Social Network Links
Powered by Squarespace
Search the Riddleblog
"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
« More Interesting Links . . . | Main | The Canons of Dort, First Head of Doctrine, Article Eight »

On Sermon Subscription Series (Part 5)














As you may know, I have written several posts on this blog criticizing the use by pastors of sermon subscription series, in which a pastor receives (for a fee, of course) a weekly sermon (or an outline) prepared by others (or taken from other ministers).  You can read my prior rants on this topic here; Click here: Riddleblog - The Latest Post - On Subscription Sermon Series (Part 4)

Yes, I know I have said that I would post on this no more, and I had the best of intentions not to do so.  Then, I received the latest offering from ________ and the temptation to post again was just too much.  I think you'll see why.

Apparently, the subscription company has received some criticism for what they do, so the latest email sets forth their case for the use of such sermons by willing pastors.  I thought it was worth reprinting here, so that you might see what constitutes in their mind  the rationale (sales pitch) for doing such a thing.

The latest email begins with the following question and answer:  "Can we preach sermons borrowed from other pastors with integrity? Yes, if we do it for the right reasons."

There is no justification for using someone else's sermons, period.  A minister's calling is to do the difficult work of preparing to preach God's word to his congregation.  This involves a number of difficult things:  prayer, more prayer, study, translation, writing (and re-writing), more prayer, and preparation for delivery.  This is why ministers must be sufficiently trained and then supported by their churches to do what it is that God has called them to do--preach the fruits of their own labor!

But according to the folks at __________ there are actually "right reasons" for using the work of others.  These reasons include:

(1)   Many weeks pastors have more emergencies than others. We may need to borrow from another pastor the same way a housewife may feel the need to borrow some flour or sugar from her neighbor when an emergency arrives.

(2)   Many pastors are responsible for delivering multiple sermons every week. The study time required to produce such sermons may be hard to find. This is a tremendous load placed on pastors if they are going to be able to provide good fresh materials, so they borrow from another pastor the same way a house wife might take her family to a restaurant rather than feeding her family left-overs that thy have had over and over again.

(3)   Many pastors borrow from other pastors because they recognize if a good Bible-centered sermon is good for one congregation it may also be good for another congregation.

(4)   Many pastors are better at delivering a good sermon than they are preparing a good sermon. That is not difficult to prove. Have you ever gone on the internet and read some of the sermons! Many times you see paragraph after paragraph lacking continuity, having no outline to direct the sermon, and no illustrations to drive the points home to the listeners. When you get through reading those sermons you feel it was a waste of time because you could not get the intended message.

As far as I see it, the stated reasons are not "reasons" at all.  They are excuses.  The ministry is not a 9 to 5 job, it is a calling (sometimes 24/7).  Yes, we have emergencies, but we still must prepare to preach.  If we are asked to teach and preach multiple times, then the elders who supervise our work must give us sufficient time to prepare.  But even if they don't, we still must prepare our own material.  The restaurant example (the fresh food v. left-overs) is ridiculous.  Furthermore, how is preaching someone else's material not a violation of the eighth commandment?  This is plagiarism and the sin of sloth.  If you are not capable of preaching a coherent sermon, then maybe you should seek additional training or seek to evaluate your calling.  And that round of golf is not an "emergency" and God's word is not to be equated with a cup of sugar.

Anticipating my objections, the good folks at ___________ go on to say,

"We understand that borrowing a sermon from another pastor does not relieve any pastor of the responsibility to meditate over the Scripture text until they understand it and feel the heartbeat of God in the text.

We must meditate prayerfully over the sermon until we can own it. Only when a pastor has spent sufficient time in prayer and meditation can he preach the sermon with clarity.

For example, when a professor goes to class to teach others, if he has not spent sufficient time with the curriculum he cannot teach it to others.

It is when a pastor has spent sufficient time in prayer and study on a sermon that the pastor owns the message and can preach it with integrity and passion because then it is that pastor's message.

How does praying over someone else's work make it your own sermon to preach?  The sellers of these sermons are correct when they state that a pastor must spend sufficient time in prayer and study.  So how does their product fit with that rather important truth?  It doesn't.  Ministers are called to teach and preach the gold that they have mined from God's word.  There's nothing wrong with a minister re-using his own materials (when there are time crunches, etc.).  But even then, the material should be tweaked and developed further.

Finally, the sermon-sellers close with this gem:

"You can use these materials from _________with integrity because you are not stealing from another pastor.  We give you permission to use them as long as you do not use them to make a financial profit. (We only ask when illustrations are used in these materials that you give credit to those we have borrowed them from.)"

How can you preach someone else's stuff "with integrity?"  I quote from commentators and theologians (occasionally), and that's why I always give attribution (you've seen my footnotes in my sermons).  Yes, I understand that it is not stealing (in a legal sense) if you've purchased a product and have been granted its use. 

