Thursday, November 16, 2006

Million dollar sermon market

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal published a page one article entitled, "That Sermon You Heard Sunday May Be from the Web." It quotes a pastor from my own state who unashamedly admits to preaching Ed Young Jr.'s sermons.

Reverend Brian Moon "says he delivered about 75% of Mr. Young's sermon, 'just because it was really good.' That included a white-water rafting anecdote similar to Mr. Young's in the original. Mr. Moon, who has now been a pastor for seven months, didn't give credit to Mr. Young, and he makes no apologies for using a recycled sermon."

Young sells his sermon manuscripts for $10.00 each off of his creative pastors website. That site generated $1.7 million dollars last year. I guess there can be no dispute about those sermons being "productive."

Ray Van Neste offers some insightful perspective in the article (as well as in a recent blog post). As he says, "Credit isn't really the issue. Integrity is the issue." That is true not only for those who purchase sermons to preach to their congregations, it is also true for those who would never think of doing such a thing but who regularly read the sermons of our own heros like Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Piper and MacArthur. As one wag put it, "Calvinists will start preaching better sermons when John Piper starts publishing better sermons."

It is a danger that every preacher faces when he reads widely the sermons (or commentaries) of others. Originality does not mean that one should cease doing such reading and study, but that he should do so with a conscious determination not to become simply a parrot of the thoughts of others. Spurgeon said it well:
Do not be a mere copyist, a borrower and spoiler of other men's notes. Say what God has said to you, and say it in your own way; and when it is so said, plead personally for the Lord's blessing upon it (An All-round Ministry, p. 74).
God uniquely gifts, specifically calls and individually places His undershepherds according to His own wisdom. Learning to become comfortable in your own pastoral skin is a necessary and liberating discipline. As a man grows in that, he will be less inclined to preach the sermons of others as if they are his own.

HT: CT and Challies


Rev.J. Theodore Helms said...

Brother, I really appreciated this post. There are times when I feel that if I don't "parrot" Calvin or Luther and quote them extensively in my blogs my Reformed brethren will not listen. However, I have tried to stay away from that for the most part. Recently I have quoted Calvin where I found him extremely helpful in making a point. I do indeed write what I believe God has said to me, as Spurgeon put it, after careful study of the Scriptures. And it is not that I want the approval of my Reformed brethren as much as it is I have something to say that I believe is important to the body of Christ and I want to be heard. There is nothing quite as exciting and fulfilling as coming to an understanding of a verse or passage of Scripture and then being able to communicate that truth effectively. Thanks again for a post that has given me a little more freedom to use the uniqueness of the gift that God has given to me. I feel a little more comfortable in my "own skin." The diligent study of the Word of God and rightly dividing it is the driving force in my life.

Mike said...

This is an interesting dilema. If what you are preaching is entirely "new," then it is probably wrong. But, if what you are preaching isn't the product of your own time studying the Bible, then even if it isn't "wrong," you're probably the wrong guy to preach it.

We need more pastors who are theologians first, shepherds second, and preachers third.

Arthur Sido said...

I am a newer pastor (about the last four months) and I find it helpful to listen to/read sermons by other reformed men I resect, it helps to flesh out areas I am struggling with and makes points I hadn't seen originally. What I can't see is how you can copy another man's work whole cloth and call yourself a pastor. The congregation might as well watch a videotape of a better preacher and skip the middle man.

(I agree with Mike that if what you are preaching is new, it probably isn't true!)

irreverend fox said...

Tom Ascol charges like $12...but he's a Calvinist and I'm not sure where Young Jr stands...but if I could save $2 a week I'm sure I could find the time to tweak an Ed Young Jr sermon enough to make it more 5 point-ish...

Sojourner said...

I once read a story about Charles Spurgeon. Apparently, he once visited a church where a young man preached one of Spurgeon's sermons. After the service, Spurgeon came forward to shake his hand. Of course, the pastor was embarrassed and appartently apologized. Spurgeon, the story goes, replied, "It was good of God to feed me with food I had prepared for others."

