In the October 2 issue, Editor Mark A. Taylor asked readers to share their thoughts about original sermons, Sunday-evening worship, and any other topic you wished to expound upon. We have received more than a dozen letters/e-mails related to original sermons and Sunday night sermons, and we are sharing them with you here. (To send us your comments, just click here.)
Before we get going, here are some links that might be helpful:
Reminded Me of a Story
The “Stolen Sermons” issue of October 2, along with all the letters to the editor, brought to mind an incident from several years ago. When I was a young associate minister just getting started in ministry, the elders and minister wanted me to preach on a semi-regular basis. One Sunday, I delivered what I felt was a pretty good sermon; I had worked hard and was pleased with it. After the service, one person caught me in the hall and said, “Hey, good sermon!” With the joy of a job well-done, I replied, “Thanks!” But then the person said with a grin, a wink, and a nod, “Who’d ya steal it from?”
Talk about a bubble bursting! I couldn’t really tell if they were kidding or not, but no matter—the unmistakable implication was that if it was a good sermon, it had to be stolen.
The biggest problem (aside from the moral questions) with sermon stealers is that they make the rest of us look bad. Don’t do it! And anytime you do use someone else’s material, just credit them for it! If you can’t work a simple credit into the text of your message, you’ve got no business being a public speaker, let alone a preacher.
An Alternative Sunday Night Service
In response to the October 2 editorial, “The Problems with Original Preaching,” to say that I am against Sunday evening services is totally off base. To say these services can do without a formal sermon is totally on base.
We, at Simpsonville Christian alongside Simpsonville United Methodist Church, have developed an alternative service that we call it’s a GodThinG.
Six of us serve on the planning team where we set the theme for a six-week series. Each member of the team has one week to present the entire message as the worship leader. We have discussions, poetry, videos, and PowerPoint to share the message of Jesus Christ. In the near future we will incorporate drama and interpertative dance into our liturgies.
Although our service is fairly new, we are pleased with those who chose to worship and celebrate Jesus Christ with us. Our attendance goal was surpassed the first evening.
Perhaps this might be another way to relieve the minister and allow him more time to devote to other areas of ministry.
Restore Biblical Leadership
After reading the “Stolen Sermons” issue of October 2, it appears that the writers have, for whatever reason, ignored a major reason that some preachers resort to lifting the work of others—the failure of our churches to restore biblical leadership.
It is not so shocking that this phenomonon happens. We, as a movement, have decided to dive head-long into the evangelical model of a single-pastor church, and expect the preacher to do everything. Mark, if you will, the comments of editor Taylor: “We feed that falsehood by judging his whole ministry on the basis of 25 minutes a week. The church needs a leader, an evangelist, a counselor, a servant, and a manager every bit as much as as it needs a public speaker.” The truth is, that 25 minutes is the only chance he gets to influence 75 percent of the congregation each week. You’d better get it right then, or you may lose them. That’s not right or fair. It’s the reality of ministry.
Most of our churches are not large churches with multiple staffs that can share workloads; rather, they are single staff, small churches, where the “elders,” or board, hires a man to do all the ministry. I have seen too many instances where the “minister” runs from pillar to post all week, while the “elders” show up on Sunday morning, serve Communion, and fire the preacher when he does not meet their expectations. Is it any wonder that preachers become discouraged and tired, and look to anything for relief—including preachers who say “Go ahead, use my sermon. Cite me or don’t cite me. Just do it for God’s glory.”
Instead of fixing the symptoms, let’s try looking at the problem. Are our churches selecting willing, biblically qualified elders and deacons? Do we hold them accountable as much as our preachers? Are we equipping our members to do the work of the ministry, or are we training them to be an audience? If we can answer in the affirmative, then our preachers would have time to devote to proper, original exegesis and application of Scripture, which will save the lost and edify the saved. Until that day, the problem of “plagiarism,” so to speak, will continue in our pulpits.
Honest Man vs. Thief
I taught at a college with an honor system for 33 years. I must take a different view from yours (Mark Taylor’s “The Problems With Original Preaching”) on original preaching. 1) The Word is the same for all and in most cases is enough. 2) How can a person give a sermon on “God in the workplace” while stealing from another person? 3) If the preacher is so bad, shouldn’t he find other work? In short, I had rather be bored by an honest man than entertained by a thief.
