The secret to leading a growing church is steal, steal, steal.
If you want to lead your church in dynamic spiritual and numerical growth you don’t have time to reinvent the wheel each time you recognize that something original needs to be created in your church.
That’s why the most Christ honoring thing you can do is be on the lookout for great ideas that you can take and adapt for your context. This includes sermons.
You’ve heard the quote, “The secret to originality is to conceal your sources.” We’re not trying to do either. We’re not trying to be original, and we’re definitely not trying to conceal the sources of tools we’ve borrowed.
All we’re trying to do is be good stewards of the time God has given us.
One of the worst pieces of advice floating around Senior Pastor world is, “Don’t use other guy’s sermons.”
Listen, you need to preach other pastor’s messages, especially in the early years of your ministry. Here are six reasons why:
1. It Makes Up For What You Didn’t Learn In Seminary
The 8-9 preaching classes I took at Cincinnati Christian Seminary (B.A.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div.) did not completely prepare me to preach. That wasn’t the expectation. They simply developed within me a love of preaching, and, as a bonus, gave me the confidence to stand up before a group of people for 20 minutes without running to the bathroom to barf. One of my preaching professors told me in his review of my first sermon, “If I were God I would call you to a lifetime of pulpit ministry.” I’ve never forgotten those powerful words. He, along with all the other awesome professors I had through the years, got me started by giving me the confidence that whatever shortcomings I had, I could shore up as I went along.
2. You Need Time To Develop Your Sermonic Mind
It took me every bit of ten years, an entire decade, 3,652.5 days to be exact, to develop what my preaching professor Dr. Keith Keeran called a “sermonic mind.” A sermonic mind is a learned skill whereby a preacher can quickly glance at a text, size it up, translate it into a compelling outline, hunt down powerful biblical gems in the text, combine it with personal life stories and contemporary culture applications, and then fashion a message that really connects with the life of the congregation. It took me ten years, from age 27 to 37, to develop my own unique sermonic mind.
3. You Need Mentors To Develop A Sermonic Mind
I owe my sermonic mind to one person: Bob Russell. I spent the first two years of my ministry (from age 27-30) preaching what had to be the world’s worst sermons. One day after turning 30 I handed out surveys to our church and asked them to evaluate my preaching. They confirmed what I already knew: I was terrible. So I went back to some advice that Dr. Keeran gave me. He told me that to develop a “sermonic mind” you had to spend time reading and handling the sermons of great preachers.
Bob Russell was the only great preacher I knew at the time, so for the next year I did nothing but buy Russell’s tapes, transcribe them, and replace his personal stories with my own. That experience changed me. Listening to Bob’s transitions, the length and timing of his illustrations, his humor, how he pulled out biblical truth, it all taught me how to think “sermonically.”
4. You Need To View Sermons The Way Children’s Pastors View Children’s Curriculum
Nobody tells children’s pastors or Sunday school teachers they’re “stealing” curriculum. That’s because everyone recognizes that every teacher has limited time and can benefit from the insights of the trained, paid specialists who had the benefit of spending large amounts of time writing, and then blessing the body of Christ with their gifts.
It’s the same way with sermons. If you can write your own sermon curriculum, great! That’s awesome. However, if you’ve had to do a funeral, meet with three people for crisis counseling, lead a staff meeting, deal with family stuff all the while dealing with a head cold, the last thing you should feel guilty about is adapting a Rick Warren sermon. As Rick often says when speaking of this topic, “If my bullets fit your gun, then shoot them.”
5. You Need To View This Exercise As A Way To Help Yourself Find Your Voice
I don’t believe utilizing other people’s material creates sermons that are “not really you.” They help you understand more fully the way you’re wired. Let me explain. Early on when I used someone else’s material I always paid attention to how it resonated with me internally. I grew to understand how I was wired by listening to myself when I felt resistance. If I told an illustration that was too long from someone else’s message, and felt like it “wasn’t me,” that was a good thing. I was “on to something.” I learned something about myself.
The more I used sermons the more I ended up changing them to suit my style and approach. Over time I just grew out of using them. I learned I couldn’t do canned jokes. I like to tell stories. I learned that a great sermon for me has a great opening, a great closing, a few powerful points, a few powerful stories, and a lot of self-deprecating humor splashed in. I learned all these things from using some else’s stuff and listening to the Holy Spirit.
6. You Will Grow To The Point Where You No Longer Need Them
I have grown to the point now where I don’t NEED to use another person’s sermon any longer. But occasionally I still like to look at another person’s stuff to get ideas, to stay sharp, and be challenged. I encourage the Senior Pastors I coach to do the same. John Ortberg’s sermons continue to give me great ideas. The difference now, versus 20 years ago, is that I’m looking more for inspiration instead of actual material.
Listen closely to what I’m about to say. There are three kinds of people out there when it comes to pastors preaching other pastor’s sermons:
1. Gifted preachers who have never used another person’s sermon in their life and still have become incredible communicators. I have never met such a creature, but there has to be one or two out there.
2. Normal preachers like you and me who owe just about everything they have become in ministry to gracious pastors who have taken us under their wings and encouraged us to “go to school on their sermons.”
3. Critics who say that preachers who use other people’s sermons lack integrity. Ignore these people. They have no idea what they’re talking about.
What do you think about preaching other pastor’s sermons?