An Inside Look into a Ministry that Creates Sermon Series + Docent Clone

With the recently unearthed find that a prominent pastor has come out in support of the sermon factory that is “Ministry Pass,” describing the act of “borrowing” or “stealing sermons” as ‘just good stewardship” according to a post by Reformation Charlotte that brought this to our attention, we figured it was worth delving a bit more into this.

The comments were made by Mark Batterson, the lead pastor at National Community Church, a multisite megachurch in Washington DC. Batterson is perhaps best known for his mega-popular mystical/gnostic screed The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears. During a promo video he said the following:

Here’s the bottom line. Church ought to be the most creative place on the planet [which explains his creative theology]. I believe that. I also believe that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You know, you can’t come up with an original idea every single week.

Sometimes, it’s just good stewardship to beg, borrow, and steal from someone else. There’s some incredible ideas and one of the things I appreciate is that Ministry Pass is really a clearinghouse where you can take an illustration or a graphic or an entire series, put your fingerprint on it, and leverage it in your church. And so a huge thanks to my friends at Ministry Pass.

As far as what it looks like, a company like Ministry Pass has over a thousand series available covering all the books of the bible, ranging from a 4-week trip through the book of Jude to a 50-week sermon series through the book of Acts.

If 50 weeks through Acts is too long and you don’t want to go through verse by verse, you can pick multiple 6-week sermons to preach, or perhaps pluck topical sermons within the book of Acts, each one with sermon illustrations, graphics, social media art, and points to consider.

Along with the sermon series, they have videos, countdowns, and other goodies. Unlike Docent, which is far more specialized, individualistic, and expensive, with services running into the tens of thousands of dollars, Ministry Pass, which was founded by Justin Trapp and Wade Bearden, can be yours for the low price of $69 a month, or $649 annually.

In this case, we’re going to review a one-week sermon on Samson, as part of the Heroes of the Faith series. We didn’t have to pick the Heroes of the Faith series, as there were different options with different slants/ perspectives.

Those were mostly standalone messages. We also could have discussed him within multiple sermon series on the book of Judges, where he makes an appearance in chapters 15 and 16.

The series includes a bunch of graphics and videos that can be shared on different social media sites.

Here is an example of a lesson we purchased:


The Story of Samson

Big Idea of the Series:  This one-week sermon looks at the story of Samson. His story is a mix of great strength and great weakness, but it’s ultimately a story of God’s faithfulness and his ability to use us in spite of our shortcomings.

Text: Judges 15-16

Topic(s): Divine Calling, Compromise, God’s Will, Consequences, Repentance, Restoration

Big Idea of the Message: From conception, Samson had everything he needed to fulfill his calling, but because of compromise and rebellion, he faced failure. Even so, God was gracious and willing to restore Samson, even at his lowest point.  

Application Point: Repentance does not remove all consequences of sin, but God stands ready to restore the penitent sinner to a full relationship with him.

Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:

