Preaching Someone Else’s Sermon
If you’ve ever heard Tim Keller preach on ‘Hope and Money’ from 1 Timothy 6, it’s really difficult to better that.
However, I reckon there are a few reasons why it’s a mistake just to take someone else’s sermon pretty much wholesale and preach it to your congregation. And it may surprise you, but plagiarism isn’t really on my list.
First reason: sermons are preached by a particular person to a particular people in a particular time and place. This is why listening to someone else’s sermon online will never be as powerful as listening to that sermon as a congregation member in that particular time and place. God has used that speaker to prepare his words to be delivered to his people that week, that time, that place. We mustn’t think that sermons can be transported and transplanted that easily as sermons. Of course they can be tremendously helpful in our preparation, in the same way commentaries are. But to take someone else’s sermon and re-preach it with little modification ignores that God, through the preached word, wants to address a particular people at a particular time.
This is why I find it’s also very difficult to take someone else’s sermon and just modify it for your own use. A good sermon is a package whole. The times when I’ve tried to modify someone else’s sermon and just make it work for me almost always turns out to be a disaster because I’ve taken bits out of an integrated whole that actually work best as a part of that whole.
Second reason: the preacher must engage with the text directly rather than with another preacher. This is the same danger for preachers to go straight to the commentaries rather than to the text. In preaching, God wants to speak to the preacher first through his Word. If the preacher isn’t spending time letting that Word directly challenge him, ruminate and take root in his mind, causing him to think about his flock and their needs, then he is going to have a lot of the power of the preached word taken from him.
Moreover if we engage first with another’s sermon, then even when we go to the text we will allow his sermon to dominate and skew our understanding of the text. And here’s the thing: the better the sermon, the more this is the case.
So my encouragement: hear sermons for your own edification. Listen to sermons to help fill out your understanding of the text. But please don’t shortcut the process and just preach someone else’s sermon.
Here’s hoping I don’t do this on Sunday. 🙂