I've noticed a trend that is disturbing to me. Actually, now that I'm nearly 40, most trends are disturbing to me. But that's beside the point. I am doing some preparation for my next sermon. I plan on teaching 1 Samuel 12:20-25. It has been a while since I have actually prepared for a sermon, having spent most of the last couple years teaching a spiritual formation class.
After some personal study and note taking, I headed out to the internet to get some insight on the passage from other pastor's sermons. No plans on theft or plagiarism, of course. I just wanted to see how others approached the passage. But I was dismayed at just how many sites affiliated with churches, a popular pastor, or just a clearinghouse for sermons, were charging for their transcripts. Two examples off the top of my head were PreachingToday'sSermons and CreativePastors. There were many more.
I don't know. It just doesn't strike me right. For what reason would they be charging their pastoral brothers for their work? It certainly couldn't be for the time and effort to come up with them in the first place - I'm assuming most of these messages were already created and delivered to the pastor's local congregation. So it has to be something else. Maybe they don't get paid enough by their congregation or denomination and they see this as a way to close the gap. Maybe they are simply taking advantage of a sweet situation - what a better way to make a buck then to sell something you had to prepare for someone else anyway. Maybe it's just plain greed.
In any case, I have a hard time reconciling the practice with Paul's words to his brethren in Corinth: "What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it." Or even Jesus' words to his apostles in Matthew 10:8 "Freely you have received, freely give."
Now, I'm not against selling a product to make money, or raising money to support your endeavors. But I don't think selling your messages is the way to do it. As a pastor myself, my naive perspective wants us to help each outer out from a heart of goodwill. From a desire to see our brothers and sisters grow, not to squeeze every last nickel out of them. And from a humble heart that should be amazed that others might find insight and spiritual growth from the words that God gave you.
Which is what I like what my friends over at SermonCentral have done. They haven't sold out - all the messages and illustrations are all free. But they offer a subscription-based "Pro" version of the site that gives you access to more functionality and better features on the website themselves, not more, different, or "better" sermons. I think its a great concept, and I call on more websites to think likewise. Let's quit commercializing every and all things under the sun and preach God's word free of charge.