Are Pre-Packaged Sermon Series a Good Idea for Pastors?
Pastoring in this age is a great blessing, because of the volume and variety of resources at our disposal. I have hundreds of books and commentaries on my computer thanks to Wordsearch software. Then I have a library full of books and a number of key websites I visit. That’s not to mention the study Bibles I own. You can be a marginally intelligent guy like me and still craft a good sermon.
One of the resources that I find most helpful are downloadable sermons. Several ministries offer these, including Preaching Today from Christianity Today, Sermon Central, and Rick Warren’s Pastors.com. Personally I enjoy Preaching Today and then I use Ray Pritchard’s Keep Believing website to read his sermons and I frequent the archive of Ray Stedman, the late, great expository preacher. I also podcast several prominent pastors, first to feed my own soul and second to learn about the great texts of Scripture from great expositors.
Here’s the thing, though. I read and listen to these sermons as commentaries, to get ideas of how to structure and shape a sermon on a particular text and to get another man’s “take” on a particularly difficult passage. But I think it’s a miscarriage of my duty if I simply preached someone else’s sermon. I think most pastors would agree to this.
Which brings me to the idea of pre-packaged sermon kits. I’m seeing more and more of this from some more prominent pastors. Two examples that come to mind are Andy Stanley from Northpoint Church in Atlanta and Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill in Seattle. Both are terrific pastors whom God has blessed with great ministry.
What these guys (and other prominent pastors) are offering are complete reproducible and preachable sermon series. They come complete with slick graphics, which include printable art work for posters, handouts, banners, etc. They are quite nice. But my question is this. Should a pastor of a local church, who has been called and ordained by God and chosen by the congregation to lead, should he preach the work of someone else on Sunday?
This is tricky question. On the one hand, all preachers’ work is the product of others. The old joke says that if you preach someone else’s sermon, it’s plagiarism. If you quote more than one preacher, it’s study. Our preaching is built upon the wise men who have gone before.
But that sermon should still be the product of our own study, right? I’m having a hard time imagining me doing a series at Gages Lake and saying, “Okay, we’re going to preach Andy Stanley’s “Guardrails” series this month.” The people might wonder, “Why are we paying him?” And isn’t it my job to study the Word and preach what God has specifically laid out for those particular people in that audience?
I think pastors have to be careful here. Now, to be sure, these prepackaged campaigns and sermon series do serve a good purpose. I imagine they are good for small groups and Sunday Schools. This is where stuff like this is invaluable. At Gages Lake we often employ study series for men’s Bible studies, women’s Bible studies, small groups, and other teaching formats. There is a continual need for good, theologically sound material. And I always favor one not only meets this standard but is well-produced and comes with materials to promote it.
But, there is something sacred, I think, about the Sunday morning message from the pastor in the pulpit. There is something powerful when a pastor and a church move together through a book of the Bible, learning together and allowing the text to speak to them and their church specifically. Now, its likely that my sermon series in James will be vastly inferior to one produced by a well-known pastor.
Still, I think this self-study is important for the pastor. It forces us to dig deep and do the spade work ourselves in the text. I think this is the most vital part of shepherding.
It’s not the only way we learn the Word of God. Good books, podcasts, radio shows, and Bibles studies all supplement it.
But I’m having a hard time with the concept of abandoning our call to study the Word and preaching someone else’s sermon series on Sundays.