To say that the Rev. Barry Smith is always looking for new sermon ideas is an understatement.
The pastor of Impact Community Church in Elk Grove, Calif., has come up with topics for Sunday messages while on retreat, in the shower or on the treadmill.
Smith preaches 38 weeks a year and says he has original ideas for half. The other half? He finds those on the Internet.
“I don’t have any problem with taking what people have done and making it interesting to our members in a way that will connect with them,” Smith says. “We tweak it, we make it our own.”
These days, pastors need to save time like everyone else, so while they reflect on what touches their souls, they also browse the Internet for a ready-made message.
Smith, who checks the church Web sites of his favorite pastors, says he uses other ministers’ sermons as a template only and always attributes their work.
Still, ministers can turn to dozens of online sermon sites for divine inspiration. Sites offer sermons – some free, some for a price – on topics ranging from church membership to the perils of drinking to finding harmony in the home.
For about $250, the pastor can purchase an all-inclusive sermon series that includes the sermon, an outline, illustrations, graphics and video.
Sermoncentral.com calls itself “your sermon resource center.” Sermons.org has sermon categories ranging from Christmas to children’s. Desperatepreacher.com has a menu featuring links to “ministry humor.”
“We are a resource for pastors,” says Frank Schaefer, founder and director of desperatepreacher.com. “We hope that they’ll read someone else’s sermon and it will inspire them, get their creative juices flowing.”
There, sermons are usually written by other pastors who are paid about $35 each.
For some, these sermons have been too tempting, like students drawn to downloading term papers. Incidents of pulpit plagiarism have led to a debate about the ethics of selling sermons, with some wondering about the message it sends the congregation.
Last year, in response to concerns about plagiarism, 5,000 pastors took “The Pastor’s Pledge,” promising to use the Bible as their primary sermon source.
“If you have the training, use it. You owe it to yourself and you owe it to your congregation,” says Scott Gibson, preaching professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and author of “Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon?”
Sermon stealing has been around since pastors started publishing their work, Gibson says. These sites may make it easier, he says, and posting plagiarism warning statements may not be enough.
“I’m all for providing resources,” says Gibson. “But they’re in the business of selling material, and when it is so easily accessible you wonder if in some way they’re contributing to the problem.”
Most pastors devote about 15 hours a week to crafting their Sunday messages. Pressure to write and deliver funny, meaningful sermons every week can be daunting.
“There is so much good preaching on TV or on the Internet that it heightens the expectations for people when they come to hear a sermon in person,” says Bryce Jessup, of William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif.
To find sermon illustrations, John Stone, pastor of Crosspointe Church in Sacramento, sometimes searches preachingtoday.com.
“I tap into it to find new ways to tell stories,” Stone says. “You only have so many life stories to share.”
Stone attributes illustrations and quotes from other sources. But mostly, he uses his own work.
“I see myself as a shepherd, and I’m guiding my flock,” he says. “I owe it to my congregation to write my own.”
Sermons have a special meaning for pastors, especially for those who focus on writing their own.
That’s what Michael Guisande, pastor of Lighthouse Christian Center in Loomis, Calif., has done for years. Two weeks ago, a thief stole Guisande’s office computer and 17-year file of sermons.
“I don’t care about the computer,” Guisande says. “I just want my sermons back. They’re my life’s work.”
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