message. It has to come from a prepared messenger. This happens through the course of a week of ministry all the while brooding over that sermon and allowing time for it to “gel” in your heart and mind.
Often preaching comes out of the overflow of material and learning that I’ve received in a given week. It’s true that there are times when I feel rushed to handle the urgent things rather than the important ones.
I’m called upon to do a number of ministry tasks in a given week, but must recommit myself daily to let those go if I’m not ready to preach. An internal clock tells me how long to study and when I can put the sermon down.
Preaching is about sharing life with people, and that can’t be done using someone else’s sermon. Sermons aren’t sitcoms to be used in syndication. They are birthed out of hard work and holy sweat. Preaching should be done in context, and importing someone else’s sermon isn’t authentic, at least not for me.
Pastors who buy their sermons run the risk of being turned into program directors on cruise ships that happen to be called churches. It’s lazy and a disservice to God’s calling as a pastor to rely upon another preacher’s material. There’s a mystery about that preaching moment, and when it’s really right there is a sense that the church is on holy ground. It wouldn’t feel right getting there with a syndicated sermon.
Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Clinton, Tennessee.