I remember where I was when I heard the worst sermon in the world! I was sitting in the backseat of Holy Grounds Cafe, a Christian cafe in northern NJ. And every Sunday night they would have a service with a guest preacher. So I was excited. As a young preacher, I was always interested in hearing preachers, usually local pastors in the area. This week though, it was a special guest speaker!
The preacher got up to speak, and after he spoke two to three paragraphs, I felt that something was off…I’d heard this before. He went from his introduction into the text and then started to explain it. This sounded very, very familiar. Then, he landed the line that shifted it all for me. “May you be covered in the dust of the Rabbi….” Then it all came to me! I heard this EXACT SAME SERMON!
It was from a then unknown, up and coming preacher named Rob Bell. He had lifted the ENTIRE message, word for word without giving any credit to him. And in that moment, I had a hatred of anything that smelled or looked like a remade sermon.
Pastors often use sermons from other pastors. There is an entire industry where a preacher can go online and download sermons and preach them wholesale, and not give any credit to the original pastor. It’s even encouraged by others. For instance, Rick Warren says:
When I was planting Saddleback Church, other pastors’ sermons fed my soul – and eased my preparation! I hope the sermons here will do the same for you. Whether you use the outlines and transcripts for sermon ideas or listen to the preaching to fine-tune your delivery, I’ll be thrilled if your ministry becomes more effective….As pastors, we’re all on the same team. Let’s help each other out – and when we get to Heaven, we can rejoice together over the people who were saved as a result!
There are strong opinions on both sides! John Piper wrote a passionate article condemning the practice. I found another article where a pastor not only recommended it, but said it is ESSENTIAL to grow as preacher. Ed Stetzer wrote a balanced and encouraging piece on this.
In my last two years as a youth pastor, I made a decision that would help me be a better leader and a more creative communicator. We decided to use a pre-written curriculum, and switched to the Orange Curriculum. This enabled me to spend less time preparing messages, and more time to be creative in HOW I communicated and helped me spend more time with leaders and students. It changed the way I communicated for the better.
TO BE CLEAR, I don’t think you should use other pastors sermons ALL THE TIME, because there is something healthy for the pastor and the congregation when the Pastor does his own study. That being said, here are five reasons to consider using another pastors sermon the next time you’re preparing a message.
1. You Can Preach a Quality Message with Less preparation.
Pastors have a lot on their plate. They are expected to be expert communicators, entrepreneurial leaders, savvy business men, trained counselors, event coordinators, human resource managers, and fund raisers. Then they also need to love God, love their spouses, kids and try to do something fun. As a youth pastor, I always remembered being frustrated that I couldn’t spend another 5 hours on a message because there were other responsibilities that needed to be handled.
2. Learn from the Masters by Stealing from the Masters.
I read this book called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. In it he writes that all artists steal from others. Not just copy from one, but steal from several and then make it their own. This is not only true of artists, but also of preachers. Through the process of using a lot of different sermons, synthesizing it through your own experiences and personality something new emerges.
3. You Can Learn Things You didn’t learn in Bible School and Seminary
I believe strongly in Biblical education. My preaching professors I believe are the best in the country. But the most valuable lesson my seminary prof taught me was how to relearn how to preach. Your preaching has to change or I will not be effective. Seminary gave me a strong foundation and taught me how to learn. There is so much to learn in communication, that I get to be a constant learner. Seeing the way great communicators organize their messages, write and create content can help you continually learn and grow.
4. It will make up for life experience you don’t have.
How can a single preacher know and speak to the nuances of marriage? How can a preacher without kids, aging parents, struggling with any chronic disease speak with tenderness and insight if he has never experienced those things? By using messages preached by men and women who have walked those roads and from their insights, can get not only a better way of understanding but a better way to communicate. Preaching is not about presenting information, but about transforming the soul. By reading other preachers and other sermons you get a better perspective on your approach.
5. If you use a commentary, it’s the same thing.
The great preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones told a story in his classic book Preachers and preaching. Charles Spurgeon once confronted a student for stealing his sermon. After a lengthy time of interrogation, Spurgeon found out he didn’t steal from Spurgeon but someone else. Spurgeon went back into his study and found the sermon that was used and he had inadvertently preached the same sermon without even realizing it. Whether we realize it…we borrow and steal from other preachers all the time. But as it is filtered through our personality new things come out.
So what do you think? Do you use other pastors sermons? Why or why not?
At Crossbridge, we use series from other churches 2-4x a year. As a smaller church it’s hard to constantly be in “create” mode. If the series isn’t for purchase we do our best to reach out to the church and ask for permission. If it is for purchase, we ALWAYS buy it. Either way at the beginning of each series, we credit who did the series 1st.