A new generation of preachers is being trained.
There is a stream of advice that young preachers should only preach dazzling sermons which are all their own work. They have to be completely original.
I beg to disagree. I feel that this advice is not only unhelpful to these men but is actually damaging churches. I am not calling for plagiarising sermons from the internet or books, by-passing any preparation. But I do believe that sparkling originality can be an unnecessary burden.
Reasons for disagreeing
First, even the writers of Scripture copy one another sometimes. 2 Peter and Jude are almost word for word identical in large sections. Who uses whose material? Isaiah quotes from Micah. Or is it the other way around? We don’t know. Theories of how the Gospels were written posit common material which originated we do not know where – except that the Holy Spirit used it in the work of more than one writer.
Second, the emphasis on originality in all their pulpit work can easily foster a preacher’s pride rather than humility. And while unspiritual hearers always desire to hear ‘some new thing’ (Acts 17.21), it is preachers who are keen to be innovative and novel in their interpretation of their texts that are most prone to straying from sound doctrine.
Third, feeling they must come up with unique insights and brand new ways of handling a Bible passage means that some young ministers spend their whole week in the study. Other essential pastoral duties like visiting the flock and spending substantial time in prayer, get neglected. Or if they do give time to these duties they find they can only possibly produce one sermon a week. This is leading to the downgrading and even the closure of evening services. I know of one church in London where the morning service is simply repeated in the evening. If ever there was a signal that said, ‘Don’t bother to be in church twice on a Sunday,’ this is it. In some places the evening service is reduced to a cup of tea and a discussion. The Puritans would have gone nuts!
This ‘originality’ advice is, in some ways, peculiar to the contemporary scene. To assist young preachers the great Anglican Charles Simeon published Helps to Composition; or six hundred skeletons of sermons; several being the substance of sermons preached before the univer- sity. The university he refers to is, of course, Cambridge and the work became popularly known as Simeon’s Skeletons. He defines the skeleton of a discourse in the following way: ‘It should be not merely a sketch or outline, but a full draft, containing all the component parts of a Sermon, and all the ideas necessary for the illustration of them, at the same time that it leaves scope for the exercise of industry and genius in him who uses it.’* Simeon looked for young preachers to use his sermon headings and ideas so as to learn the art of exposition and to mature as preachers. Similarly, when C.H. Spurgeon published his voluminous work on the Psalms, The Treasury of David, every exposition ended with ‘Hints to the village preacher’.
It’s fine if you have original ideas. But equally, dear preacher, if something from another writer or preacher has blessed you, then pirate it for the good of your congregation. You are not called first to be original but to be helpful.
* A helpful booklet on Simeon is advertised at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zRl6JA2RWU