Many of my sermons are on the net. While I seriously doubt that anyone would make much use of them, I certainly wouldn't be offended if they did. As long as it wasn't a cover for laziness. Freely I have been given; freely I give.

Etaoin Shrdlu said...

If this isn't perpetrating a fraud on the congregation, what would it take?

Is there no sense of dishonor left?

And as for Ed Young, is this not simony? I'm going to sound harsh here: His money perish with him.

Timmy said...

A close friend of mine was part of the original class of TBI (The Bethlehem Institute) several years back. As he has been mentored me over the past year, one of the things he impressed on my mind from the words of Piper was never to be a second-hander. For many of us (including myself) who have a deep appreciation for people like Piper or MacArthur, it should be our aim to follow their example--not by regurgitating their messages--but by disciplined study and first-hand exposure to Scripture.

It is most unfortunate that ministers have abadoned the treasures of God's Word for discounts on pop-sermons. God spare us from being a people or ministers who bargain away the benefits of personal study and thorough inquiry of the living Word of God.

Were Luther, Calvin, Piper, or MacArthur to speak to us today, I am certain one of the most important things they would tell us would be, "Don't be a second-hander!"

After all, is that not what the battlecry of ad fontes was all about?

Tom said...

Irreverend fox:

When I found out Ed Young, Jr. made over $1 million selling his sermons on the internet, I suggested to my wife that maybe I should start doing that. She told me that I better not quit my day job. :-)

scripturesearcher said...

It all comes down to a matter of character,integrity and honesty.

Any person (pastor or otherwise) should give credit when and where credit is due.

If he is too busy or lazy to study, research and prepare his own sermons let him stand up and say so
and then read a good sermon by a great preacher.

Some congregations might get more from listening to the stolen sermons of others than suffering through the ones they are currently listening to.

Proverb 17:22

Doug said...

Not that I disagree with anything that has been said, but is this a problem that is more from our own tradition?

The Methodist church publishes sermons for their preachers to preach to go along with the lectionary readings for the month.

There are books upon books of both sermons and sermon illustrations that preachers have used for years without footnoting.

D. James Kennedy, in his introduction video for Evangelism Explosion, jokes how all the sermons he preached at the very beginning of his ministry were sermons from the great preachers of the past.

I think, maybe, we become hero-worshippers, wanting to be exactly like MacArthur and Piper, so we try to emulate them. Slowly, the temptation builds to sound exactly like them by using their sermons.

It is a matter of pride. We want to be popular and sound as good as the great preachers of our day. I speak from experience, because I fell into the same trap and used the same excuses I listed at the beginning of this comment. We must beware of the sin of pride and pray for one another that we don't succumb to it.

Joe Tolin said...

I should be typing this with torn clothing out of sheer disgust. I am sure that Ed, Jr. would excuse this worldly behavior by saying that the likes of Spurgeon published his sermons for sale. But as I recall that was the Penny Pulpit. The last time I visited John Piper's webpage you could get his manuscripts for the click of a mouse.
Do I have the audacity to say the dreaded "P" word? Yes I do. Ed, Jr. is a peddler. Plus anyone who would pay the set price for Jr.'s sermons have more money than they have sense.


Bill Formella said...

A little ironic that the place where lazy pastors can go to get a quick sermon is called "Creative Pastors".

By the way, the last issue of The Christian Index, the Georgia BC paper, had a rather long article on Plagiarism here:

There is also another article in the same issue that references a negative Wall Street Journal article on the "Purpose Driven Model".

The D.O.G. House said...

The way I heard it 'sojourner' was that a young preacher had been accused of preaching one of Spurgeons sermons by some one. When the accuser brought him to Spurgeon, Spurgeon asked him what he had preached. When the young preacher told him, Spurgeon told him (after going through his papers of sermons past)that "yes, this was his sermon". The young preacher said "No, it was John Gills"! Spurgeon said, "Yes, I see that you are right"!

