Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On the Use and Abuse of Sermons

Andy Naselli:
At the annual pastor’s colloquium for The Gospel Coalition last May, the pastors discussed future enhancements on TGC website. When discussing the new database of resources, John Piper strongly suggested that a note be added against sermon-stealing, something he “abominates.” Everyone seemed to agree. Here’s the note that is currently on the bottom of the resources page:


The instant availability of thousands of expository sermons and addresses prompts us to reflect a little on how they should not be used, and how they should be used.

To take the latter first: many of our Council members avidly read the sermons of others, or, increasingly commonly, listen to them while they are driving or walking or jogging. Good preaching not only opens up texts, but helps us learn how others tackle the challenge of structure, apply Scripture to their particular congregations, relate their texts to the central themes of God and the gospel, and much more. We soon sense their urgency and God-given unction. We are sent back to the study and to our knees to become better workers who do not need to be ashamed of the way we handle the word of truth.

The bad way to listen to the sermons of others is to select one such sermon on the topic or passage you have chosen and then simply steal it, passing it off as if it is your own work. This is, quite frankly, theft, and thieves, Paul tells us, will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:10). Yet in some ways that is not the most serious aspect of this form of plagiarism. Rather, it is the deep damage you are doing to yourself and others by not studying the Bible for yourself. Ministers of the gospel are supported by their congregations so they will give themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer. That demands rigorous study. A faithful minister of the gospel is never merely a biological tape recorder or CD, thoughtlessly parroting what someone else learned, thought through, prayed over, and recorded. Indulge in this exercise and before long you will starve your own soul—and, no matter how good the sermons you steal, your ministry will sooner or later, and deservedly, become sterile, for the stamp of inauthenticity will be all over you.

One helpful suggestion: Listen to many sermons, not just one or two. You will be far less likely to steal, and far more likely to be stimulated and helped, if you listen to five or ten sermons than if you listen to one.