But God's word is not a product, and a preacher is not being faithful to his calling if he allows anything (including "emergencies") to detract from his study and preparation to preach his own material to his congregation. That's not integrity, it is an excuse for sloth, poor stewardship of time, or the desire to preach someone else's sermon because we think he did a better job with a text than we did. 

Many men are better preachers than I, but I would be denying my calling if I were to get into the pulpit and preach using someone else's work.  Furthermore, if we ever rely upon our own rhetorical skills or cleverness, we need to be slapped upside the head.  God speaks to his people through the weakest of vessels, especially those who know they are weak so they rely solely upon the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives life to dead bones--something no minister can ever do no matter how "good" his material. It is the minister's calling to preach God's word and then get out of the way of God's work and power.  To try and emulate someone else, or to covet better material, is to get in the way. 

And we wonder why we live in an age characterized by a famine of God's word?


Reader Comments (10)

So why not name the company at fault here?
January 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip
I recall this question being posed with the hypothetical, would it be acceptable to simply read one of Spurgeon's sermons? Recognizing that, language aside, they are often masterpieces (although not expository in the best sense of the practice). Of course not!
January 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPB
These people's rationale reminds me a lot of Fletcher's "Situational Ethics," proposition #5...Only the ends (my need to have a sermon prepared) justifies the means (my plagiarism of your sermon), nothing else.

It makes me wonder what else these folks might be willing to compromise for the sake of "preaching the *gospel*".
January 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterUBIK024
Let me get this straight, when we don't have time to pray and meditate on the word we "must meditate prayerfully over the sermon until we can own it. Only when a pastor has spent sufficient time in prayer and meditation can he preach the sermon with clarity."
Call me crazy, but if you are going to pray and meditate over a text until you own it, that text should be God's word and not a sermon from _______.
January 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrett

You rock.

I get a special giggle from the whole "praying over it" tripe. It's funny how many different ways things are justified by way of prayer, etc.

Regardless of whatever issues were involved, etc., etc., Ruth Tucker at Cal Sem tells how her firing was prefaced with an appeal to prayer by the President. Seems even seminary Presidents can't simply fire someone without suggesting their actions have divine sanction. "Be a good Calvinist and man up" seems to apply in many different ways.
January 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
...BTW, Ruth has made that information known on her public blog...
January 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
I affirm all that you have said about the diligence required to be a faithful pastor. Aside from my full preparations for Sunday Morning and Evening, on Wednesday Nights I have been teaching my congregation material from certain books. I don't hide this fact from them. I let them know that we are going to be studying from say Kris Lundgaard's "The Enemy Within" and each week we take another chapter and I teach the content to them. I don't feel like this is laziness, but I'm willing to be corrected. My desire is to challenge myself through working through the good work of others and relaying that to the people.
Thank you for your zeal,
Russell Langford
January 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRussell Langford
I remember that when teaching through Luke in a (very) small group Bible study, we arrived at the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Having just heard Alistair Begg preach masterfully on the text, and knowing my propensity to puree and pass along the last good thing I've heard, I wisely decided that we'd simply listen to the tape of Begg's sermon directly.
January 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPB
Not being a preacher, I don't have a horse in this race, but some points mentioned here strike close to what I've been wondering since the start of this series:

KR: "Many men are better preachers than I, but I would be denying my calling if I were to get into the pulpit and preach using someone else's work...To try and emulate someone else, or to covet better material, is to get in the way."

That is the closest I've seen to a denial of the possibility of a right use of preaching others' sermons.

PB: "would it be acceptable to simply read one of Spurgeon's sermons?...Of course not!"


PB: "in a (very) small group Bible study...I wisely decided that we'd simply listen to the tape of Begg's sermon directly."


Huh? What is it about the size of the audience that makes this "wise" in one situation, but "of course not!" in another?

I can conceive of the following situation in which I would feel not the slightest bit slighted by my pastor preaching another's sermon:

"Brothers and Sisters, I tell you honestly that I have struggled with today's passage in our lecto continua -- for weeks I have been anticipating, praying, studying, reading commentaries, examining the original languages. In particular, my study benefited from a sermon written on this very same passage by X [Calvin, Luther, Owen, Edwards, Spurgeon, whoever]. And when the time came to write and edit my sermon, I kept finding that, in order to express myself most clearly, most correctly, most accurately, I needed to include extensive quotes from X's sermon. I spent much more time and energy on writing a sermon than I usually need to, and in the end, the result was just not as good. So I gave up, and now I deliver to you, in my judgment, the best possible exposition of today's passage, which is verbatim, a sermon preached by X to church Y on date Z..."

Obviously, this would be quite an exceptional circumstance (having nothing whatever to do with a subscription service for modern morality plays/comedy routines), but is it really totally impossible?
January 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad
(2) " ...the same way a house wife might take her family to a restaurant rather than feeding her family left-overs that thy have had over and over again."

That's just too funny. Maybe that's the answer, if the pastor can't cook, then it's time to go somewhere else.

January 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChris Sherman

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.