Or should I say holimetical reruns.
There has been considerable talk in recent days on the subject of hitting home runs. Less than a month ago, Sammy Sosa became the fifth player all-time to hit 600 home runs. Just this week MLB had their annual Home Run Derby, an opportunity for the best home run hitters to duke it out. But getting even more news is the realization that the most cherished record in baseball, Hank Aaron’s home run record of 755, is about to be broken by the ever controversial Barry Bonds. But Major League Baseball is not the only place we are hearing about home runs. In recent years, the talk about hitting homiletical home runs has surfaced on numerous times, occasioned by the discussion of pastoral plagiarism which has become inevitably linked to the analogy. Let me explain.
The issue of pastoral plagiarism initially surfaced in the blogosphere in March 2006 when Justin Taylor (here and here) and Ray Van Neste (here and here) addressed the growing trend of pastors preaching word-for-word messages of other pastors (I wrote about this briefly as well). The central article discussed was written by Steve Sjogren entitled “Don’t Be Original–Be Effective!” In his article Sjogren quotes Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the world’s largest church in Korea, in a Q&A session at a seminar. Someone asked, “How do you put your weekly messages together? They are so powerful!” Here was Cho’s response:
“Honestly, I have never given an original message in all my years of ministry here at Yoido Church. Each week, I preach word-for-word messages from either Billy Graham or W.A. Criswell from Dallas First Baptist Church. I can’t afford to not have a home run each weekend when we gather. I don’t trust my own ability to give completely original messages.”
Sjogren concludes his article with this anecdotal statement:
A wise mentor of mine brought great liberty to me when he was coaching me in the area of how to put messages together. He said, “There once was a man who said, ‘I will be original or nothing;’ in the end he became both.” Dare to step out of the box. Regardless of what you have heard or been taught – hit a home run this weekend with the help of a message master!
Dr. Van Neste’ responded to the idea of hitting homiletical home runs, asserting, “How man-centered, performance driven is that? This is the real problem. The assumption behind the writing is that the big issue is a great performance in the preaching. So, if you can’t give a great performance borrow someone else’s. But, this is not what our people need. Performance is available in abundance. The word of God is not so available.”
A couple of years ago, I was told that there was a megachurch pastor in the area who had a group of interns that developed various parts of his sermon. One intern’s job was to hunt down illustrations; another to form the outline; another is to find jokes; and yet another for historical background. On Thursday morning, all the interns (I was told 10-12 of them) meet in a board room to craft the message together with the pastor. The pastor then takes the final version and preaches it the following Sunday. As you could imagine, the goal was to have a home run prepared every Sunday for the pastor to preach. The person telling me this confirmed that this was a growing trend, as even he was taking part in this type of project with his pastor (in a Southern Baptist Church).
Fast forward to June of this year (2007) at the SBC Pastor’s Conference in San Antonio. Before he began his sermon, Dr. James Merritt made a passing commercial encouraging pastors to go to his website and download a free Father’s Day sermon for pastor’s to preach “every word of it.” See for yourself:
Shortly after Dr. Merritt made his remarks, the conversation began over at Said at Southern. I was out of town and away from my computer the following week, so I did not engage in the discussion much further (I did comment a couple times early on). However, one thing I did notice was a passing comment made by Dr. Hershael York on his blog. In his blogpost of reflections about the 2007 Annual Meeting, he wrote the following statement (#11):
“Anonymously text messaging James Merritt just before he preached and telling him he better hit it out of the park or no one was going to even look at his website.”
Now, I do not know if this was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek (the other comments seem sincere and genuine), but even if this was to be taken in a light-hearted manner, it continues to speak of what Dr. Van Neste and others have pointed out. Indeed, regarding the usage of the “home run” analogy much can and should be said (ethically, biblically, pastorally, spiritually, etc.), but in this post I want to make a simple baseball point.
One of the major reasons why pastors have confessed to pastoral plagiarism (as aforementioned) is the desire to hit homiletical home runs every time they preach. Now don’t get me wrong, the primacy and centrality of biblical, expository preaching is crucial, so please don’t come away thinking I am trying to minimize the importance of the Lord’s Day message (actually, my emphasis is quite the contrary). However, for many megachurches who have adopted the attractional model (“Come and see”), the worship service becomes the end-all be-all for reaching seekers. While what constitutes a homiletical “home run” may be up for debate, allow me to press this often used analogy and see how it holds up with its reference point of America’s past time.
I have played baseball all my life and continue to enjoy the sport today as an avid spectator. One of the things a baseball analyst will tell you is that the best home run hitters in the history of baseball hit a home run every 13-16 at bats (Aaron – 16.4; Bonds – 12.9; Mays – 16.5) . Not only that, but some of the best home run hitters also have the highest strike-out/hit ratio, striking out an average of five times for every one home run. Moreover, if the only hit these Hall of Famer’s had during their lifetime was a home run, their batting average would average out to 0.061. So how does this translate in to preaching today? Here’s how it factors out:
The Hank Aaron’s and Barry Bond’s of the pulpits today will only hit three to four homiletical home runs in a full year’s preaching calendar. In addition to that, he will strike out 15-20 times in that same calendar year.
That in and of itself is problematic enough, but what is worse is that pastor’s today are trying to find the answer to this through plagiarizing other pastors’ sermons! And if that is not bad enough, pastors are encouraging this practice and making a profit while turning the “homiletical home run” slogan into a motif for homiletical reruns – all at a bargain price (go here and here for examples).
The whole idea of hitting home runs with regards to preaching is most unfortunate in every sense of the word – spiritually, ecclesiologically, pastorally, and yes, even pragmatically. Pastors are growing more and more disconnected from the sheep and more and more disconnected from God’s Word. When Jesus restored Peter, he asked him, “Peter, do you love me?” When Peter responded in the affirmative, Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep.” When the day comes that feeding the sheep has turning into hitting homiletical home runs, I fear that we have developed all-stars instead of bondservants who only know how to say, “Thus saith the Lord.” We don’t need to focus on hitting home runs “with the help of a message master.” We need to be on our knees in prayer to our Master and Lord Jesus. We don’t need to focus on hitting home runs so that people will look at our website. We need to preach as one eclipsed by the cross to look only at Jesus and be enthralled by Him. It is my prayer that the sacred desks today will not find receipts from recently purchased sermons or church budgets with line-items to fund pastoral plagiarism, but that those desks will be the solemn sanctuary of God-besot pastors who have the fire of God’s Word shut up in their bones–pastors who shepherd God’s sheep with the whole counsel of God’s Word.