That old plagiarist!#:>)

Timothy Cowin said...

I for one truly hope that more prominent voices would decry the selling of the Gospel! Ed Young Jr., Rick Warren, WillowNet, = BIG BUSINESS! How many preachers out there have their messages on thier sites free for any that wanted to listen? Can you imagine the Apostle Paul in our day selling his sermons, teachings and messages for $12?

It is dispicable, disgusting, detestable, (send me 12 for the outline:)

The King of kings and the Lord of lords, did not die on the cross to make preachers rich and famous!

Somebody please cry out!


SelahV said...

Dr. Ascol, I came back for a visit to your blog because a person on another blog suggested the other bloghost had curiously similar posts as yours and that you were emphasizing plagiarism on your site today.

While I think it silly for pastor's to sell their sermons when they aren't their sermons but God's word to the flock, I have another thought on the matter. (Also, I wonder if Peter, Paul and Jesus would have sold their sermons? Can you imagine what the Sermon on the Mount would have gone for on ebay?)

Seriously though, I wonder, sir, do you think some pastor's dip into the well of other pastor's sermons because they spend so much time visiting the sick, attending committee meetings, tracking down members (resident and unattending), coddling the saved, pumping up the saved and settling disputes among the saved, and battling city hall's zoning boards for variances to build mega-sanctuaries, that they have little time to sit in the presence of Almighty God and seek His still small voice?

I recently read a pastor's blog who posted a letter he'd received. I can't remember where the site is or I'd reference it here.
But in summation, it was a pewsitter's cry for a pastor to preach a sermon so unmistakenly a fresh Word from God that the walls would quake and tremble, the pews would be lit afire and the Holy Spirit would blow the folks from their comfortable chairs out into the streets to shout boldly that Christ is ALIVE...and Well. I've been in churches where that was the common sermon. It happened often when my husband had a migraine headache, a temperature of 104 and had just lost his grandmother or a dear member in our church.

Just wondering when the Spirit moves today, does it really matter where the Word comes from, as long as it IS the Word? SelahV

Greg P said...

As one who was heavily influenced to by Dr. Mac to the point of now attending his seminary, I generally can't even let myself read his commentaries at almost any point in the study process because I end up wanting to make the sermon his.

And I think people such as him and John Piper are easy temptations to just adapt from because they are so exegetically-driven that you can read their messages on any given text and it seems to make perfect sense.

But both would say (and I have actually heard Dr. Mac say) that that absolutely robs the sermon of its richness because the preacher has not gone through the diligent process, not to mention the lack of impact the text will have on the life of the preacher regardless of whether he ever steps into a pulpit with it.

Pastor Steve said...


Thanks for the post. It certainly has made me think! I must admit I am not guiltless in this area, and may I suggest as well that no pastor can consider himself completely guiltless if a strict interpretation is held. Of course, word for word quotations must be cited, but ideas stemming from others? The difficulty lies I think in knowing when someone else's idea becomes your own. After having read a dozen or more commentaries on a passage, the thoughts and ideas start to all blend and I begin to form my own, but can I say that they are truly my own, if I have derived them from others? do they need cited?

I confess I probably have never had an original thought in my life (I think I heard someone say that before), only thoughts provoked by older more seasoned veterans of the faith. I hope that their thoughts have become my own and not simply spit back out, but, for me, sometimes the line is blurry. Of course, we must not simply cough up someone else’s material, but at the same time lets not heap unnecessary guilt on those who study diligently and want the best for their congregations who take ideas of others, internalize them, and then feed their congregations. Sorry for the long post. Now, back to the books!

SelahV said...

Pastor Steve: funny. I just asked on Peter Lumpkins site if anyone knew who it was that coined the phrase about no one having an orignal thought. And now I find you sharing the same originality here. LOL.