  1. Samson’s miraculous birth to a barren woman was foretold by the angel of the Lord, who left strict instructions concerning his upbringing as a Nazirite especially devoted to God. The Nazirite vow allowed for the consecration of any Israelite to a special time of devotion to the Lord. In addition to the laws that applied to all Israelites, a Nazirite “shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine” (Numbers 6:4), “shall let the locks of hair of his [or her] head grow long” (v. 5), and “shall not go near a dead body” (v. 6). These additional rules were necessary to prevent the Nazirite from becoming unclean and thereby unfit for the unfettered fellowship with God that the Nazirite vow represented (Webb, Book of Judges, 351). The Nazirite vow was usually temporary, but God’s special purpose for Samson’s life required him to serve as a lifelong Nazirite, even in his mother’s womb (Judges 13:3–5).
  2. The story of Samson’s birth parallels the birth of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. Israel was also consecrated to God, heard his voice, and received special rules to live by and a calling to fulfill (Exodus 19:9–19). Like Manoah and his wife, God gave his children every advantage in life. But like Samson, Israel treated their blessings as curses, desiring instead to integrate with the surrounding nations.
  3. Like Israel as a whole, Samson treated his special status with contempt. He completely ignored both his Nazirite vow and the regulations of the Sinaitic covenant. “Samson again goes to Timnah to complete the wedding plans and claim his bride. He decides to turn from the road to see the lion’s dead carcass. Now he is intentionally coming in contact with death, a clear volitional violation of his Nazirite vow [Numbers 6:6]. … Returning home, Samson becomes even more disruptive in his own family. Not only will he not accede to his parents’ wedding wishes. Not only does he hide from them the breaking of his Nazirite vow. Now he deliberately leads them to break their own commitments to Israel’s covenant laws by eating something that has come in contact with a dead animal [Leviticus 11:24–25, 39]. Samson has leadership ability, but it is directed for the wrong purposes and blinded by pure self-interest” (Trent C. Butler, Judges, Word Biblical Commentary 8 [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009], 335–36, Logos).
  4. “Samson has always been in rebellion against his separation to God. He has never wanted to fight the Philistines as he was destined to do. He has wanted to mix with them, intermarry with them, and party with them. … But his separateness has always caught up with him, and turned his relationships with the Philistines sour. It is the Spirit that has propelled him into conflict with them. When he wanted to stop (15:7), he was not allowed to; the men of Judah took him out of hiding, and the Spirit had seized him and thrust him into battle with the Philistines again (15:14). And after that there had been no turning back. … He had to fight them, but it was never what he wanted” (Barry G. Webb, The Book of Judges, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012], 405–6, Logos). God did not force Samson to rebel, but he did use Samson’s rebellion to advance his own purposes to deliver Israel from the Philistines.
  5. Samson was not the only one in the story to reject God’s calling on his life. The entire tribe of Judah ignored the divine mandate to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, instead betraying the very man God had called to lead and deliver them. “To fully grasp the significance of what is happening we need to reflect on how the book opened. There a united Israel inquired of Yahweh about how they should proceed in carrying out the mandate Joshua had given them to complete the conquest of Canaan. The answer was that the tribe of Judah should lead them, and that if it did so, victory was assured (1:1–2). Now here in chapter 15 there is no seeking direction from God and no victory. Israel’s subjection to the Philistines is accepted as an established fact. There is no cry for deliverance. The only person who fights the Philistines is Samson, and he does so only when his attempt to intermarry with them is thwarted. And although he is destined eventually to begin to save Israel, the men of Judah (yes, Judah!) see him only as a threat to the status quo, and arrest him in order to hand him over to their Philistine masters. What a fall there has been from the expectations with which the book began! The whole downward spiral of the central part of the book reaches rock bottom here. Surely only a remarkable act of God can save Israel now” (Webb, Book of Judges, 384).
  6. “Can vital boundaries of the faith be violated with impunity? Does sin not have any consequences? Can one dance on the edge of unbelief and play with the power of God and remain safe? May one sin if one repents just in time? Apart from [Judges] 16, chapters 13–15 might seem to say ‘Yes.’ … The book of Judges has relentlessly linked Israel’s sin to consequent oppression by pagan powers, stressing that sin has consequences—a point so far absent from Samson’s story. He seems to violate divine boundaries with impunity, at least until chapter 16, which picks up this theme. The ambivalence of chapters 14–15 breaks down unambiguously in 16:1–31” (Lawson G. Stone, “Judges,” in Joshua, Judges & Ruth, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary 3 [Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2012], 422, Logos).
  7. “Samson was fatally unwise in sharing his secret with Delilah. His willingness to do so seems traceable to his lack of appreciation of two things: One, he failed to appreciate his personal calling by God, and two, the fact that his strength lay solely in God’s power working through him as a holy instrument. These are the same failures that Israel manifested, and which resulted in her experiencing a fate similar to Samson’s, during the period of the judges. They have caused many other servants of God to fall since Samson’s day, too” (Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Judges [2020], 172, https://planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/pdf/judges.pdf).
  8. Having hit rock bottom, Samson finally yielded to the Lord’s will. His hair began to grow back, but his strength did not return with his hair. His hair growing back symbolizes the restoration of his relationship with God, not the restoration of his strength. He remained blind and weak until he cried out to the Lord. His self-centered focus on revenge still served as his motivation. He wanted to avenge his gouged-out eyes, but the Lord wanted to free the Israelites from oppression. Still, Samson’s humiliation cured his prideful self-reliance and forced him to recognize that the Lord was and had always been the source of his strength. When he turned to Lord and learned to fully rely on him, his strength returned.
  9. The story of Samson ends with a note of hope, both for apostate Israel and for all of God’s wayward children. God’s purposes cannot be thwarted by human sin. Our shame does not diminish his power. God is in control and will accomplish everything he says, through us or in spite of us. It may be a painful journey, but in the end God’s promises will prevail.

Following the message, there are also additional resources like Bible study questions and curricula.

At the beginning of each sermon series, there is a little disclaimer which states:

This is all well and good. However; many of the sermon plans are much longer, and suppose a pastor wanted to preach that 50 week Acts sermon series in 25 weeks, they could literally add 3-5 minutes of commentary and filler and be done. They could add a few personal observations on a point or two and have a wholly unoriginal sermon in a little under 15 minutes, yet one designed by experts to punch above its weight.

For men like Batterson and a thousand other pastors, this is about best thing ever.



A CALL TO ACTION

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