“Make It Your Own”
. . . As for “original preaching” vs. “copied preaching” (“The Problems With Original Preaching” by Mark A. Taylor), I am totally OK with a copied sermon. However, I do not like it when it is canned. Meaning, no room for local or congregational anecdotes or references. Or, when the sermon is so structured that it feels fake. Or, if the PowerPoint slides that go with the sermon are over-done and just too . . . impersonal because they are “sermon-factory made.” I guess that’s what I don’t like about “copied” sermons—when they are so overly prepackaged and delivered almost with no true feeling and insight. Use someone else’s ideas, even use some of their phraseology—just make it your own and relevant to the people at hand. Get rid of the overpackaging.
“The Living and Active Word”
As I’ve been writing the words for this Sunday’s message, your recent article “Integrity in the Pulpit” came to mind. I’ve long been interested in exploring the rather tenuous line between plagiarism and “research” when it comes to sermon preparation. Clearly sermon books, illustration books, and certain Web sites are designed with the explicit purpose of providing material to the preacher in the local congregation.
Like the author, I find wholesale copying without credit to be unethical. But for me the larger issue is how the people in the congregation are robbed by not having the opportunity to hear a fresh word to their congregation from the Spirit. God desires to speak afresh to each congregation. Would Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) have been as applicable as his words to Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) if they’d been copied and shared with a different body than intended?
Our people need to hear the living and active Word (Hebrews 4:12), not the Word recycled for convenience sake. Yes, there is a legitimate place for reusing good illustrations and sound outlines. But let us not rob the people of the fresh words God wants to speak directly to the heart and soul of each place where God’s people are gathered.
—Peter J. Isenberg
Christians Should Share All Things–Including Sermons
I am glad that you have created a way for all readers to reply to articles in your publication.
In response to the article “Integrity In The Pulpit” by Dean M. Christensen—
I would like to preface this by saying that I am not a preaching minister, a youth minister, a deacon, or an elder. I am a member of the masses who lives an everyday life, works 50 hours a week, has an Associate of Science degree that is 15 years old, a wife and two teenage sons. I have been a regular church attender for 27 years. It might be said, that I am just a regular guy trying to absorb everything that Jesus has for me, that I may grow closer to him, reflect his perfect image before men, that if in any way at all, one more may be added to his family.
I am deeply concerned about this article about stealing sermons. Copyright laws have their place in the business world, when one writes a book in order to make a living. In the church, however, it should not be considered as one’s “right” to possess sermons, devotions, lessons and the like. Rather, this material should be considered part of the melting pot intended for us to use in God’s kingdom, for the divine purpose and privilege of saving souls from sin, and bringing them into the love of God, through Jesus and him crucified.
The Bible was authored by God, through the Holy Spirit.
Second Timothy 3:16, 17: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
If a preacher full of the Holy Spirit is writing sermons, they too also belong to God.
We as men are nothing without the Holy Spirit, and if we even wanted to write the most powerful, moving and emotional sermon, it could not be done without the direction and power of the Holy Spirit.
John 6:63: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.”
If you would like to be technical for a moment, all who have ever written a sermon, devotion or a Sunday school lesson, have borrowed, plagiarized and stolen from the written Word of God, by the author’s definition in the article.
Page 5, “It is covert appropriation without overt appreciation.”
I cannot remember in any Sunday school class or sermon ever hearing the speaker giving credit to the Holy Spirit for borrowing from him the words spoken used for teaching.
We should take our example once again, from the early church as recorded in the book of Acts. They brought all of their possessions together in one place, to be shared by one another as each one had need. I believe that this would include all of “our” written sermons, lessons, and devotions about God’s Word as well, in our church today.
Acts 4:32: “All the believers were in one heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”
There are two key points brought out in this passage. The first one is that they were all in one heart and mind. They all agreed that it should be done for the edification of everyone. The second being that because they were in one heart and mind, the apostles had great power, to give testimony about the resurrection of Jesus, but most of all, everyone received the grace of God.
God was allowed to accomplish great things within this church, because they were unified in their goal. They created, if you will, a “melting pot” of all the diversity of thought and personal abilities, and love. They had no problem getting along. Love was the first quality of their character, the putting ahead of one’s self for the greater good of their neighbor, and of the lost. It is unfathomable for me to read in this article that men who have been preaching for years have tendered their resignations in the name of plagiarizing God’s Word, which is given among men that all should be saved.
