(John Piper in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 3)
Yesterday, I wrote about the modern-day plague of pastors plagiarizing in the pulpit and concluded with this statement:
“When it comes down to it, I would rather have a pastor who strikes out swinging than to have a designated hitter any day.”
This was an intended transition statement to lead into what I would like to address today. Where plagiarism can be considered a plague, this would fit the ranks of perilous in pastoral ministry. What I am speaking about is “designated hitters” who are going to bat for the pastors in the local church. They are the professionals behind the pulpit, who, because of their great hermeneutical and communicative skills, craft sermons for pastors to preach. They don’t preach sermons; they just prepare them and deliver them to the pastor to preach so that the pastor would not have to do the work himself. This is similar to plagiarizing in that the goal in mind is the same—to effectively remove the work of sermon preparation and biblical study for the pastor so as to be more effective in ministry by doing things presumably more important. While one may be the fruit of stealing, the other is the fruit of the ground the farmer didn’t plough, the reward of a runner who didn’t “compete according to the rules.”
I first was made aware of this growing pastoral phenomena when I was in a seminary class where the grader lead a small group discussion about ministry. He shared with the group his ministry responsibilities which included developing the sermon calendar of his pastor and preparing the Sunday morning message each Sunday. There was another staff person who was hired for the Sunday night message. He candidly shared that it was his responsibility to develop sermon series and eventually every sermon for his pastor (who pastors a large church in the Louisville area). The pastor would then get the sermon towards the end of the week, go over it, and then preach it the following Sunday. He could be considered as a professional sermonizer who works to provide the best, most polished “grand slammer” for the pastor to make it easy to knock it out of the park every Sunday. Ironically enough, it wasn’t long after I heard about this, that the very pastor who received this sermon was on the five o’clock news announcing he was running for public office in his town. I guess you have time for that when you don’t prepare your own messages.
As he continued to share, he realized that what he was doing was not being well-received and began to seek justification by calling upon another local megachurch in the area who has several men who work together to craft the “senior pastor’s” message for the following Sunday. I was told that each person was given individual responsibilities in the sermon—one over illustrations, one over jokes, one over the outline, one over the quotes, etc. Each person would literally bring their work to the table, and together they would put together the sermon on Thursday morning. It is my understanding that the pastor who actually preaches the sermon would participate in the overall development at this point, but the goal in mind is to have the absolute, most amazing sermon possible for that given Sunday. The emphasis is highly placed on the sermon, but not the sermon being derivative of the pastor who preaches it. One would argue, “Who cares, as long as it is good, right?”
Here’s my question: Why are pastors these days looking for every way possible to avoid preparing and crafting their own sermons? Why is it that we are looking for the easiest way out of diligently and desirously delivering to God’s people a message birthed form the life and study of their shepherd? Are we to encourage this from our church members? Are to tell them, “You really do not need to study the Bible that much. You would be better off just reading a devotional. Too much Bible study will not be as effective in your life as a devotional which will be easier to remember.”
Here’s the danger as I see it: We are quick to judge those in the Roman Catholic faith who go to a priest as a mediator between them and God to confess their sins. This type of mediation is unbiblical we would all agree. But what about mediation between us and God’s Word? Are we to abandon the personal discipline of study and simple received a mediated message from another, never having been blessed by the Spirit’s illuminating work in our life? We are a holy priesthood, are we not? Imagine a priest in OT times who, when called to offer a sacrifice or speak on behalf of God said, “You know, God, I really have other things to be tending to right now which are more urgent than this. Could you excuse me from this and have someone else stand in my place? I know that you have called me for this purpose, but I really just don’t have time for it right now.” What shall we say to this???
The professionalization of the ministry is pulling pastors away from the most crucial and central task of the ministry, that is, preaching the Word of God. Where there are some who are plagiarizing other preachers, others are hiring others to do the work for them. I am saddened to hear that this is the growing trend in churches today, especially among the larger, faster growing churches among us. I can’t help but think that we are selling out when we should have been sold out to God. We have offered excuses to not preach while we should be exclaiming, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Consider the words of John Piper in his book Brothers, We Are not Professionals:
“For every sick shepherd who offends unnecessarily, a hundred are so frightened to offend that the sword of the Spirit has become rubber in their mouths and the mighty Biblical mingling of severity and kindness has vanished from their ministry. For every incompetent pastor who justifies himself with spiritual coverings, a hundred incompetent pastors are desperately doubling their spiritual incompetence be seeking remedies in Babylon. For every pastor who enjoys the respect in the guild in spite of prophetic faithfulness to the cross, a hundred pastors enjoy that respect because the cross has been compromised” (xii).
Let us stop going to Babylon and recover the mantle to preach the Word of God with full integrity and authenticity. Let us men and women who bleed the Bible when pricked. Let us find in ourselves such a holy necessity that we pronounce a “Woe!” unto ourselves if we fail to preach the gospel. God does not need professionals, neither in the pulpit nor behind it, and when we realize this, God’s Church will be better because of it. May we have the conviction to realize that it is better to strike out on Sunday with yourself at the plate than to shoot up with steroids because you are expected to hit it out of the park each time you preach.
“The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man. The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism. There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others.”
– John Piper
Trackpack and other posts:
P&P: Plagiarizers in the Pulpit
Steve Sjogren: Don’t Be Original – Be Effective!
Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism
Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism, Part 2
Justin Taylor: Pastoral Plagiarism
Justin Taylor: Plagiarizing in the Pulpit
Coty Pinckney: Plagiarism and Pastors (see page 4)
Ken Fields: Nuked Burritos from the Pulpit
Cavman: Plagiarism #1 – Lazy Pastors
Phil Steiger: Pervasive Pastoral Plagiarism?
Phil Steiger: Jeremiah on Pastoral Plagiarism
Christianity Today: When Pastors Plagiarize