“Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately.” – D.A Carson
A local church needs a local preacher, immersing himself in the text and applying it to their specific time and situation. This is the call of a preacher. Yet many churches settle for less. And I can’t for the life of me understand why.
I know of pastors who have preached whole sermons that they downloaded or heard from someone else. This is plagiarism. It is deceitful and wrong. That pastor should be fired.
Much more common are the many, many pastors who purchase a series from a famous American preacher and download the sermons, videos, graphics, etc and preach those messages as their own. In this case, they don’t claim to be entirely original. The church knows they are going through a series written by Craig Groeschel or Andy Stanley or whoever. They can pick up the book in the lobby for only $10. The deceit is not there, but this is still a failure on the part of the preacher to fulfill the calling that God has given. Let me explain why by showing what I think the biblical call of a preacher is, and examine the excuses made by preachers who don’t preach their own sermons.
The Role of the Preacher
How should a local church pastor shepherd his people? What should he prioritize? What approach should he take? Fortunately the scriptures are not silent on this. The pastoral epistles are packed with instructions from Paul to Timothy and Titus on how they should pastor the church. We see that a local church needs a local preacher, immersing himself in the text and applying it to their specific time and situation.
A qualification for a local church elder/oversee is to be “able to teach” (I Tim 3:2) and “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1.9). An ability to teach doctrine is mandatory for every pastor and elder.
Paul charges Timothy “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (II Tim 4.1-2). Always ready to preach the word. How is Timothy’s ministry going to be measured? “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Tim 2.15). His handling of the scriptures is what allows him to not be ashamed before God.
Paul tells Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (I Tim 4.13). It’s not easy, but we need to devote ourselves to these things, publicly reading the scriptures and teaching them. And then Paul says “practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (I Tim 4.15). Practice! Immerse yourself! Work at it, develop your skills and abilities. Put in the effort to get better, so that people will recognize your progress. You should be a better preacher now than you were last year. That’s being biblical.
According to the Bible, preaching and teaching the scriptures to your church is essential to the work of a pastor.
Why Preachers Don’t Preach The Bible?
So, why don’t they do it? Why are pastors abandoning their own study and preaching of the Bible and instead downloading or buying sermons by others? Why don’t they work at that which the Bible calls them to work?
1. Some pastors don’t believe it can change lives
They don’t preach expositionally because they think they will bore their people. There’s no power in it. But I would suggest that there’s more power in the preaching of God’s word than there is in the preaching of Craig Groeschel’s word. Churches need and thrive of a steady diet of God’s word through God’s messenger. It’s true that you’ll struggle to grow a church with boring expositional preaching, you’ll even have a harder time with boring topical preaching. If it your want growth and depth, preach God’s word with passion and conviction.
2. Some pastors say they don’t have time to study.
I’ve heard this one several times. “I’m so busy running the church and taking care of the finances that I don’t have time to study and prepare a sermon from scratch.” You aren’t too busy, you just don’t know how to prioritize. Why do you feel the church’s finances or administration or whatever is more important than the pulpit ministry? A good leader will find good people to share the burden of leading the church so that he can focus on that which is most important and preach the Bible. If you don’t have time, make time. If you don’t want to make time, step down and let someone else preach.
3. Some pastors say that preaching is not their gifting.
Since it’s not their strength, they find it easier to download or buy sermons and customize them, than to do the work themselves. I can understand the frustration of being outside your gifting. I get it. But then perhaps you aren’t called to preach. It doesn’t make you any less of a Christian or less loved by God, but maybe you need to find a different role and let someone else feed the sheep who is “able to teach.”
Do the Work
A local church needs a local preacher, immersing himself in the text and applying it to their specific time and situation. Your people deserve for you to spend your week immersed in the text, listening for God, and bringing its message to their situation, in your location, at this particular time. This isn’t easy. It’s hard work.
Stage lights and podcasts make preaching look glamorous. It’s not. It’s hard work, in the study, reading, meditating, thinking, praying, labouring over the text, wrestling with it for days, and applying it to the many unique situations that your people are facing this week. It’s tough, and it’s the call of God on every preacher.
I’m not saying don’t listen to sermons or learn from others. After I’ve wrestled with the text and prepared an outline I’ll often read or listen to what other preachers have done with it. Go for it, but quote them. Say, “in my study I was really helped by an excellent message by Tim Keller on this passage…” It’s called research. It can be helpful. But don’t show up with someone else’s sermon.
Your people need to hear from God as you sought him in the text, don’t give them anything less.