The Wizard of Oz was a mighty and powerful being to be feared and respected…until the curtain was drawn back and the Wizard turned out to be a mechanical façade created by a little man pushing buttons and pulling levers. The classic story came to mind this week as I heard two separate stories of megachurch pastors literally outsourcing their Bible study and exegetical sermon preparation work.Apparently the trend is not as uncommon as one might think, although I’m sure not every large church pastor utilizes the services of outsiders. The program works like this-a megachurch pastor has limited time and many obligation. He simply cannot pour hours of labor into studying the Bible, exegeting the texts, reading commentaries, and researching historical interpretations. So, he hires a credible and educated Bible student to do this work instead. The exegete-for-hire then delivers the essential points in a summary paper that the pastor can add pertinent illustrations and applications to before delivering the sermon to his flock. Am I the only one who finds this disturbing? I know what you may be thinking. But Skye, how is that any different than the pastor who pulls their exegetical insights from a commentary or theology book? Few people start from scratch. We all rely on the work of outsiders, whether theologians or Bible scholars, to write our sermons. These mega-pastors are simply making the process more efficient. That is a valid point. Before I write a sermon I rely on many outsiders for help…a book by N.T. Wright, a commentary by John Stott, a 4th century sermon by John Chrysostom, or even a conversation with a colleague at work. But here’s the difference…I’m wrestling with a text for days, and often weeks, before I preach a sermon. I’m thinking, praying, meditating, and often fighting with Scripture. It becomes part of me. So when I stand before the congregation and speak they aren’t just hearing useful truth from the Bible-they are hearing from someone who has marinated in that truth. And that’s something that cannot be outsourced. There is value in the sermon process, not just the preaching outcome.
Hope for Bible school and seminary graduates during the recession?
This revelation that some pastors are now outsourcing their study of the Bible only adds to my concerns about the state of preaching today. Many places, including secular newspapers, are reporting on the rise of plagiarism in the pulpit as increasing numbers of pastors are downloading sermons online. And the long-term impact of video preaching-where a single gifted orator is beamed to congregations in multiple locations thus eliminating the need to develop more Bible teachers-has yet to be seen. For now many are tolerating these trends because the preaching is strong, the Bible is being taught, and the seats are filled. But at what cost? In time we may, like Dorothy, want to escape the fantasy world we’ve entered. The church of Oz appears powerful and might. It’s colossal and impressive-until we pull back the curtain.