It is not uncommon for pastors to preach sermons written by well-known pastors. With the miracle that is the Internet, the sermons of popular pastors are readily and easily accessible. Pastors will lead their churches through sermon series’ that were first used by other pastors. I have to say, this would be a great temptation for me. I have benefited so much from the preaching of various well-known pastors like John Piper, John MacArthur, Timothy Keller, David Platt, Matt Chandler, and others. The sermons these men have preached are not only available on the internet, but they are even organized by sermon series and by Scripture. If I were to lead a church through Romans, it would be tempting to access MacArthur’s and Piper’s sermons through this letter and preach them to the congregation. I know of pastors who have borrowed themes and sermon series from guys like Andy Stanley and J.D. Greear. All of this reminds me of a saying I once heard: “There once was a man named ‘Spurgy.’ His sermons are preached by all the clergy.”
Some would contend there is nothing sinful about preaching sermons written by others, especially if credit is given to the sermon writer (“If my bullet fits your gun, then use it.”). Advocates would argue that it is quite humble to use sermons written by more gifted pastors for the benefit of the congregation. However, if you are a pastor who frequently preaches the sermons of others or if you are a church member whose pastor does this, there is one obvious question you must face: Is it sinful for a pastor to preach the sermons of others? What follows is what I hope is a concise and helpful answer.
I believe that preaching another person’s sermon is unhelpful at best and outright sinful at worst. Obviously, preaching another person’s sermon as your own without giving proper credit is plagiarism. Any preacher doing this should stop immediately and repent. There is no place for this kind of dishonesty in the pulpit. As the great English preacher Martin Lloyd-Jones once said, “I am assured that this is not uncommon practice. I have but one comment to make about this—it is utterly dishonest unless you acknowledge what you are doing…He is a thief and a robber; he is a great sinner.”
But even if a preacher preaches another person’s sermon giving them full credit, this is still very unhelpful to both the church and the preacher. The church is best served by a pastor who labors over the text and seeks to faithfully expose its meaning. Even though the man who wrote the sermon may have wonderfully exposited the text, the man preaching the sermon did not and was not personally impacted by the text. Part of the impact of the sermon is the passion of the preacher who has been overwhelmed by the grandeur of the text he is preaching. This is lost when a preacher preaches someone else’s sermon. Remember, pastor, you are God’s man for the local church you are shepherding. As helpful as Piper and Keller are, they do not know your church. You do. God has called you and will use your unique abilities to preach the riches of God’s grace in Christ week in and week out.
Regarding the importance of being gripped by the truth in your sermon preparation, Lloyd-Jones again writes,
When you yourself are gripped and moved in the preparation you will generally find that the same happens in the preaching.
Similarly, the prominent Puritan pastor-theologian, John Owen once said,
A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.
These comments from Lloyd-Jones and Owen suggest that pastors should prepare their hearts and sermons through diligent prayer and study of the passage. Pastors cannot approach sermon preparation lightheartedly or casually. Preaching depends highly on preparation, so pastors must prepare the way they want to preach—passionately and personally gripped by the passage. The purpose of preaching original sermons is not prideful boasting in personal ability. Preaching original sermons forces the pastor to dive into the text, to be gripped by the text, to be set ablaze by the text. When a pastor has encountered the living God in meditation on Holy Scripture, the congregation will leave the pew the same way their pastor left the study; set ablaze with flaming desire for God and his unparalleled glory.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.