What is the Role of Outside Sources in Sermon Preparation?

Several years ago I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. The doctor offered three options to deal with this issue. One option was to go on medication, find the right dosage, and all should be well. While this may control the blood pressure, it potentially could cause other issues. Another possibility involved me making better choices in my eating habits and losing a few surplus pounds. Of course, this would demand a steady effort on my part. The third option involved a combination of both. A small dosage of medication coupled with a concerted effort on my part towards a healthier lifestyle. While each option held the possibility of satisfactory results, it would still be somewhat of a trial and error experiment. I would just have to see which one would be best suited for my particular situation.

Now let’s move on to our topic at hand. What is the role of outside sources in sermon preparation? In the age of instant access to a plethora of credible and not so credible information, this dilemma has presented itself as never before. The choices are rather obvious: none, some, all, or all the above. And drawing on my high blood pressure dilemma, I’ll strive to use those options on this subject.

1. With the sheer volume of sources available, it would be quite possible to become dependent on the work of others. If this is the choice, perhaps we should simply purchase the best DVD player we can find, place it on the pulpit, and push “Play”. The danger here lies in the neglect of the very object which we are called to cherish. Certainly we must meditate on the Word and allow the Spirit to direct what flows from our hearts. Trusting the work of others may well be an avenue for laziness or apathy to take root in our own spiritual lives. I’m not sure easy or quick are really pleasing to God.

2. Option two would preclude the use of outside sources. It would seem to me that dismissing any assistance would be most unreasonable. To say I have a complete grasp of every subject is a rather bold statement. To think that nothing could add to my understanding or conveyance of the Word isn’t bold; it’s just bubbling over with arrogance.

3. Number three would include a balance of the two, my own study of the word plus an appropriate seasoning of an outside source. The Holy Spirit must be given opportunity to reveal the Word to its reader. I’ve found that by depending on the thoughts of others, I tend to nod my head in agreement. If we are simply looking for a quick sermon or to awe our congregations, we may tend to lose the delicate balance of the Spirit’s leading and the insights of others.

Lastly, I would say that sermon preparation must not always be done in a certain way. I know that sounds like a politically correct answer. But, we should be careful never to neglect the Word, deprive ourselves of preparation time, or prepare without a prayerful attitude.

By the way, I’ve lost several pounds, I watch my diet, and, yes, I take a blood pressure pill every day.

Rodney Bapst is the pastor of Owl Creek Mennonite Church in Lucasville, Ohio.

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