A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God's Spirit, is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin.
Charles Stanley's sermon, “Spirit-Anointed Preaching,” influenced me greatly when I heard it as a college student. I still have the cassette almost 30 years later. Stanley said you get your messages going back and forth between pouring over God’s Word at your desk and from spending time in prayer on your knees. He exhorted students to move back and forth between the study and the place of prayer. I’ve tried to practice that basic idea ever since.
The question of using other preachers’ material recently surfaced in Southern Baptist life. The first time I encountered this was when I worked under a pastor years ago as an associate. It did not take me long to realize that most of his sermons were series he purchased online from someone else. He was very excited about the topical approach to preaching, and his habit was to regurgitate the fruit of others. He was not an exceptionally intellectual man (not a put-down) and found the discipline of Bible study quite challenging. I once told him that his best preaching and sermons where I sensed his strongest anointing came not when he preached the messages of others – but when he shared from God’s Word out of his own devotional life and time in the Scriptures.
In a day of
many approaches to preaching, it is wise to formulate a practical theology for
preaching. My entire ministry I have taught God’s Word with some basic
convictions that have not changed . . .
1. Most of my preaching needs to be
text-driven (expository, verse by verse). This method is deeply rooted in the
theology of biblical inspiration, that God has already spoken to His people
through His Word.
2. My duty is like that of Ezra, who studied,
obeyed, and taught the Word (Ezra 7:10). The Bible says he “opened the book in the sight of all the people . . . . The Levites
helped the people understand the Law . . . . They read from the book . . .
clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading”
(Nehemiah 8:5,7-8). Our job is to help them understand the text of the Bible.
3. My preaching and teaching need to flow
out of my time in the Scriptures, my devotional life, and my walk with God.
(Bobby Welch once said that sometimes, when he had not had time to study as he
wished, he would simply preach out of his quiet time – out of the overflow of
what God was feeding him. And Adrian Rogers once said in chapel at Southern
Seminary, don’t preach what you are not obeying!”)
4. God is the Source, and ultimately, the
message and its effect come from Him. And, as Johnny Hunt says, “God feeds
according to need. And He only has to give you the next one.”
Influenced by Others
With that said, in terms of crafting the message, structure, I certainly am influenced by and
use parts of others’ ideas. I gleaned from Johnny Hunt years ago 2 phrases to pastors in terms of sermon prep – “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and, “If my bullet fits your gun, shoot it!”
Once as a
young preacher, preparing a series on spiritual gifts, I got cassette series
from Charles Stanley and Johnny Hunt on the subject. I listened to Stanley’s
first and then Hunt’s. When I heard Hunt’s, I said, “Wait a minute. He’s
preaching Stanley’s message – just adding his own stuff to it!”
Rogers told pastors on more than one occasion to feel free and take his
messages and books and preach them – but “make them your own” – in other words,
don’t try and be him, but use the ideas with your own study, development,
addition, etc. – as God leads you.
Akin (SEBTS) made his resources readily available online for pastors to use. He told us in class years ago (pre-internet availability –
when his notes were in binders) – this would save our neck some Wednesday night
when we had not had time to prepare – and he was right. I’ve used his Psalms
handouts numerous times – and probably never felt any need to say, “I
downloaded this from Danny Akin.”
pre-internet, pastors like Jerry Vines and others sold and distributed their
sermon outlines to pastors, who in turn used them in studying and preaching. Leaning on the outlines or study of other pastors for help is
nothing new. The difference is, with the internet today, and the critical
spirit of the age, you aren’t “hidden” or in isolation. And there are internet
trolls out there who like to point out the seeming faults of others.
current state as a bivocational pastor, working and driving 50+ hours a week
for my full-time job, I don’t have the time or luxury as in years past to spend
hours alone in the study. I start praying about the message on Monday morning,
thinking on the text all week, looking at resources, etc. – but I don’t have
the time I would like to carefully plan and structure. So, I lean a lot other people's resources.
I just started a series called “Growing in Wisdom” – all taken from the book of
Proverbs – for the summer. I collected 5-6 books related to “wisdom” and
“Proverbs” about two months ago – as well as an old sermon series by Chuck
Swindoll from Proverbs. I actually posted a picture of all of the books on our
church’s Facebook page a while back and said something like, “I am looking
forward to my next sermon series and preparing with these resources.”
On the first message, I put a little gray box on the handout stating the resources I am using to prepare. Beyond that, unless it is a word-for-word quotation, I don’t feel the need to attribute everything. For example, sometimes I may find an outline in a chapter of a book or commentary that outlines a text very well and – if it fits what I am studying/praying through, I may use that outline without feeling any need to say, “That outline – or that part of this outline came from Jack Graham, etc.” 99% of the people in our congregations don’t really care – and they don’t care what books I am reading. They just want me to feed them the Word under the anointing of the Spirit. If I were preaching at a school or more visible location I may feel the need simply because those people care more and are more critically minded.
course, if you are widely read, the ideas that eventually become structure,
illustrations, or outlines in your message likely are a piece-mill of various
sources. When you have preached for several decades, illustrations, stories,
and ideas become a part of your mental filing cabinet, and you can’t always
remember from whence they came.
Bible biography books are so good – biblical, organized and illustratative.
Sometimes in preparing to preach a sermon on one of those characters, I will
lean heavily on Swindoll’s study. If so, I will attribute him in some way in
the handout or again, a casual reference in my preaching.
This fall I
am preparing a series on spiritual gifts, again. When I start the series,
again, I will share in the first sermon handout the resources I used to prepare
and probably in the first sermon say something like, “I found a lot of help
from some resources from Charles Stanley, Johnny Hunt, etc. in preparing this.”
think I’ve ever preached another person’s sermon word for word, without making
it my own. It's very easy for preachers to fall into a lazy habit of doing just that - I afraid to the detriment of themselves and their hearers. It's my experience that the anointing of the Spirit comes from time before the Lord and the text - and fleshed out in your life.
Very practically, for years I have found Charles Swindoll’s advice helpful:
Monday – select text
Tuesday – dig hard into text
Wednesday – continue studying and should have a working outline
Thursday – finish studying and outline
Weekend – polish
Copies and Compliments
SBC news, I would not have any problem if a man preached another’s message but said at the beginning, “I really appreciate XX’s approach on this
passage, and he really helped me in my preparation” – or something like that. However, I believe that habit should be the exception and not the norm. When God calls a man to preach, He calls him to the ministry of prayer and the ministry of the Word, and he is to not neglect the discipline of preparing messages to feed God's flock.
appreciated Rick Warren’s thoughts through the years (and I think he even puts
it in his books) – when he says if anyone copies his stuff and uses it
elsewhere, they don’t have to attribute him – and he considers that a
compliment! I think that is a very “kingdom” way to think – unless you are
turning around and selling the material as a book, etc. and claiming it
In our day, I’m afraid many preachers forget that regardless of how many resources you use – THE MESSAGE STARTS, IS FUELED, AND FINISHES BY BEING TEXT-DRIVEN AND SPIRIT-ANOINTED. The message has got to come out of the text – not just Swindoll, Stanley, whoever – and it needs to be empowered by the anointing of the Spirit. See Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book, The Sacred Anointing.
I tell our congregation, my most important task as a pastor is prayerfully sharing God's Word week-by-week under the anointing of the Spirit. My people should know that habitually, if they show up, they can expect to hear a word from God, because their preacher-teacher has been soaking in the Word and in God's presence, ready with a fresh word to share.
Pictures used by permission from Pixabay and Pexels.