A Cautionary Word to Pastors about Internet Resources

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Whether you call such a person a guide or a guru, it has become increasingly and painfully clear to me that pastors need some personal guidance about the use of online resources for preparing sermons, Bible studies, etc.

The first point I would stress is that there is a reason a lot of the resources online that have to do with the Bible are free. There is some truth to the old dictum ‘you get what you pay for’. Some of the resources are simply junk, some are so badly out of date and out of touch with the current ministry scene that they are hardly useful, and some of them are so arcane it requires scholarly help to make good use of them. And this brings me to the second point.

There is a need for critical judgment to select useful online resources that may indeed help one’s ministry. Critical judgment about not only technical scholarly works, but about mid-level works can only be developed over time and with good guidance. Sometimes the mistake is made that one doesn’t need to develop one’s own critical judgment faculties, one can just rely on key scholars that one trusts. But even good scholars have bad days, and make some bad judgment calls. Yes, it even happens with good trustworthy Evangelical scholars. There is no real substitute for developing your own critical judgment, but how does one, and how does one have time, to do that with all the tyranny of the urgent in ministry? This brings me to a third point

I would stress, for the good of your soul as well as the good of your ministry, that you need to read good books, and I mean read them at a depth level, not superficially cherry picking this quote or that quote for a juste mot in a sermon from a book. Search engines to electronic resources can be a real help, but they only spit out what you’ve asked them to find. When it comes to commentaries, you should not treat them like dictionaries, but rather make a plan to work through them bits at a time, as you preach through them. What feeds good teaching and good preaching is continuing to feed your head with good resources, and to study them in some depth. You need to set aside more than an hour or two a week for such study and preparation, and the main thing you should do during that time is just read—- not outline sermons or lessons, but read…… read….. read. It is no fun at all to listen to pastors who, as the British would say, have gone off the boil. Their sermons are being retreaded, their illustrations are canned and old, the practical tasks of ministry have exhausted them, and their real thinking power has gone fallow, or is AWOL. To a real extent, a homiletician in the long run is only going to be as good as: 1) their library, and 2) their continued deep reflection on the materials in their library. C’est vrai.

Here’s a last point. Do you remember the TV show where if one didn’t know the answer to a question one could ‘phone a friend’? Well, I would suggest you need to develop an ongoing relationship with one of your previous teachers who you learned a lot from, and from time to time call them and pick their brains and ask about more good resources. I spend a good deal of time on email or the phone with folks I have taught over the last 30 years in classes or online providing such a service gratis. It can help.

Finally, many pastors seem to be unaware that copyright laws have become more and more stringent in the Internet Age. The temptation to just snag something from Wikipedia or somewhere else, or even snag someone else’s teaching or sermon outlines and preach them without permission, and often even without attribution is a big problem, and it has already gotten a lot of Evangelical pastors in some major hot water. So caveat emptor when you use the Internet in preparing your communications. As Cat Stevens once said ‘Oh baby, baby its a wild world/ and its hard to get by just on a smile girl’.


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