By Chuck Sackett
“What’s in a name?” “What does the Bible say about God’s honor?” “Taking God’s name in vain.” Those recent searches resulted in an abundance of usable illustrative materials. Which is my way of saying, I don’t use the web for the substance of the sermon, I use it for developing creative means of communicating what the text has revealed through the hard work of Bible study.
Google is not the only search engine, but it represents a category of tools every preacher must become adept at using. The fact that the web abounds with material is both bane and blessing. Discernment becomes mandatory; discrimination obligatory. Exercising wisdom and diligence will provide more usable material than pulling down a book of musty, out-of-touch stories that reek of irrelevance.
Other than a search engine, my favorite sermon site is still PreachingToday.com. For less than $6 a month I have access to the sermons, sermon illustrations, sermon series, and PowerPoint slides of hundreds of preachers. By paying, I have access to the full range of materials and the blessing of a discriminating editor previewing what is included. In spite of that, I rarely use anything directly from the site (or any other) and recommend that you do the same. Allow the information you find there to drive you to create your own similar material.
When I discover an illustration that works for the text I’m preaching, I always (and I do mean always) go to the web to seek verification of the information. In doing so, two important results occur. One, I verify that the story is true (if I can’t verify it, I either qualify the illustration in the sermon as “reported” or “fabled,” or I don’t use it), and two, the story becomes my own and no longer sounds like a canned illustration.
There are other sermon sites that consist of self-posted sermons. Therefore, thousands of sermons are available for perusal—far too many to take the time to read. However, spending a few minutes at sermoncentral.com,sermonaudio.com, sermons.com, desperatepreacher.com, sermonlinks.com, or one of the many others, can give you food for thought. Reading (listening/watching) sermons can provide a different take on a topic, stir an idea, or challenge a direction you were taking. That should never be a substitute for your own preparation, but it can be time profitably spent.
For additional worship support (videos, PowerPoint slides, etc.), I find worshiphousemedia.com, sermonspice.com, and ignitermedia.com the most usable. Finding really usable (not cheesy) video clips, however, is difficult and can be expensive. But, once again, visiting those sites is what usually drives me to find something on my own, or stimulates ideas for illustrating the idea through another avenue not requiring some form of technology.
There is no question I’d be lost if my Internet connection went down during sermon preparation. Where would I go to get an alternative translation (biblegateway.com, blueletterbible.org), see the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday (lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu), or listen to a sermon for my own edification (thousands of sites have their sermons online—just pick your favorite preacher)?
Sermon preparation is a time-consuming and energy-consuming activity around which multiple meaningful responsibilities swirl. Anything that can facilitate maximizing the time we do get to spend is effort well spent. Finding resources that move our sermons forward can be nothing less than a blessing.
Chuck Sackett serves as minister with Madison Park Christian Church in Quincy, Illinois.