A female podcast listener who asks to remain anonymous asks, “Pastor John, I go to a pretty small church with limited resources, and over the past two years I have noticed our pastor using more and more ‘pre-packaged’ sermon series. So much so that I can search online and find the outline or another church that has done the series and listen to almost the exact sermon beforehand. What are your thoughts on this? Is it biblical or permissible? It just doesn’t sit right with me, but I’m not sure why.”
I am glad she asked that question instead of asking me what she should do about it, because I have very strong feelings about the question she asked, and I find it easy to answer. I wouldn’t have such strong convictions or clear ideas about what strategies she should take now.
I have tried over the years to imagine a situation in which I might feel peace or authentic in using another person’s outline or sermon as my own. And I have never been able to imagine such a situation. It seems, frankly, utterly unthinkable to me that authentic preaching would be the echo of another person’s encounter with God’s Word rather than a trumpet blast of my own encounter with God’s Word. Now to be sure, my sermon should be an echo. It should be an echo of the voice of God. But not an echo of an echo of the voice of God.
So that is my conviction. Now here are a few reasons why. And keep in mind I am not talking about the problem of plagiarism. That is plainly a sin. I am talking about the use of another man’s sermon or outline even if you do acknowledge that it comes from another person, in which case it wouldn’t be plagiarism. You are giving him credit for it. Perhaps it goes without saying, but not really. Preaching in worship is warranted by the Scripture. It is not just something we thought was a neat thing to do. And it is warranted by the very nature, I think, of God’s truth.
Right after describing the inspiration and usefulness of all the Scripture in 2 Timothy 3, Paul says, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:1–2). So it is right there in the context of the usefulness of the Word in the life of the church. And the Greek word used for “preach” is not the same as “teach.” It is a word for heralding and exulting in the thing spoken.