Sunday, April 24, 2011

Inspiring Words, For a Price

While researching an idea for a potential blog post, I came across, which is intended for "pastors who want to keep up with current speaking trends." iStockSermons lets you search for sermons based on keywords such as "addiction," "balance," "celebration," and the like. Each "complete creative sermon package" includes an MP3 (audio) file of the sermon, a transcript of the sermon, and artwork (logos "in illustrator or photoshop" and JPG formats). Some packages also include "extras" like videos, additional notes, or sermons that were written but not delivered. The prices for the packages currently available on the site (which each contain at least 3 and as many as 7 sermons) range from $149 to $399. I thought at first that the site was fairly new, but the company's brochure (warning: PDF) has a copyright date of 2009. They don't have much to choose from—only 9 sermon packages—so if you need a sermon on "building campaigns" or "giving," for example, you'll have to write it yourself or look elsewhere. iStockSermons isn't the only web site that offers sermons to download, but of those that seem intended for pastors looking for creative help, iStockSermons seems to offer the most complete and polished materials.

Not everybody who's "called to the ministry" is a talented writer, I'm sure. Even for those who do write well, composing an original and stimulating sermon every week must be tough, especially with all the other stuff pastors are expected to do (counseling, administrative duties, etc.). It must be a relief to know that when inspiration fails, there's someone to turn to, but this raises interesting questions. If a pastor does buy and download one of the "creative sermon packages," does s/he pay for it personally, or does it come out of the church's budget? (Either way, the money originally came out of the parishioners' pockets.) Does the pastor indicate somehow that someone else wrote the sermon? Or is this more like Sandra Lee's "Semi-Homemade Cooking" where you add your own touches to prepackaged items and pass the result off as your own creation?†

If pastors are open about the source of their sermons and/or if this practice is as common and acceptable as purchasing a Vacation Bible School (VBS) kit, that's fine, but to this outsider, "buying a sermon" sounds an awful lot like "buying a term paper."

† Polenta (known in these parts as "cornmeal mush" before it got all uppity and started appearing in tubes at the grocery store) and white chocolate, while both very tasty in their own right, are ingredients that really should not appear in the same recipe. Ick.

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