We live in a day and age of unparalleled intellectual sharing. There is this amazing thing I have been using called the internet. I can find the weather forecast, pictures of my friend’s cat, and what someone I barely know ate for dinner yesterday. All of this is just a couple of clicks away!
And so are about a million sermons. I can find expository notes on texts of Scripture, I can find illustrations, sermon series suggestions with titles, graphics, and there are even paid services that provide legal sermon content that a pastor could just purchase and streamline his entire week. We live in a day and age where a pastor need not plagiarize in order to use the sermon another person has written. There are even free sites where pastors can upload their sermons and they give permission to others to use their content.
So why do I continue to spend a significant portion of my time studying, writing, and fine tuning my sermons?
Here are 5 reasons I still write my own sermons, and intend to as long as I continue as a preaching pastor.
1. I NEED IT
The first reason is a bit self-centered, but it is simply that I need it. I do not mean by this statement that I need it pragmatically. There is nothing about the mechanics of preaching that requires me to prepare my own content. I could preach another person’s manuscript. But I need to hear from God. I need the routine, diligent, and intentional study that comes from sermon preparation each week. I have joked in the past, with sincerity, that God calls some to be pastors, SO THAT they are required to consider His Word more than they otherwise would. On a very personal level, for my own growth, for my own sanctification, for my own relationship with God, I need the weekly in depth study that sermon preparation forces into my schedule.
2. A PASTOR IS A ROLE MODEL
It feels like something may be a bit off, if I am telling people they should be studying God’s Word, but I am not doing it myself. I want my church to people of the Word and therefore I need to model for them what it means to be a student of the Word. I do not want to overstate my role in the sanctifying process of my church. Realistically I doubt that anyone gets up early on Monday morning and cracks the Bible with the thought in their mind, “my pastor does this so I will too . . . “. But I do think a culture of a focus on the power and glory of God’s self-disclosure in Scripture begins with leadership. If I want my people to study the Word, then I should be a student of the Word.
3. I NEED CONVICTION
As I said earlier, I could pick up a cold manuscript that I purchased online, tweak it a bit, throw in a couple of personal illustrations where the precanned message tells me to, and deliver that on Sunday morning. I have never tried it so I do not really know what the result would be. Maybe people would really like it and say, “I don’t know what you did different, pastor, but keep doing that!”
But my strong belief, is that a sermon OUGHT to begin with God’s Word speaking into the pastor’s heart with conviction, encouragement, and power, before it ever comes out of his mouth. I study to know God, not to prepare a sermon. I study to grow. I study to wrestle with the Almighty and come to see Him in the way He has chosen to reveal Himself. I cannot imagine preaching with any deep conviction, the conclusions of another man’s study.
4. I KNOW MY CHURCH
I look out on Sunday morning and I do not see a generic crowd of people. I see a widow who jut lost her husband, a rebellious teen who is grieving their parents, a young woman considering the call to the mission field, a man recovering from alcoholism, a handful of men who meet one morning a week to take up the battle against lust. I see a room full of individuals, many who have shared a part of their journey with ME. And I think about THEM as I write a sermon each week. How will I ever get beyond the general and theoretical, or even shallow if I use someone else’s material. If I go out and buy a sermon from some online clearinghouse, the author doesn’t know my church. They do not know OUR struggles beyond the generalized struggles of humanity.
While I am convinced that the Spirit can bring conviction to a heart through a lot of means, I also believe that it is beneficial for a preacher to prepare his message with his congregation in mind. I believe the role of preaching in the congregation was meant to function this way.
5. MY CHURCH KNOWS ME
Over several years of pastoral ministry I have watched churches rise and fall. I have friends who were in a pastoral position when I began that are no longer pastors now. I have seen the results of distrust between congregations and leadership. And I have seen that distrust run in both directions.
By preaching what God has been pressing on my own heart from His Word, by illustrating from my own life, and by being honest in my own struggles, I have a weekly opportunity to convey compassion, love, and the reality that we are on this journey together. There is nothing magical about knowing me, as if the key to the growth of my people is that they know their pastor. But trust, relationship, and sharing life together is very important to the health of a church.
I believe that preparing sermons each week helps my congregation get to know me in a way that forces me to be more authentic and honest with them each week.
I was told by another man in ministry one time, that when push comes to shove and the pressures of ministry crowd in, every preacher will eventually borrow or buy a sermon out of convenience. I am glad that I have not found that necessary, and I hope I never do. Preparing and preaching a sermon each week is not something I ever imagined I would do back in my twenties. But now I find it one of the most challenging and rewarding things I do with my time.
I look back at my life experiences and can see how God has given me training, life experience, and conviction that has led me to be a student and teacher of His Word.