“Brethren, weigh your sermons. Do not retail them by the yard, but deal them out by the pound. Set no store quantity of words which you utter, but strive to be esteemed for the quality of your matter. It is foolish to be lavish in words and niggardly in truth.”
The art of preaching is an act of the Holy Spirit on one’s heart and mind. To teach the Word of God is to proclaim something that is counter-cultural and nearly counter-intuitive. The gospel of grace is one that does not make sense to a post-Christian world. Therefore, it is vitally important that we, as messengers of the gospel, be adequately prepared for this task.
What is Preaching?
In his book, A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation, Jerry Vines lays out his elucidation of a sermon. He writes,
“The word sermon refers to the product of the processes of homiletics (saying what the Scriptures say), exegesis (a narration or explanation), and hermeneutics (to interpret). The message given by the preacher to the people results from his own investigation and organization of the Bible text.”
Vines posits that the definition of preaching is the combination of three things: homiletics, exegesis, and hermeneutics. When you combine all of these three studious acts together, you “make” a sermon. Even still, preparation for a sermon is not necessarily preaching.
What does it truly mean to “preach”?
Thabiti Anyabwile defines preaching in this way:
“Preaching is God speaking in the power of His Spirit about His Son from His word through a man.”
This is the most basic biblical definition of preaching – God is speaking through His Spirit about the Son through a man. Yet, what we find missing in preaching currently is just what this brother synthesized – a Trinitarian approach to our preaching. If preaching is Trinitarian – and I believe it is – then so must our preparation equally be Trinitarian. We should prepare our messages with the Trinity in mind. We prepare to speak by the power of God through His Spirit about His Son.
When our preparation begins with Trinitarian prioritization, it will also end with the same. However, sermon preparation is not the topic at hand and thus leads me to a popular trend in evangelicalism today and that is the act of using other’s sermon material for your own sermon.
A Questionable Dichotomy
The question of whether or not someone should use other’s material in their own sermons is difficult to process. We (pastors and preachers) have all been in time crunches where there has been less than enough time to properly prepare for a sermon and have used someone else’s material for our own sermon preparation. I, for one, have been guilty of this. Sometimes, however, there just aren’t enough hours in the week, or so it seems, to get it all done. But is it possible, or even permissible, to act on such feelings? Should we neglect our family time, children’s sports activities, or days off to have such a high integrity in our preaching ministry?
Moral and Ethical Implications
Although time crunches, and other factors, are a great reason to reach out into the depth of resources, the moral and ethical implications for such a topic must be considered. Here are a few of these implications for not preaching your own sermon(s):
- A low view of preaching. The reformers thought of preaching as high enough to include it in what is now known as the five solas. Scripture alone communicates the idea that it is God’s Word and His Word alone that can shape and form the church. The Word of God is the foundation by which the church is built and when we neglect to labor with it week after week, our view of preaching (and thus our view of Scripture) is minimized.
- The risk of producing laziness in your ministry. All of us who are in ministry know that a lazy work ethic can creep into our lives very easily. My dad once told me that “the pastorate and the mission field are the best places for lazy people to hide.” Realistically, the ministry is for the hard-working person. Ministry takes a hard-working person to be successful in daily tasks. I am not implying that other careers do not require hard work ethics, but instead conveying the idea that too many times the ministry is seen as “Sunday and Wednesday only” job. Those in ministry laugh at this notion because we only wish that was the case. When we become lackadaisical in our study and pursuit of Spirit-filled sermons, that same attitude of laziness carries over into our other areas of ministry as well.
- It can become a habit. The problem with not preaching your own sermons – or simply not producing your own outline – is that it can become a habit where you never study the biblical text for yourself. Using someone else’s material is not necessarily wrong. However, it is wrong to use someone else’s material without giving any credit. Although there is nothing wrong with using other’s material and giving credit, I would argue that it is unjust for the pastor to habitually forge his name on the pulpit rhetoric he uses week in and week out and never personally dive deeper into the sermon than reading over the manuscript he printed from the internet. This is simply is not the formula for preaching in the local gathering of believers that we see in Scripture.
- Plagiarism. That someone would read another’s material and use it as their own without giving credit is called plagiarism. It is simply the act of taking something that is not yours and presenting it as your own. The Bible conveys this idea as stealing – which is the eighth commandment. Need I say more? It is wrong to steal, friends. It is wrong to use someone else’s hard-earned work and claim it as your own.
- Lack of the Spirit’s Guidance. Continuing on, the act of plagiarism can produce a complacency among a preacher. When a preacher is taking other’s material for their own sermons and preaching them as if they studied and thought through it themselves, it takes the Holy Spirit out of the preaching equation. When you aim for integrity in your sermon preparation, you are dependent upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom, guidance, diligence, and interpretation. It is the Holy Spirit that reveals to you what the text says and implies. You cannot figure the divine interpretation out within yourself. It must be an act of the Spirit in your study and preparation.
In so much more than the moral and ethical implications are the spiritual implications. Of course, we are image bearers of Creator God, who is a moral being, but the state of our spiritual life can become weak if we neglect certain aspects of our preaching and pastoral ministry. Here are a couple of spiritual implications:
- Lack of personal dependence upon the Spirit. As stated in the moral and ethical implications, a lack of the Spirit’s guidance can be present when we neglect to preach and produce our own content in sermon preparation. What this does to pastors is tempts them to base their spiritual dependence on someone else’s study rather than their own. Let me be clear: although the lack of spiritual guidance is real, the pastor should never depend upon his sermon preparation for his own spiritual growth. In fact, the roles should be reversed in that equation. The pastor’s spiritual growth, birthed out of his own relationship with God, should come to fruition in his sermon preparation. Lewis Allen posits “God designs that his church be served by Word-soaked, joy-seeking, and joy-sharing preachers of his delightful gospel.”
- Doctrinal Compromise. I do not want to be too presumptuous, but it would be very easy for a pastor to find someone else’s material that either compromises their own doctrine or contradicts their churches doctrine or polity. Admittedly so, it is all too easy to see through these contradictions or compromises, however, the pastor must be on guard at all times (2 Tim. 4:1-2). In my own life, I want the church I have been entrusted by the Lord to lead to be recipients of doctrinally sound teaching and theology that is founded on the gospel. Why? Because right teaching/preaching results in right living. However, the opposite is also true. When we lack a solid, gospel foundation to our preaching, it results in a lack of gospel living.
The question at hand: Should we use other material for our sermons? Personally, I quote other authors in nearly every one of my sermons. I try my best to use the church fathers or other historical figures in the church as often as possible. However, there are times when current authors have supported the thesis of my exposition.
I truly believe the issue is not in using other people’s material, but not giving credit. However, there is another aspect added when one does this so often that it leads to a weekly occurrence.
 C.H. Spurgeon. Lectures to my Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 71.
 Jerry Vines. A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 3.
 Thabiti Anyabwile, “How Do You Define Preaching,” The Gospel Coalition, November 19, 2012, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/how-do-you-define-preaching/.
 Lewis Allen. The Preacher’s Catechism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 34.