Jesus prayed for unity rather than separation of the church
John 17:20, 21: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
It is not his heart’s desire that we claim any property to anything given us by the heavenly Father, and when we are not of one mind and one heart, we become powerless to testify the resurrection of Christ.
Which one of you (who write sermons, Sunday school lessons, and devotions) is the greatest in the kingdom?
Mark 9:35: “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”
I would submit to anyone, that the Lord is trying to tell us something here. What is at stake here is not the prideful arrogance of men, but the lost souls of this world, whom God loves, and has been merciful, that all should come to repentance. This is and should be the ultimate goal of any disciple: to reconcile men to God.
Second Corinthians 5:17-19: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.”
All things are a gift from God, even the ability to construct sentences to help in the fight against sin in saving souls from Hell. It is every Christian’s ministry, to reconcile the hearts of men to God. It is the message of the cross, that God will not count men’s sin against him. You have been forgiven! Most of all, we are commissioned to minister to men, not to make Christians, but to make disciples.
Matthew 28:19, 20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We should not even consider the argument of who is stealing what from whom. We need to rather grasp the concept that all is from God, including the written word. We need to tear down the walls of separation (built by pride and arrogance) that divide us, and humble ourselves in prayer that God will use us, our words, thoughts, abilities, possessions, and whatever we consider “ours,” and devote all of it to the ministry of reconciling men to God, considering it a privilege that he has allowed us to be forgiven of sin, through Christ and him crucified, that we may know the love God has planned for us, even into all eternity.
Colossians 3:15-17: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Let us call back those who have left the ministry, so that they can continue to fulfill their commission that God has called them, that all men might be saved through the hearing of the Word.
The Holy Spirit, as recorded in the New International Version of the Holy Bible
Words constructed by John Hamilton, a regular guy who needs the Lord; use these words for use in the kingdom as the Spirit leads.
We Started a Program That Same Day
I was reading “From the Editor” in the October 2 issue of the STANDARD—interestingly enough, we started a new program that same Sunday evening. You asked for feedback so here it is . . .
We started having small groups in lead family’s homes and having two other families from our church meet with the lead families. The groups will meet in a different home for the first three Sundays out of the month. The fourth Sunday we will have a special service at the church. The host family is responsible for bringing a non-churched family to the group for dinner or a snack, a one-minute devotion, prayer requests, and a time of answering questions in the group about where they were born, a favorite childhood memory, etc.
Every month the families will be assigned a new lead family and will get to know a different group of families. Our purpose is to connect unchurched families to families in the church and to get to know each other as our church grows. One of the church’s purposes is to fellowship as well as hear a sermon three or four times a week and we felt like we fell short on the fellowship and getting to know each other. Outreach and fellowship is a much better way to spend our time rather than trying to come up with a third sermon or lesson for Sunday night that only a handful of people will come and listen to.
“Just Say the Lord Provides”
At the very least, Dean Christensen’s article on pulpit plagiarism (“Integrity in the Pulpit,” October 2) was interesting. However, I must confess that I do not share his degree of concern on this issue. I must also confess that I am guilty as charged. My attitude on this issue goes back to my homiletics class in Bible college. Our professor would regularly give us outlines of his own sermons (or at least I have always assumed they were his) to illustrate the type of sermon we were studying. One of my classmates asked if we should give him credit for an outline if we used it. His reply was, “No, if anyone asks, just say the Lord provides.” That pretty well sums up my attitude on both utilizing sermon material from others and in giving my material to others.
Over the years I have participated in “sermon swaps” with other preacher friends. We would each collect five to 10 of our better sermons and make enough copies for all. We would then meet to share and swap our sermons. Without fail, one of us would ask, “Do you want me to give you credit if I use your sermon?” and the reply would always be, “Why? I don’t intend to give you credit if I use yours.” Over the years I have also participated in sermon studies with other preachers. We would typically meet on Friday to swap outlines or manuscripts and go over each other’s sermon for next Sunday and offer suggestions. From time to time, a study mate would ask if he could use my sermon and if he should give me credit? My answer is always the same, “If you preach it, its yours.” However, I must confess that in either case if the outline or content was not mine then I do include a footnote to indicate the original source.
