Yesterday I read Steve Sjogren's article encouraging pastors to spend less time preparing to preach their own messages, and to simply repackage the sermons of other, more popular pastors. Ray Van Neste responded with biblical bewilderment and took on the ideas of pride and performance. I asked what some of you thought and the response was essentially the same: Sjogren's idea is a bad one. There are a lot of issues I would like to address from the article, but I will keep it simple. Sjogren believes that most preachers today are trying to be original. He wrote, "We need to get over the idea that we have to be completely original with our messages, each and every week. In my mind there is a tremendous amount of pride (let's call it what it is) when we insist on being completely original as communicators." I actually agree with these two sentences, but I do not know any preachers who want to be "completely original." And were it a real problem among preachers today the answer would not be in cribbing another's sermon, but laboring to preach well. Preaching is not about originality, but prophecy. 414 years ago William Perkins explained,
Prophecy (prophesying) is a solemn, public, utterance by the prophet, related to the worship of God and the salvation of our neighbours, as the following passages indicate: 'But he who prophecies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men' (1 Cor. 14:3). 'But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all' (1 Cor. 14:24).
... The preaching of the word is the testimony of God and the profession of the knowledge of Christ, not of human skill. Furthermore, the hearers ought not to ascribe their faith to the gifts of men, but to the power of Gods word. Art of Prophesying, pp. 5, 71
And over 1500 years before that Paul wrote,
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Cor. 2:1-5
I imagine Sjogren would agree with this, but his encouragement to primarily rely on the words of others, not for understanding, but even in communicating, seems to miss the real power and effectiveness behind preaching. How does this not imply that God cannot use the common man? How does this not undermine one's confidence in the word while calling us to trust in lofty speech and the wisdom of men?
Should we conclude that the "ministry of the word" to which we must devote ourselves does not involve real study, but primarily the use of a script? Where does the passion of a preacher come from if his messages are not his own? Are we to expect that what God is teaching Rick Warren and those at his church is the same thing he wants to teach our church 2000 miles away in a completely different context? How does this not encourage laziness? How does this not discourage the young preacher whose gifts are still developing? And if one does opt to use another's sermons, wouldn't this retard his own development? Wouldn't this eventually rob the church even of those men we are all supposed to be imitating?
Look, I will be the first to admit the preaching in our American churches needs to improve. Some of us need to remember that the bible is not a self-help book, while others must wake up to the reality that Scripture is not a systematic theology text. We need better preaching in our churches - I need to preach better at Grace - but this comes as men labor to know God and their people while proclaiming the Gospel of grace. People want to hear preachers who have something to say and believe what they say. We need experientially targeted, theologically established, words of grace to emanate from our pulpits that exalt Christ, and in doing so showing the way of redeemed humanity. We need men who are earnest in the pulpit, who love their people, who proclaim law and Gospel, who call us to repentance, who draw our hearts and minds to God in doxology. And I believe the path to such a place is walked as preachers spend time in the word, in the study, on their knees.