When I was in Graduate School I heard a story told by renowned pastor John MacArthur. He said that in one of his many trips to speak in churches across the country, he was once confronted by a lady in a church somewhere in the Midwest, who complained that he ought to stop preaching on the radio the same sermons her pastor was preaching in her church!

That story hints at a widespread epidemic raging across the pulpits of all sorts of churches in this great nation of ours: pastors are either incapable, unwilling or unavailable to put in the necessary time to prepare and teach their own sermon and as a result of that many are relying on material prepared by someone else, which some peach at times verbatim without even alluding to the source of the original work. Now that is very disturbing, to say the least.

But before we jump in to the “bash the preacher” bandwagon too fast, let’s get some perspective. In one day for my exegetical Greek classes, my professor, the late John A. Sproule, used to refer to the future sermons we would one day preach as “your 20 hour prep sermon.” 20 hours a week, that is. Now, how many pastors are still able to do that in this day and age when they are expected to keep all the engines running at full speed in the church and save the world on their day off?

Congregations that realize what they put their pastors through on a regular basis are often willing to put up with less than stellar content and delivery from the one who was called to teach them the Word. That combination of a pastor who is too busy and people who will put up with anything usually spells doom to a congregation.

So here is my advice to preachers and congregations everywhere:

  1. Make sermon preparation your top priority during the week. The reason I don’t take Monday off is because I spend the entire day studying for the sermon. I avoid even going into the office that day. I find a good library and seclude myself there for hours. And I protect that time. (As a side note, I decided not to take Monday off a long time ago. I figured if I was going to be grumpy, the church, and not my family, would have me. And now I pretty much have all my grumpyness all to myself!).
  1. Stay away from “canned” sermons. Sermon Central, sermon.com, etc. can be useful, I suppose, though I never use them, but chances are some of your people are getting there before you do. I refuse to read any sermons on a passage I am about to preach on. At least until I have a pretty good idea of what I am going to say, and then only rarely, when I may need to compare how another person handled a particularly difficult text.
  1. Resist the temptation of reading commentaries or any other source on your text, until you have interacted directly and long enough with the Biblical text so that it is now so present in your life that it’s almost sleeping with you and making your heart beat faster in the middle of the night. Until the text has stirred your heart to something bigger than you, you have no message to preach. That is the nature of God’s Word. It’s not meant to be studied only; it’s meant to transform.
  1. Keep it relevant. If you are only relaying information, you may be good for a seminary class but not for the pulpit. The best compliment I can ever hear about a sermon I preach is when people tell me that it was relevant to their life. Jesus didn’t teach merely for education; He taught for life transformation. Why should we be any different? Have an action item or “homework” always ready. If you don’t know what you’re asking your people to do, you are not yet done with your sermon prep.
  1. Finally, invite vigorous feedback, from your staff and from people in the congregation. If you are a humble listener, it will only make your teaching better.

And if you still insist on plagiarizing after reading this, I would recommend Alistair Begg instead of John MacArthur… 😊.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA