I have gone back and forth over the years about using other preacher’s sermons. Obviously every pastor that gets in the pulpit has borrowed ideas, points and Scriptural insights. What I have struggled with is just wholesale ripping off someone else’s sermon…illustrations and personal life stories…preaching it as if it’s your own. It has always seemed to me that when one gets into the pulpit to preach God’s Word…it should be something that they have personally struggled with…a sermon that they went through the “discovery process” to prepare.
I recently heard a podcast of sermon that a pastor blatantly ripped off from a very popular preacher. I wasn’t bothered by the fact that he used the same text, points and insights. I was disturbed that he also used the preacher’s personal stories as if they were his own. To top it off…he just sucked in his delivery…like he was just going through the motions. The truth is…he was just going through the motions. It was “Saturday night special” sermon he lifted from an online resource that he “phoned in” on Sunday. There was no “discovery process”…no attempt to make the sermon his own…just a blatant substandard thief.
Last week I was re-reading John MacArthurs book “Preaching: How To Preach Biblically“. At the end of the book he has a FAQs section. One of the questions he answered is about whether he minds other preachers using his sermons. His answer sums up what I have been struggling to put into words:
Pastors sometimes ask me if they can use my material. I have given blanket permission for anyone to use my sermons and preach them in whole or in part if they wish, and I do not want any credit as the source. If what I say has value to someone, I am honored for him to use it for God’s glory. The truth is all His.
Yet if someone re-preaches one of my sermons without enriching it by going through the discovery process, that sermon will inevitably be flat and lifeless. The great Scottish preacher Alexander Maclaren once went to hear another man preach, a young man with a reputation for being a gifted preacher. Much to Maclaren’s surprise, the young man said at the outset of his message, “I’ve had such a busy week that I had no time to prepare a sermon of my own, so I’m going to preach one of Maclaren’s.” He did not know Maclaren was in the audience until Maclaren greeted him afterward. He was very embarrassed and became even more so when Maclaren looked him in the eye and said, “Young man, I don’t mind if you are going to preach my sermons, but if you are going to preach them like that, please don’t say they are mine.”
To rely too heavily on the sermons of others robs one of the joy of discovering biblical truth for himself. Such sermons will lack conviction and enthusiasm. Sermons by other preachers should be another study tool, like commentaries or illustration books.
I would like to hear others’ thoughts on this subject. For that reason I have made the rare exception and left comments open on this post. Feel free to weigh in on this subject below.