I DO have one quote by Corrie ten Boom that I've framed and embroidered for folks that could explain where a lot of sermons and thoughts come from:

"Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future, that only He can see."

So if we cull all our experiences and people who've influenced us--positively or negatively--I suppose God is the author of all we are. Ya think? SelahV

Pastor Steve said...

I think John Piper wrote of himself not ever having an original thought.

I doubt that it was original with him, for that would disprove his statement! Muddy waters indeed!

SelahV said...

Pastor Steve: How old is Piper? I know I heard of that saying long before I heard of Piper. I'm thinking Mark Twain was the one who coined it. Wow, wouldn't that be a good question for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? selahV

Gordan said...

As a pastor, if you're preaching someone else's sermons, and even paying money to do so...

I'm wondering what exactly you think it is God called you to in the first place.

kradzo said...

I think that Adam may have been the only one to ever have an original thought - for just a brief period of time until he woke up to find Eve.

SelahV said...

Are you saying that after woman came into the world, man never had an original thought again? Or are you saying women are the only ones who have original thoughts and thereby any thought a man has is something momma or his wife told him to think? LOL. SelahV

Bill Formella said...

I think when Adam woke up and saw Eve he said, "Hay Chihuahua" (if Eden were in Mexico. Ever since then man has not been able to think clearly.

(From The Unauthorized Living Paraphrase Message Version)

Highland Host said...

'D.O.G. House', you and 'Sojourner' are both right. Those are two different anecdotes. Since Spurgeon published a weekly sermon plagirism of them was common. In Mrs. Spurgeon's 'Ten Years in the Service of the Book Fund' there is an account of an Anglican curate (junior/trainee minister) who made a regular habit of preaching over one of Spurgeon's sermons, giving Mrs. Spurgeon a real dilemma: should she keep on sending them to him free of charge?

FYI: the Gill story is recounted by Spurgeon as an accident. CHS had a photographic memory, and this was one of its pitfalls, reminding us that, while the student had deliberately Plagirised Gill, Spurgeon had done the same thing by accident.

This is not a new problem. In the 18th Centry it was an accepted practice in Anglicanism, with men who had never seen the inside of a pulpit preaching vicariously through men who bought their sermons and read them.
Augustus Toplady of 'Rock of Ages' fame reltes the following story"
"I was buying some books in the spring of 1762, a month or so before I was ordained, from a very respectable London bookseller. After the business was over, he took me to the furthest end of his long shop, and said in a low voice, 'Sir, you will soon be ordained, and I suppose you have not laid in a very great stock of sermons. I can supply you with as many sets as you please, all original, very excellent nes, and they will come for a trifle.' My answer was: 'I certainly shall never be a customer to you in that way; for I am of the opinion that the man who cannot, or will not make his own sermons is quite unit to wear the gown."
The 'gown' is of course the preaching-gown. And I agree fully with Mr. Toplady!

B Nettles said...

Why would someone pay $10 for an Ed Young, JR sermon when they can download Mark Dever or Ray Van Neste for free? Of course, length could be one factor, and theological content might be another. It is probably that they can download text into the word processor rather than having to LISTEN to something. Plus the theological laziness and get-a-big-church mentality.

QUESTION from a layman: Is it Biblically acceptable for the non-pastor people of the church to confront the pastor over issues like this?

Greg B said...

B. Nettles: From another non-ordained person. Yes! Listen to the explanation with compassion because I think many are in the same boats as SelahIV mentioned and are under some very unattainanble standards.

