It is a constant struggle in church and ministry communications to find the right balance between using technology to aid in ministry and using technology to diminish ministry effectiveness. Few areas are more close to the heart of church communication than the preparation of the sermon and this is an area where technology can either provide incredible help or dangers to you and your spiritual health with the ability of pastors to preach sermons copied all or in part from the web. Let’s look at some of the communication problems in this practice.
First a caveat and good alternative to using someone else’s sermons
From the start, a caveat: I am totally, completely, and unequivocally opposed to the practice of using sermons created by someone else and even more so, using them without crediting the source. I have taken a long time to share this because I know many people will vehemently disagree with me, but as I see the church lose more and more spiritual authority and power, not only in the world at large, but also among its own members, it’s time for self-examination. Examining the proclamation of God’s Word is a good place to start.
It is especially frustrating for this to be happening today when we have the extraordinary tools for sermon study and preparation that technology provides us. From the earliest days of CCMag, (and I’ve been around for all 25 years of it) I remember the excitement of the sponsors who created Bible Study Software. Some of the companies back then are no longer with us, but others such as Logos, just keep getting better and better. Much more could be said, but this isn’t an article on how to use the web to create sermons, and one of the best on this topic is Kevin Purcell’s article: Study, Write and Preach a Sermon from a Tablet http://www.ccmag.com/2013_11/ccmag2013_11kevin.pdf
With all these tools available, it is possible to use technology to create sermons, but it is even easier to simply download and use them. Please bear with me while I share some communication problems if you download and preach without citation.
Problem #1: You don’t communicate your heart
We all build upon another’s work, but it is very different to say, “so and so inspired me on this” and to add your own comments, than to preach the entire content of another person’s message including his or her illustrations and to leave your audience with the impression that it was your message. Your people won’t learn anything about your walk with the Lord, your struggles, and solutions. They might learn lots about the spiritual life of a pastor you admire, but they won’t learn much about you.
In the many years I’ve read and listened to Christian writers and preachers, over time, even without the citation, I can tell if something is from Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, or Dallas Willard; C.S. Lewis, Augustine, or Wesley. Today, we’d call it their brand — it is what sets them apart in the body of Christ as we all work to build it up. I like to think of it as each person’s part in a great conversation that we share with our world about the seeking, sacrificial, reconciling love of God. No one writer or preacher can tell the whole story. Each voice is needed. God put you with your congregation for a reason — don’t rob your people of the spiritual lessons God is teaching you.
Your voice will never become part of the great story if you only preach another’s words. Because your story takes years to develop — don’t waste them telling tales not your own.
Problem #2: You communicate that it is acceptable for there to be a disconnect between your words and your life
Years ago I was a ghost-writer for a number of Christian leaders, but I quit because as I got to know some of them, I realized that sometimes my work went far beyond correcting awkward expressions grammatical mistakes. For some, I was presenting to the world a completely different person in print than the one in real life. My writing, though it was intended to be helpful, created a false face that kept readers from seeing what the real leader was like and I decided not to do that anymore.
If you only use sermons written by someone else, you are doing the same thing to yourself and your people will never get to know you. Your personal walk, your growing life with Jesus is far more important than the polish of your sermon. If you would rather preach a professional sermon than share the messy struggles of your life, sermon creation, and your understanding of the Word, you model the idea that how we look and sound is more important than what we truly are.
Problem #3: You communicates spiritual laziness
We are to grow in grace and self-control and every action, no matter how small, carves a path in the direction of your life. If you get in the habit of using the material someone else prayed over, struggled with, and listened to the Lord to create, you won’t learn to do those things for yourself. It is spiritually lazy and you are communicating when you preach someone else’s sermons that shortcuts to spiritual growth are acceptable.
There are no valid excuses for this. Because you are starting a church and have so much to do, or going through a particularly tough time, or “really busy” in other areas of life (even good ministry areas) none of these reasons matter. Life in ministry will never give you enough time to do all the study preparation you would like. You have to make time for it and that time will never come easily. You may have to give up TV or me time or a hobby. You may lose sleep. It may not be fun.
In addition to personal spiritual laziness, one of the saddest things I’ve seen as a consequence of this habit is for a senior pastor to use an entire series and to require associate pastors to do the same thing when they preach part of the series. If the senior pastor does not acknowledge the source of the message, the associate probably won’t either.
This is wrong for many reasons: it is leading another to be false and causing a brother to sin is a very serious offense; it is a lost opportunity to share spiritual skills of listening to the Lord with a young and growing preacher; it models sloth in study.
It is time-consuming to develop a close walk with the Lord. It is a spiritual discipline to learn to listen to His voice, but once again, the Lord called you to a particular group of people because He wanted you to be their pastor or teacher. In addition, your people may not have the same needs as the group the message was first created for, they may not be in the same place spiritually or culturally and if you don’t spend time with the Lord praying over your people and crafting your message for them you are failing as their shepherd.
Use technology as to aid you in your growth as a disciple and teacher for Jesus, not as a crutch to cover spiritual laziness.
For moderate amounts of ranting and raving and lots of how-tos on church communications, go to my Effective Church Communications website: http://www.effectivechurchcom.com