I know I might be stepping on some toes with this post but… Pastor, suppose you fed your family a steady diet of pre-packaged frozen TV dinners. After all they’re made for our ultra-busy lifestyles. They’re cheap, convenient, and require little preparation. But they’re not very good for you. They’re loaded with processed ingredients, fat, sodium and calories. So while they’re better than a can of Spaghetti-O’s every night, it’s a good bet that the long term effect on your family’s health and fitness wouldn’t be great.
I’m no one to judge the preaching of others. I’ve preached other pastor’s the sermons, especially when I was a greenhorn, bi-vocational church planter. I got by as best I could. I’m sure young Timothy preached one or two of Paul’s sermons when he was starting out. Yet as I grew in my understanding of my role as a shepherd called to feed my flock, I realized preaching someone else’s sermons wasn’t always the healthiest for my congregation or me. As Ed Stetzer wrote, “It amounts to a kind of lip-syncing that not only robs a church of a truly prophetic voice, but also a pastor of his own necessary development.”
I came to understand that a fresh word whispered to me from Scripture for the moment – even a simple message tailor made for the current season and specific situation my church was facing – could impact our community much more than a prepackaged sermon from some celebrity pastor.
David Wells mocked the trend of using prepackaged sermons in his book, Courage To Be Protestant, “Pastors who run out of funny, inspiring, clever, and entertaining material are increasingly turning to the Internet to buy it all prepackaged. Would one not think that this material would lose its genuineness in translation? And its freshness? Never mind. If it works, if the audience is pleased, the goal has been reached. After all, don’t all entertainers have ghostwriters working behind the scenes to produce their jokes? Why shouldn’t pastors?”
Although I wouldn’t be as snarky as Wells, I do recognize this is a growing trend being fed by an entire cottage industry that makes prepackaged sermons readily available online and in printed form. I guess that’s all fine and good. But is this dumbing down pastors, making them less prayerful and studious? I wonder if it’s stunting their growth and development as spiritual leaders? John Wimber called this “brokering”. I recall him admonishing a group of us young pastors to learn how to “go to the well (of God’s Word) ourselves” in order draw up living water for our congregations.
The Apostle Paul encouraged a young Timothy to be passionate about knowing the Bible and how to handle it:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2Timothy 2:15).
In our age of consumerism and celebrity there’s great temptation to entertain in order to draw a market share of the business, pastors need to constantly remind themselves of this.
God never called me be eloquent. He never called me to be the best preacher in the world. He didn’t ask me to come up with a clever turn of a phrase. He never called me to make astute references to current events or pop culture. As a shepherd what God called me to was faithfulness, honesty and authenticity in my prayerful encounter with Scripture, delivered with heartfelt passion for Christ and his kingdom, for the sake of my congregation.
Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with serving an occasional prepackaged sermon series. However a steady diet can be harmful to both you and your congregation. You won’t grow in your ministry and they’ll be missing out on vital nutrients that only the Spirit speaking rhema to them from the Word through their pastor (not some celebrity) can provide.
So pastor, have you been serving too many pre-cooked sermon meals? I can hear a struggling bi-vocational pastor right now protesting, “But Mike, you don’t understand, my wife and I are crazy busy. We’re trying to hold down two jobs, stay married, raise our kids and pastor our church. Who has time?”
Well let me suggest a way to start turning things around and preparing your own meals – take a look at you own spiritual diet. How are you feeding your own soul? What is the Lord speaking to you about as you pray? What is he teaching you from his Word? What life lessons are you learning? How is the Lord challenging you to trust him? What areas of your life is the Spirit putting his finger on? What stories do you have to share about God working in your ordinary, everyday life? You might not be serving up a banquet but you’d be surprised, the things that are feeding your own soul and shaping your walk with the Lord often turn out to be nourishing meals for your congregation as well.
Pastor if you’re struggling with sermon preparation because you lack confidence, remember Jesus called you to feed your flock. He must have faith in your ability to do your job despite the fact that you’re no Rich Nathan or Andy Stanley. Maybe you need some additional training, which is readily available, but it’s time to stop relying on someone else’s sermons and start believing in your own call and Spirit-led ability.
Remember Paul’s words to a young, Timothy who apparently lacked confidence in his pastoral capability:
“I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple.
“You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.” (2Timothy 4:2-5 MSG)