When I read in Dean’s article that preachers had lost their pulpits over this issue, I thought I’d better come clean with my board. After all, confession is good for the soul (should that be in quotes?). Since our church does not subscribe to the Christian Standard I made copies of your editorial and Dean’s article for my board members (Did I just break the copyright laws?). In our board meeting on Sunday evening, I gave out the copies and explained (i.e. confessed) why I was bringing up this matter. At first there was no reply from my elders and deacons, they just looked at each other with a puzzled look. One of my elders finally broke the silence and said, “David, we thought all preachers used material from other preachers.” For them the bottom line was they had always assumed that preachers made use of the best sources available to them to feed their flock.
I do not want to end this exercise without at least clarifying my policy on this issue. First, all truth is God’s truth. Second, any original thought (if there is such a thing) that I have shared via a sermon, lecture, public discourse, public or private conversation, may be considered to be in the public domain of the Lord’s church and anyone may use it as they see fit for the edification of God’s people. Third, for any presentation not covered by rule number two, a list of sources is available upon request.
—David B. Presley
Johnson City, Tennessee
Methods Are Subject to Reevaluation
Regarding the editorial of October 2, “The Problems with Original Preaching”—During my pulpit ministry of 1988-90, I was called to fulfill the traditional roles of providing Sunday morning sermons, Sunday school lessons, Sunday night sermons, and Wednesday night lessons. It didn’t take me long to realize that something would have to give, lest I continually “run on empty.” So I asked myself the same question the editorial asks: “What needs does a second preaching service every week really meet?” This question led me to zero in on the Sunday night sermon.
I began by asking around. “How can you possibly prepare two good sermons per week?” was my question to my fellow pulpit ministers. I recall one candid admission: “My Sunday night messages aren’t that great. I merely whip up a few points and hang some illustrations on them.”
So I wasn’t the only preacher who had only one good sermon in him per week! Thus I set out to change the Sunday night traditional worship service or at least try to. We met at the same time as before (very small church—only about 20 attended Sunday night), but we went with a variety of formats. These included outside speakers, video presentations, etc. But the complaints began to roll in. “It doesn’t feel like real church!” (It wasn’t supposed to.) “What about the people who can’t come on Sunday morning? They need a worship service too!” (We had exactly one person in that situation.)
The problem, as I look back a decade and a half hence, was just what the editorial says: the pressures are heavier than most laymen understand. But an even deeper problem was my inability to generate clarity in this regard. Every time I tried, the response would be to compare me with Brother So-and-so who preached twice a week just fine.
Lord’s Day worship is biblical. The traditional Sunday evening worship service is a potentially useful method by which we may meet God’s desires in this regard. But methods are subject to reevaluation. Is preparing a second sermon each week really the best use of the preacher’s time? Recognizing the validity of that question is half the battle.
—Ronald L. Nickelson
One can’t help but notice that none of the writers in the October 2 issue concerning “Stolen Sermons” ever suggested prayer as a way to help preachers prepare sermons. When King Zedekiah went to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:17), the king asked, “Is there any word from the Lord?” He did this because he knew that Jeremiah was a true prophet who had a genuine relationship with God.
Maybe our preachers would have something substantial to say if they spent more time in prayer, and the Word before preparing a sermon; than in looking at the sermons of so-called “great preachers.”
“Could It Be the Text?”
I recall back when I had a student ministry, I preached, or tried to, a message on part of Ephesians 4. Within six weeks, I heard essentially the same message from a well-known preacher/professor. Could it be the text?
Suggestion a Bit Troubling
Thank you for your articles on preaching in the October 2 issue. I appreciated the call to honesty in Dean Christensen’s article “Integrity in the Pulpit” and the balanced approach of Eddie Lowen in his Reflections, “How to Preach Like an Amateur.”
As a Bible college professor of preaching who has himself been preaching for more than 30 years, I was somewhat discouraged, however, as I read your editorial comments about original preaching. While I can readily admit that there are more creative preachers than I, it pains me to think that we would “encourage” our preachers to use the words of another.
If we understand that we are called to proclaim a message from God to a particular congregation of people, there must be something unique about that occasion and those people for which a generic sermon would not suffice.
Preaching is an oral event, which makes it nearly impossible to commit to paper. True preaching is much more than a monologue well-rehearsed and memorized. It is a conversation between the Scriptures, the words of the preacher, and the hearts and minds of the listeners.
I know firsthand the many demands we place on our ministers today, but should not their most important task be the preaching and teaching of the Word? There is nothing wrong with occasional use of someone else’s material (with proper attribution), but I believe the people who call me to preach and teach deserve from me the regular discipline of thought and labor that produce a “Word from the Lord.”