Section navigation

Sermons on the web

Category Articles
Date March 1, 2003

Sermons on the web are no substitute for the hard work that goes into imaginative, sound biblical preaching, but when used properly they can be an aid to the preacher’s development and spiritual growth.

by Lugene Schemper

Within the past year I’ve read newspaper accounts of two Protestant pastors who were suspended from their pulpits for preaching sermons downloaded from the Internet. The website www.desperatepreacher.com names the problem. Faced with the difficult, time-consuming weekly task of moving God’s people with a fresh word from the Lord, some preachers succumb to the temptation to use second-hand sermons.

Borrowing the sermons of others is nothing new. Back in 1735 when Philadelphia Presbyterian pastor Rev. Samuel Hemphill was accused of pulpit plagiarism, Ben Franklin came to his defense: "I rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by others, than bad ones of his own manufacture." What is new is the fingertip accessibility of hundreds of printed, audio, and even video sermons via the Internet.

I’m sure we agree that preaching a sermon composed by another preacher without giving credit is plagiarism, a form of theft. Aside from that, a pastor desperately borrowing a canned sermon often finds that he is serving up the homiletical equivalent of canned spaghetti: the ingredients may all be there, but the product is bland, lacking the crisp, direct flavors and textures of real home-cooking. A good sermon arises from a pastor who lives with a Scripture text throughout the week, studies it, meditates on it, and works hard to find the right words, illustrations, and analogies which communicate and resonate with the members of a particular congregation.

If that’s the case, do sermons on the web have any value for the preacher? I’d like to suggest three possible uses:

1) FOR PREACHING DEVELOPMENT:

Painters, carpenters, plumbers and potters all learn by looking at the work of others, and so do preachers. When we hear or read a sermon, we think about how it was constructed, how the text has been exegeted, and how the preacher moves from Scripture to the present. If we’re at all observant, we learn something for our own preaching. All preachers should listen to or read sermons of others periodically for their own self-development. This is especially true for those who preach twice on Sunday and seldom get the opportunity to listen to a variety of good preachers.

If, for example, preachers find themselves regularly having trouble bringing sermons to a crisp, clear, compelling conclusion, they might look at how other pastors conclude their sermons. The same can be said for help with sermon introductions, or with the proper use of sermon illustrations or stories within sermons. One possibility is to follow the sermons of one good preacher for several months, analyzing them for style and content.

2) FOR ACTUAL PREACHING:

I say this with caution, and note that it should not be a regular occurrence. But sometimes when the press of pastoral emergencies has been overwhelming, and with the permission of the church elders, it might be appropriate to preach a sermon written by an outstanding preacher. Doing so requires a careful study of the sermon, and adaptations and modifications which make the sermon fit ones own preaching style and audience. It also requires a thorough familiarity with the sermon. Credit should be given to the sermon’s author, with a statement such as "This morning’s sermon is an adaptation of Rev. Smith’s sermon, "(sermon title)." I freely acknowledge my debt to Rev. Smith."

3) FOR SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT:

As a pastor who preached twice on Sunday for many years, I benefited greatly by reading the sermons of great preachers. I have been moved, challenged, and comforted through hearing the gospel proclaimed by others. This is an important part of the spiritual hygiene of pastors. Sermons on the web are one resource that makes it possible for pastors to be on the receiving end of good sermons.

Websites containing sermons fall into two major categories: 1) websites containing large collections of sermons, drawn from a variety of different sources; and 2) websites which organize the sermons of a particular pastor or church congregation. There are many sermons of questionable quality on the web, and one should use them with great discretion. As a guide to good sermons on the web, we’ve prepared a website at the Ministry Resource Center of the Hekman Library of Calvin College (www.calvin.edu/library/mrc)

Sermons on the web are no substitute for the hard work that goes into imaginative, sound biblical preaching, but when used properly they can be an aid to the preacher’s development and spiritual growth.

Lugene Schemper, Theological Librarian, Calvin Theological Seminary

Forum, Winter 2003, 3233 Burton St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 449546, USA With Permission.

Latest Articles

Advice From a Puritan Mother December 13, 2019

These extracts are taken from the diary1 of Elizabeth Jollie, 2 the wife of Rev Timothy Jollie, who was the minister of the Non-conformist con­gregation in Sheffield from 1681 to 1714. Mrs Jollie was herself the daughter of Rev James Fisher, the ejected vicar of Sheffield who died in 1666 when Elizabeth was 19 years […]

Music in the Work of Calvin (Part Two) December 10, 2019

This second half of the address by the most eminent of all Calvin’s biographers was delivered in the ‘Salle de la Reformation’, at Geneva, in April 1902. It was translated and printed in the Princeton Theological Review, October 1909, from which source it is here reprinted with very slight abridgement. Emile Doumergue (1844-1937) was, at this […]