Serving Up Canned Sermons?

sermon.jpgKim Riddlebarger has an excellent post here on the awful practice of Pastors “buying” their sermons from a sermon service. It should go without saying that this practice is about as antithetical to Old School Presbyterian Preaching as it comes, and should be considered a form of homiletical plagiarism.

Riddlebarger does much to expose the problems with buying sermons and the long term bad effects it has on both the congregation and the pastor. A while back I wrote the following considerations on the same subject in a different forum:


I was discussing a case with another Presbyter recently, it concerned a Pastor who was caught plagiarizing his sermons from another famous PCA pastor. I commented that it seems like this practice is becoming more and more common as I’m seeing more instances of it occurring. The other Presbyter commented though that many people felt like this wasn’t a big deal especially now that there are a myriad of sites such as Pastors.Com or Sermonsearch.Com that will allow you to browse and purchase sermons by famous (or at least more famous than you) Pastors or their sermon writers (yes, the big guys have professional ghost-writers) and legally preach them as if they were your own. This is well on the way to becoming an evangelical norm, and people who visit megachurches are beginning to report hearing “re-runs” of sermons they’ve already heard from other Pastors.

Now I know all-to-well how difficult it is to prepare a sermon, I write two a week. I know the awful feeling of realizing it Friday and you still don’t have two sermons in hand. I also know how disappointing it is to realize even as you are preaching that what you have produced isn’t very good. I have produced more than my share of sermonic “rotten eggs” for the people of God. I also know how alluring is the desire to hear our sermons praised (its one of the reasons I ask my congregation not to do it – it has the same effect as attaching a bicycle pump to my head.) But I know that even a pastor without an assistant, and with a heavy work load, can produce two thirty minute sermons every week.

Thinking about this, a few things occurred to me, in no particular order:

1) If a pastor is preaching someone else’s sermons, isn’t he more of a performer than a Pastor? Why on earth would he even need a seminary education? Surely a school on acting and public speaking would be more appropriate to produce these “Good News-Readers.” Also, if he isn’t even preparing his sermon, what is he up to all week? What are the chances he is actually doing that other great duty the apostles stated elders are called to: praying?

2) Is it just possible that the evangelical mega-church infotainment movement has lead us to the point were what is wanted are actors performing entertaining scripts for the “worship show,” rather than pastors?

3) What does a pastor who wants “perfect” sermons from other pastors really desire.

4) If as pastors we aren’t even writing our own sermons, aside from how poorly we are serving our Master, what on earth are we being paid for?

5) Isn’t this a violation of several different commandments all at once?

6) Is it just possible that the increase in leisure time not having to write your own sermons might actually create more opportunities for mischief?

It seems to me that Presbyteries and indeed, denominations, need to be setting out hard and fast rules about this practice, and indicating that not only buying sermons, but selling your sermons for others to preach is not too far from what was going on in the court of gentiles before Jesus arrived to overturn the tables. Also, it seems to me that church members should rightly take a very dim view of their pastors doing this.



About Andrew Webb

I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian through bible study and the influence of ministries like RC Sproul's. After teaching in local bible studies, and taking seminary courses part time, I began to feel called to the ministry in 1997. I was Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in Hatboro, PA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina Presbytery in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor/Church Planter for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor
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7 Responses to Serving Up Canned Sermons?

  1. I would rather stand in the pulpit and admit that I have nothing to say than preach another man’s message. Thank God I have never had nothing to say.

    Where is the conviction that a Minister of the Gospel is God’s messenger who brings His Word to His people? How can a stolen sermon reflect the life and walk of the man who reads it? Or how can it bless and aid the daily walks and particular needs of the local congregation known only to the Pastor who knows his people, and seeks to minister to them by the SPirit’s enabling?

    The mind boggles.

  2. Chris Poe says:

    Although the impetus for such would seem to be from different motivations and certainly different camps, how much of a step really is it from prescribed public prayers to canned sermons?