For myself. I have never been a week in week out preacher. Only occasional supply and I had the joy of being allowed to preach 4 sermons in a row for Wed services one month. But, I have to say, that the pastor is the person God's truth must pass through. He is the one who knows his people and can aim it at them (I do believe in preachers using a verse by verse, book (or large part of scripture) by book method. If you are of this persuasion, but have trouble with time and inspiration, let me advise you get a book called 12 Essential Steps for Great Preaching by Wayne McDill of Southeastern BTS. To avoid leaning on others work to much, he has a series of exercises to come up with your headings/divisions and illustrations. Anyone who can read and has some Bible education (self or schooling) can use this method to "create" Biblical semons.
I admit to once being asked to deliver a sermon on right to life Sunday. It was a real dilemna as I had never preached a topical sermon. I did search Pipers site. That is where I got the scripture, and later realized that a couple of my 4 points were virtually his. When I preached it, I told the congregation where I got the idea and that there was alot of great stuff there for them to learn more. I still wonder why someone would pay if they need help when there are so many great preachers who publish for free. Of course, I don't know why someone would use someone else's work lock stock and barrell as in my limited experience, interacting with the text a joyful and fulfilling challenge.
Greg Bailey
Powhatan, VA

Grosey's Messages said...

16 years ago I had Dr. xxxxx come and preach a week long evangelistic outreach for me in Sydney Australia.
He asked me before he began that first Sunday had I ever preached any of his sermons (he had sent me several series of tapes).
I thought back and couldn't think of any.
He then got up and preached a marvelous message on John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

A Lamb for a man (gen 3/ Gen 22)
A Lamb For A Nation (Levitical system of sacrifices)
A Lamb For The World (Jn 1:29)
The Lamb For a man (Gal 2:20)
A marvelous evangelistic outline!

When suddenly I realised.. I had used that very outline as a special communion outline nine months before! (We have communion fortnightly here in Australia, following on the end of the normal weekly message, but once a year or so, there will be a specially significant communion service, maybe with the church AGM).

I satisfied myself that no one would remember the points; congregations only remember the illustrations!

A young lady who was probably the least academic in the congregation at the end of the service came to the door first!
"Wow pastor Steve, you must be famous! He preached one of yours!"
Never have I felt so embarrassed and humbled in my life.

After much reading of many commentaries and sermons and outlines, sometimes I discover others have the absolute BEST outline on a text anyone could ever preach. The outline arises so naturally and forcefully from the text! I think we ought to bring our own personality and preaching style to these, and adapt them.
As long as the outline emerges from the text clearly, as long as it can be struck home to the human heart, then that is the main deal!
Sometimes much better men than I have opened tough oysters to reveal a pearl (men like A. Maclaren or A. Rogers).
It is difficult to acknowledge an outline (as frankly, no one in my congregation has ever heard of Rogers or Maclaren, the Young's or any SBC preacher except Charles Stanley). It becomes a bit meaningless and a bit distracting to the message to make such acknowldgements. And the message is the main deal. You have only one chance to hit that home to their hearts. (In Australia our church attenders don't have the range of easy media accesability to great preaching that the USA does!)

Some men have sometimes the BEST illustrations any could ever develop. I think we should evaluate the use of illustrations in the text of the message, bring our own background of experience to these and use them as prods, or acknowledge them (most folks don't much care who said what.. I usually preface such comments, "I know of a man...." or "Someone has well said" Most folk don't have the faintest idea of the significance of Macauley's history of England, so why bother them with telling them who said it! All you're doing is blowing your own trumpet, and they don't like that.
Personally, I believe its all about the Lord and its all about the text. Any help to get the text into someone's heart accurately for the Holy Spirit to use is very well received on my part.

David Keuss said...

Thank you for bringing this issue to the fore. It is good to be aware how prevalent this must be, when he is selling 1.7 million of those and who knows how many are completely plagarized. Someone needs to send a copy of Feed My Sheep to each of these plagarizers so they can read about the importance of writing their own sermons.

kradzo said...

SelahV said...

Are you saying that after woman came into the world, man never had an original thought again? Or are you saying women are the only ones who have original thoughts and thereby any thought a man has is something momma or his wife told him to think? LOL. SelahV

Huh uh, SelahV - I've been married long enough to know better to get into a discussion like that. Besides, it's probably already been discussed. ;-)