When stressed, I have a recurring dream. I’m standing behind the pulpit, supposed to preach. But I’m paralyzed. I have nothing prepared and nothing to say.
Not too many folks know about that dream. The inevitable response from those who do is, “De Moor, that’s ridiculous—we should be so lucky! We haven’t ever seen you get to the final ‘Amen’ in time.” With friends like that . . .
If most of my parishioners don’t know my fear of being publicly tongue-tied, it’s because I have benefited so much from wise congregation members who have supported me in my preaching. I have also benefited greatly from my colleagues who have, throughout my ministry, taught me, guided me, given me fresh ideas, and freely shared their best insights. Honestly, if I had to cite the source of every one of those in my sermon, there would be more citation than message. Not very edifying!
To be sure, Professor Rottman rightly points out the perils of plagiarism on the pulpit (see p. 34). Stealing the sermons of others is dishonest thievery; it’s a breach of one’s calling. Yet we all need to realize that our pastors do not and should not prepare sermons in isolation. Every sermon has something borrowed. There is one gospel. There is one mission to proclaim that gospel worldwide. And where we can help each other do it well, we need to share resources. Let’s copyright sermons—but not the ideas, explanations, and applications in them. Let’s lend them to others to use in the service of Christ’s kingdom.
Here are some of the “inputs” to my preaching over the years. Some of these I’ve had the opportunity to acknowledge, many not:
- My dad, whose preaching in so many ways shaped my own and who gave me blanket permission to “steal” his stuff wherever I wanted as part of my inheritance.
- College theology profs and seminary profs who were so patient with a greenhorn rebel.
- The Catholic priest in the town where I served my first congregations who knew Reformed theology better than I did and who showed how to make it count in my preaching.
- Henry and John, my brothers in the ministry, who often rescued me when I panicked because I had no fresh ideas for Christmas or New Year’s Day.
- The many colleagues along the way who formally and informally shared what they were reading, thinking, and doing.
- The many commentaries that contribute the insights of generations of preachers long since fallen silent.
From our pulpits we rightly expect a creative, fresh explication and application of God’s Word each and every Sunday since each congregation and listener within it exist in their own unique time, place, and context. (Of course, if your pastor runs out of time, there’s nothing wrong with him or her reading someone else’s work, as long as the source is clearly and openly acknowledged.) But let’s never forget, or forget to give thanks for, the debt your preacher owes to all those others who proclaim the same Word, driven by the same Spirit, in service of the same Lord.
Seriously, there’s only One who is truly original.