I was recently speaking with a person who is at the ministry where I am a staff pastor. He asked me a question that pretty much floored me: Do you copy your sermons from the internet?
Without hesitation the answer is NO. I love preaching and teaching the Bible. I read the Bible, read and listen to sermons. I cannot get enough. In a normal week there is about seven hours of preparation time to craft one sermon. The time spent in study, prayer, and preparation to give the people God gave to me the message He wants for them, but there is a back story here.
Several years ago I was an elder in a church and the Pastor was always complaining that he was too busy to prepare a message each week. Then suddenly his sermons got some what better, more polished. I complemented him on the improvement. He then let me in on his little secret. He showed me his outline. It was from a sermon subscription service he was paying for and all he had to do was find an outline he liked, download it to his account, and it would print out with his name, title, and today’s date on it all ready for him to use. Suddenly I felt cheated as a member of the church (maybe I should not of, but I did) and to make matters worse he was publishing these on the internet, both audio and video, as his own sermons. I felt this was extraordinarily dishonest. I know he paid for the right to use them but does it make it right to pass them off as if he spent hours preparing them? I do not think so.
After this experience and sense of betrayal it left behind I even stopped posting my sermons at Sermon Central (if you look, my account is still there but I have not posted anything since September 2010) not because my sermons are anything special but I did not want to contribute to others having the same feeling I had that night.
But that is not my dirty little secret.
My dirty little secret is that I DO use illustrations off of the internet to help with my sermon preparation. While I do understand that first hand illustrations are the best, if I am being realistic with myself, I have maybe two dozen usable illustrations from my own life. Some of the people have been here over five years and have heard them all, probably several times over. I have been forced to sit under teachers who have six illustrations and they do nothing but use them over and over and over again ad-nauseam. It is like, “Oh boy, illustration number three again. Boy that applies to just about every situation in life, doesn’t it?” Meanwhile, I sit banging my head on the desk saying, “Please, give me something different, interesting. Anything!”
That is why I do use internet illustrations, to keep people interested with fresh, applicable stories. And when I write my outline it is with proper footnotes so that if I am asked where did I get that story from, I can tell them quickly and honestly. There is nothing wrong with using the tools available to you, just be honest about it.