If you are a pastor that has to preach every weekend, what do you do when you run out of fresh material? What if you’ve just had a week with not enough time to prepare well, or have "preacher’s block?" Is it OK to borrow material from famous sermons? How about just borrowing the main points from someone else’s sermons, using your own words and examples? How about preaching someone else’s sermon WORD FOR WORD? What do you do if you find your preacher has not been writing his own sermons? Do you fire him or laud him?
At a seminar, Dr. Cho, pastor of the world’s largest church in Korea, was asked during a question and answer time, "How do you put your weekly messages together? They are so powerful!" He said, "Honestly, I have never given an original message in all my years of ministry here at Yoido Church. Each week, I preach word-for-word messages from either Billy Graham or W.A. Criswell from Dallas First Baptist Church. I can’t afford to not have a home run each weekend when we gather. I don’t trust my own ability to give completely original messages." – from Don’t be original – be effective!
Wow! My favorite neo-fundie site, of course, simply condemns such practices (I think that’s their ministry ;), but one writer at Rick Warren’s Pastors.com has written a much more generous article entitled Don’t be original – be effective! From reading these two articles and a couple more, I’ve distilled the following principles.
PRINCIPLES FOR PREACHERS
1. Imitating masters is a great way to learn
In the arts, students often practice and perform the works of the great masters in order to learn. Eventually, they begin to express their own style, but imitating the masters is a significant part of becoming an artist. We should allow pastors to do the same.
2. Give credit where credit is due
If you are borrowing most of your content from another author, you ought to disclose it. And if you are selling your sermons, you might want to get permission and pay royalties if the materials are recent, and especially if the materials are copyrighted and in print.
This is done with contemporary worship music – it is illegal to reproduce copyright lyrics for use in acts of worship – during the writer’s lifetime and for 70 years after their death – without the permission or authority of the copyright owner or a copyright license.
3. Structured programs sometimes dictate your content
If your church is going through a structured program like Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose, one of the principles it follows is that the weekly bible study, the short video shown in the small groups, AND the sermon are all on the same subject – this duplication allows people to miss one of these and still keep up, and the repetition helps things sink in. But the poor pastor has to preach Rick Warren’s points verbatim. Is he being lazy in doing so? Not at all, he is doing part of his job.
4. You can not fake the anointing
Interestingly, Pastor Cho, who was quoted above as not having preached an original sermon, is not a lazy man. In fact, he talks about the role of prayer in preaching:
When I first started my church in 1968, I would spend five hours every day praying….I believe ministers cannot maintain their ministries without the anointing of the Holy Spirit. For me, that means three hours a day to maintain my intimacy with the Holy Spirit.
Even if you borrow your content, your preaching will be flat without the presence of the Holy Spirit, for
the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing (Isaiah 10:27)
This scripture is often preached on in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles, regarding the observed fact that God’s power is much more present and powerful when you have prayed, and people’s "yokes," or bondages, are more easily broken.
5. Expository preaching of Paul’s letters is essentially plagiarism
Many of Paul’s letters are sermons themselves. Obviously, if we are supposed to be preaching the scriptures, we will be preaching Paul’s sermons after him. So there is precedent for preaching someone else’s sermons. However, you could argue that scripture is different.
6. If you can’t write an original sermon, do you belong in ministry?
One of the biblical requirements for leadership is being able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). Now this requirement doesn’t specifically require you to prepare your own materials, but you might consider that if you are not prepared to preach original material, you might not be the best candidate for preaching.
PRINCIPLES FOR PATRONS
7. As long as the gospel is preached, don’t interrupt
When Paul was imprisoned, many people wanted to make things harder for him. Part of their plan was to preach the gospel so that he got worse torture in jail. Paul’s response? As long as they are preaching the gospel, let them do it! Who cares what their motives are.
Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
8. Pastors are paid for specific work
Look, this is not a central doctrine. If your church elders don’t mind, and they feel that the pastor is meeting his obligations, then he is. But if their expectations are for original messages, then he better do it.