“I only read sermon books for inspiration,” is a statement that reminds me a lot of people who say, “I only buy those magazines for the articles.” I believe one about as much as I do the other. For almost 20 years, I prided myself in never preaching another man’s sermon.
Never, that is, until I found myself giving three hours of lectures at a local seminary and teaching or preaching seven times a week. This temporary strain made it necessary for me to “borrow” material for the first time in my ministry. During that time, I preached an expository study written by another preacher on Sunday evenings, recycled some old material for other times, and continued to write fresh sermons for Sunday mornings.
Like the medical student who takes speed to make it through a hectic schedule, I rationalized that things would eventually get back to normal. Luckily, normality came before I was addicted.
Since that time, I’ve occasionally preached another man’s sermon, but before I do, I check my motives by asking these questions. Am I choosing to preach this sermon as an excuse for:
Laziness or poor time management? Did I fail to seek a word from the Lord for His people? Am I planning to preach this sermon because I’m in a time bind?
Though the scripture has a timeless message, not every sermon is appropriate for every Sunday. Take for instance the Mother’s Day that I preached a sermon on Jezebel. It’s a long story, suffice it to say that now I look at the calendar when scheduling sermons in a series.
Though a sermon may be appropriate for one congregation, it is not appropriate for every congregation or occasion. Rushing to find a sermon instead of a message is usually the result of poor time management.
Deception? Do I plan to give the impression that this sermon is a product of my research?
A young man who surrendered to preach under my ministry ten years ago, recently discovered that his pastor is not writing his own sermons, but is buying them on a computer diskette from a famous preacher. For three years, he thought his pastor was innovative, creative, practical and witty, but when he uncovered the deception, he began to doubt his integrity.
Vanity? Am I trying to appear better (smarter, funnier, etc.) than I really am?
A visiting evangelist told a personal illustration while preaching at my college’s chapel service. The story made him look like a caring, loving father and made a powerful spiritual point. During the same semester, another chapel speaker used the same illustration as if it happened to him. Even as a college student, I could figure out that it probably didn’t happen to either of them.
The problem with trying to look better than I am is that it usually backfires and makes me look worse. Why the deception? Why not introduce the story by saying, “I ran across a story the other day that illustrates this point . . .” Or if using someone else’s outline, “I heard a dynamite outline of this Bible passage recently that I want to share with you this morning.”
After answering these questions, if I have a clear conscience, I note the source of the sermon in the bulletin and I preach it in the spirit of humility I learned from Doug Tate, a bi-vocational pastor, serving Layman Memorial Baptist Church of Roanoke, Virginia, “I know I need to rely, not only on God, but also on the talents and gifts He has given others.”