  3. Emma says:

    I am going through cancer treatment and just about the time I was diagnosed, we had simultaneously started this church. I’ve never been thrilled with his sermons, they were ok, but a few months ago, I realized I was hearing a sermon I swore I had heard before. And then again, and again, etc. Church then decided to follow the 40-day bandwagon and I was horrified that he was preaching Rick Warren word-for-word. After that, I started to Google key words and his titles every Sunday and sure enough, each and every sermon was easily found online. Sometimes I couldn’t find the source, but found other churches, sometimes numerous sites, with the same sermon.

    The past few weeks, he has been referencing old stuff like ‘The A Team’, and Chad Everett. Wow, this stuff is old. Well today I found his sermon, WORD_FOR_WORD, literally verbatim, on a Lutheran church web site in Wisconsin (we are a Brethren church in Maryland). All the same cutesy anecdotes but shockingly, even the ‘filler’. Our minister is an ex-broadcaster and boy, does he still do a great job performing.

    I am going through the hardest ordeal I have ever faced and I sit through 16 minute light-weight sermons that he is getting (no pun intended) from God knows where. I can’t even speak to him, I look on him as a liar and fake. How can this man be of God?

  4. Joy says:

    I find myself in a church where the pastor plagairizes every sermon. Maybe I shouldn’t say “every,” since I have only been able to find approximately 80 to 90 percent of the sermons online, with most of them verbatim.

    I ask myself how did I get in this position. How did I get here? Sometimes I think my own desires/short comings allowed me to be blinded to what I knew was happening.

    I loved my pastor, and still do today. However, in my desire to see that he was just a human being, it made me overlook things I saw happening. I knew him personally. I had worked on staff for many, many years. I had learned in a church seminar that those that worked close with their pastors needed to protect his humanity, that he too, was not perfect, and needed protection from criticism. I did my duty well.

    I won’t disclose those things I protected but to say this, when I finally realized that I wasn’t protecting his character faults, or human short comings, but SIN, I had a major paradigm shift.

    Once the blinders were off I started to feel guilty for letting myself be deceived. How? Why? Now what? Why couldn’t others see what I saw? And yet, I couldn’t tell anyone.

    Was/is my loyalty to God, or to my pastor? The questions were unending. And here I am nearly 2 years later, still in the same church — asking God what I should do now.

    I wish someone would write a book. Not a hurtful, but helpful book. This needs to be addressed! When I surf the web about this problem I see how much harm there is to this practice.

    I need to believe that the exposure will bring a better balance to the church. My desire is not to hurt or harm.

    • Scot says:

      Joy I am at about the same place now dealing with this same issue (for about 2 years). I’d love to hear if and how you have dealt with it.

  5. Boyd Merriman says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. “Canned Sermons”, is basically taped sermons played to new audiences. We get those once in a while from our church head quarters if the message from our leading church pastor needs to get out. Or something needs to be cleared up or emphasized.

    Personally, I think if a sermon by a certain speaker is worth repeating, its worth repeating by that speaker if he or she did it well, even if it has to travel by tape (or CD).

    I have heard many sermons based on other theologians and their sermons or writings. And I had no problem with it because one, they know they are being repeated, and two, it was very important to us to learn this stuff! Now I’m not talking about repeat verbatim, but with the speakers own character and twist.

    I figured in God’s kingdom, (heaven, or wherever we end up ultimately) the message that gets people to have a relationship with God is far more important than who gave that message. If we are hard headed enough that the message has to be repeated a hundred times, then so be it.

    On the other hand, for a pastor to get lazy and use other material exclusively will be put on the spot in the long run because he or she does not really know the material or how it came to this understanding. They are not using the brains and gifts God gave them.

    If something another pastor or theologian taught and spoke about (or written) moved me so much it changed my life, you bet your bottom offering dollar that I’ll use that material. I’ll quote them as much as we quote Paul (speaking of plagiarism) if the truth be told and told well!

    As far as I’m concerned, Gods truth is free and need to be spoken as such.

    Again, I do agree we need to flex our spiritual muscles and “work out our own salvation” and speak from the heart based on God’s spirit leading us.


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