Pastor Dean is in trouble.
Three of his kids had big school activities last week. One starred in a play. Another had an out-of-town athletic competition. And one gave a music recital. Dean attended all three.
Tuesday was his wife’s birthday, so he treated her to a moonlight dinner cruise. On his way home from the cruise Pastor Dean’s phone rang. One of his parishioners’ sons was involved in a motorcycle accident. Dean rushed to the hospital. He stayed up all night and spent most of Wednesday at the hospital caring for the family.
Thursday was wall-to-wall meetings with various church committees.
On Friday morning Dean got sick. He spent most of Friday and Saturday in bed with a 102 degree fever.
Saturday at 6 p.m. Dean hadn’t even started working on his sermon. So he turned to the internet for inspiration – and found a perfect sermon on YouTube. It was EXACTLY what his congregation needed to hear. He downloaded the sermon notes, built his PowerPoint slides and by 9:30 he was ready to go.
Sunday morning he apologized to the congregation and preached the borrowed sermon, acknowledging that it was crafted by another man.
Tuesday night the deacons fired Pastor Dean after a few key members threatened to withhold their tithes. “We pay our pastor to preach – not parrot other men’s words,” said one critic.
This anecdote may seem unbelievable, but it’s based on actual events.
Many evangelicals have what I call the “Moses to the Mountain Expectation” when it comes to preaching. Pastors are supposed to get alone with God, hear from God and carry back the words of God to the people of God. Every sermon is supposed to be a uniquely inspired message directly from the throne of God, addressed to that particular congregation.
It seems, frankly, utterly unthinkable to me that authentic preaching would be the echo of another person’s encounter with God’s word rather than a trumpet blast of my own encounter with God’s word. Now to be sure, my sermon should be an echo. It should be an echo of the voice of God. But not an echo of an echo of the voice of God.
The Moses to the Mountain Expectation makes sermon sharing verboten. Some would go so far as to ban the sharing of sermon outlines, illustrations or even the use of Bible commentaries (use of the Bible itself is still OK).
Any human input is suspect. I posted an article on the Church for Men Facebook page from a pastor who claims to have improved his messages by working with a sermon preparation team. This raised strong objections from some of my readers:
- Sermon by committee? I don’t think so!
- It should be a team of two. God and the pastor.
- If the man has to consult with a team for sermon review then he needs to find another job.
- Huge portions of the Bible itself are cribbed from earlier sources. Large swaths of the Old Testament (Kings, Chronicles, etc.) are repeats. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are derived from the Gospel of Mark, often copied word for word. If the men who wrote the Bible weren’t afraid to borrow others’ original source material, why should we prohibit our pastors from doing the same?
- The Bible is the most studied and taught book in history. More than 300,000 sermons are preached each week in the U.S. alone. It’s unrealistic to expect your pastor to come up with completely unique material every weekend. Inspired — yes. Original — probably not.
- Sermon borrowing would free our pastors to spend more time loving their families, discipling people and reaching out to the lost.
- The bedrock doctrine of Protestantism is the priesthood of the believer: the idea that God interacts directly with every Christian. Why then do we object to sermon preparation teams? Isn’t it possible that a layperson might hear from God and help a pastor craft a more inspired sermon? Or do we honestly believe that God speaks only through ordained clergy?
- When a pastor crafts a great sermon, should it be seen as a message to just one congregation, or do we treat it as a gift to the entire church? Would God prefer it be preached once, or would he want it proclaimed far and wide?
God doesn’t issue patents. Pastor Joe’s sermon does not belong to Pastor Joe – it belongs to God. It’s not unreasonable to think God might want another body of believers to hear it at another place and time.
With the Internet it’s now possible for pastors to find divinely inspired messages that already communicate exactly what their congregations need to hear. Why do we insist our pastors reinvent the wheel?
Pastors should be free to borrow and reuse sermon material from one another so long as they credit the original source. Personally, I don’t care where a sermon comes from, as long as it’s inspired by God, buttressed by scripture, and delivered with conviction. Extra points if it’s skillfully preached and made memorable via an object lesson or a strong metaphor.
Sermon sharing would allow these overworked servants of God more time to minister to their flocks, their families and to meet their own needs.
So what do you think? Comments are open — or join the conversation on our Facebook page.