The growing trend of pastors who buy sermons online and preach them as their own is hurting churches. I recently saw how that works and haven’t been able to get it out of my head.
I received an email a couple of weeks ago from a reputable nation-wide ministry to pastors with a catchy enough subject heading that I couldn’t help but be interested: “I can preach a really great sermon this Easter!” So I opened the attachment to find a sales pitch for a collection of Easter sermon manuscripts, complete with outlines, slides and artwork. For a few dollars I could purchase a sermon to preach to my people on Easter that would be far superior to anything I could come up with on my own.
Easter is a time for your church to reach even more people with the Gospel. We want to help you plan and prepare by exploring our Easter Sermon Collection.
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Complete with transcript as well as audio and visual files, each message is a great resource to supplement your Easter service—so find the one that’s right for your church today!
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This particular ministry isn’t alone—hundreds if not thousands of businesses are doing the same thing. Three major sources that I’m aware of are sermonsearch, sermoncentral and pastors.com That short list doesn’t even begin to deal with all the larger churches marketing their pastor’s sermons as a way of extending their brands or individual ministers looking to extend their impact. Judging from the amount of sermons available online, there must be a huge market for them.
A lot of pastors and congregations don’t seem to find anything wrong with preaching other people’s sermons. Adrian Rogers, a towering figure in Southern Baptist circles, said of the practice, “If my bullet fits your gun, go ahead and shoot it.” I’ve got to admit that while I disagree with his point, the phrase is a keeper. Other leaders like Rick Warren and Ed Stetzer also advocate for the practice—just as long as the preacher gives attribution. And, judging from what I hear in conversations with other pastors, there are more guys doing this than ever before. For most of them it’s not a problem. Their reasoning is that they’re too busy to prepare sermons every week; and besides, if there are other pastor’s sermons that are more effective at moving a congregation, why not use them? The congregation gets more benefit from a sermon expertly prepared by someone gifted at communication than by their own pastor who might struggle at creating a sermon that really works.
I don’t get that line of thought, not at all. In fact, the idea that a pastor would buy his sermons strikes me as a failure in understanding the pastoral call. Pastors are called first to the apostolic ministry that Acts 6:4 describes: “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” Paul then applies the apostolic call to the context of local congregations when he tells his young associate Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have…” (1 Timothy 4:13-14). Later, Paul lays out the main task of the pastoral leader as the capacity to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2-3). A pastor is called to a specific congregation precisely because he has the specific gifting necessary to lead them in responding to God’s Word.
When we as pastors look to others to do the hard work for us in interpreting the Word—which is what we’re doing when we buy someone else’s sermon and use it as if it were our own—we abandon our call and neglect our gift. To those pastors who claim they’re too busy to write their own sermons, I’d say they’re too busy doing the wrong things. To those who claim that other preachers write better sermons than they do I’d respond, so what? Better for a pastor to preach a poor sermon that actually comes from his own wrestling with God on behalf of his people than using an expertly crafted message from some consultant who never wept for his congregation in prayer or ministered to them in times of loss or failure. God’s more interested in authenticity than in performance, and the bane of modern American church life is that we’ve opted for the notoriety of the latter instead of paying the price necessary for the former.
Preparing a sermon is hard work. It takes hours of prayerfully unpacking God’s Word, researching words and themes, seeking the Lord’s heart for the specific message his congregation needs to hear, and figuring out how to creatively apply the spiritual principles involved. Then there’s the actual preaching of the message—which can drain a preacher as nothing else in life. Most pastors wake up Monday mornings and feel as though they’ve been run over by a truck. That’s why the great Reformer Martin Luther—as effective a preacher and teacher as the Church has ever produced, famously said, “I’d rather be dragged by wild horses than preach a sermon.”
Preaching is glorious and fulfilling as well as draining and painful. But when we short circuit it by using other preacher’s sermons because we’re too lazy, distracted or unprepared to write our own, we’re robbing our people of the very thing that brought us to them in the first place. Phillips Brooks, a well known preacher from a previous generation, captured the essence of biblical preaching when he described it as “truth through personality.” What he meant was that God works his Word into people’s hearts through a divinely ordered match of the pastor’s unique personality with that of his congregation–like a key in a lock.
For the sake of our own giftedness as well as the spiritual health of our congregations, we pastors must do whatever it takes to write and preach our own sermons. Nothing else will effectively minister the Word of God to our people.