Featured Image

Preaching Through Non-Fiction Books

Is it OK for preachers to do a sermon series based on a non-fiction book or a movie instead of solely going through the Bible? What about preaching through someone else’s series?

There is so much content available that other people create. You don’t have to write your sermons all by yourself every single time.

Granted, you could have a wonderful, impactful ministry without ever using anyone else’s content. But it’s OK to do it.

So how can we do it well?

Using Books in a Sermon

Add Value

How do we incorporate other people’s thoughts and content into our sermons in a way that makes the material an asset, not a distraction? 

First, preaching the text as the author intended it to be taught is important. (This is good to keep in mind whether you’re preaching straight from the Bible or using another’s content to supplement the scriptures.)

Keep in mind that there aren’t many new ideas out there, but there are new ways to package them. 

It’s ultimately up to you whether you decide to use other people’s content in your sermons. But if you do, make sure that it adds value. 

Use Caution 

To be clear, it’s probably not wise to literally preach through a non-fiction book in the same way we would the Bible.

Rather, we’re referring to using a book and using it as a launching pad to teach the scriptures.

Using others’ thoughts from a book to help you communicate or expand on the scripture you preach can be a great way to teach the Bible. It could be an illustration, title, or paradigm. 

It’s probably not the best idea to go through a non-fiction book on the regular, but rather to use them more for a special feature series every now and then. 

Don’t use them as your default.

So how can we use preexisting material with integrity?

Give Credit

Be sure to give credit where credit is due.

At the same time, be mindful of how many times you mention the person you’re quoting, as saying their name every time you use some of their content can be distracting to your listeners. 

If you reference the same person many times throughout your message, you can make a statement at the beginning that lets your people know that a lot of what you’re going to say is influenced by the other person.

The point is to stay honest; don’t make people think you came up with stuff you didn’t. 

If we quoted every single person that has influenced our thinking, the entire message would be name-checking.

Remember, bring other people into the conversation as you consider how to put the pieces of your sermons together. Don’t make these decisions in isolation.

Talk with trusted colleagues and leaders about whether or not to use someone else’s content in your messages. Bounce off ideas and get advice for discernment.

Advantages of Community Content

There is Great Content Available

Let’s face it, not every Christian fiction book is great, but there are many quality books to discover and possibly incorporate into your preaching as supplemental material. 

Imagine a book is recommended by someone you trust. As you read it, you realize it’s well-written, has an impactful message, and is organized so that it would be fairly simple to use as a sermon series. 

It might be a great book to use. There are several to choose from these days as you consider preaching on a book. 

You might want to check out the book, God of All Things, by Andrew Wilson. It talks about how ordinary things point us to the beauty of God.

Interesting Framing

When you read and use someone else’s work, it’s something outside of your own head and most likely your typical circle of influence. 

Using another person’s thoughts and perspectives can be an interesting way to set up a concept.

Don’t think of books, movies, or planned series as “preaching someone else’s sermon.” Instead, look at it like you’re using a premade framework.

There is intrigue in the way other people organize and frame different faith topics. It gets you outside your typical way of thinking and stretches your options.

And if you decide to try preaching through a book, it’s not necessary to preach through every chapter. Some might apply better than others to what you’re trying to communicate in your series.

A framework for preaching gives you direction in the way you could preach the book of the Bible or topic. 

Ministry Pass put together a handful of series guides for pastors interested in using books in a sermon. Check them out here.

  • Win the Day, Mark Batterson
  • Liturgy of Politics, Kaitlyn Schiess
  • The Wisdom Pyramid – Fueling Your Soul in a Post-Truth World, Brett McCracken
  • Failing Faith & To my Friend Who Left the Faith, Wade Bearden
  • Fearing Bravely – Risking Love for our Neighbors, Strangers, and Enemies, Catherine McNiel

It’s the same thing we all have to do when Easter and Christmas arrive each year. We’re trying to present the same basic content differently or from a different angle.

Why not gather from the huge pot of Christian resources?

Additional Resources

Often, the author has provided a study guide or another resource for churches or groups to use alongside their book. 

Most pastors aren’t preparing sermons alongside a large creative team like mega-churches usually have. The majority have to come up with topics and themes, write their content, and develop any additional resources on their own.

Leveraging the work that’s already been done by others, such as Christian authors and Ministry Pass, can be a tremendous asset when you’re preaching about a book.

Using non-fiction books in a sermon is doable, but you don’t have to take it on alone. Save time by diving into the content already written by the many amazing writers and thinkers out there.

Another book to check out:

Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne

Dangers of Using Others’ Content

Preaching Man’s Word Instead of God’s Word

This will most likely be a concern of some of the people in your congregation – that you’re using the Bible to support what another person said.

In this case, the authority of what you’re teaching is in the other person, not God. This is a problem.

There’s a difference between using the Bible and preaching the Bible.

Keep what God says as the final authority.

Also, if we use man-written books all the time, we could give off the impression that God is boring and human authors are more worth our time.

Use non-fiction books to uniquely frame your sermons, share some of the quotes, or help explain an interesting concept to springboard what the Bible teaches, not the other way around.

False or Corny

Just because a book you read resonated with you personally doesn’t mean it will be the best for your entire congregation. 

And you’ve got to consider the demographics of your church. Is the quote you’re thinking about sharing going to make sense to them? Do they know who the person is that you’re referencing?

Using a campaign another church did just to take a break from planning might not be the best idea if it does not fit your typical style. It could feel forced and underwhelming, especially if not done with the appropriate amount of effort and financial backing. 

If you’re trying to sound like somebody you’re not… you will lose credibility. 

Ask: Is this really us?

Trying different things to see what might work for your church body is OK. You might not know if it’s “you” until you try it.

For good takeaways to help you identify your style, take a listen to the following podcast:

If you’re going to bring in other people’s material, it needs to sound authentic to you and your personality as a preacher.

Guilt By Association

Be aware of:

  • The risk of associating yourself with that person (good & bad) forever. Some well-known teachers and writers have ended up in scandals. Use wisdom in choosing and quoting content you find.
  • The tribal world we live in. Everyone has an opinion on everyone. Some churches even have lists of people who are approved or not approved to learn from.

These risks remind us that sticking with the Bible is much easier!

That said, there is a time and place for using books in a sermon. Keep these tips and thoughts in mind when you do it.

Plan a steady diet of Biblical thematic or expository preaching for your church. When the time seems right to incorporate some thoughts or themes from a particular Christian author, go for it – with wisdom.

No Pretty Bow

This topic can’t be wrapped up in a nice box and tied with a pretty bow. There’s no guideline or checklist for exactly how to do it.  

It’s a bit open-ended because it comes down to preference and wisdom for each individual pastor, leadership team, and church family. 

Remember to use discernment, critical thinking, wisdom, and collaboration with others. 

Ask the respected people in your life if they see the dangers or benefits of using a non-fiction resource in a sermon series. Is it healthy for your church right now?

Conversations like that give you a greater springboard than just deciding on your own that you’ve found a great book and will preach through it.

Give it thought, be wise, and do your best.

Additional books referenced in this podcast:

Love Walked Among Us, Paul Miller 

Truth You Can Touch,Tim Chester  
Beautiful Union, Josh Butler

Bring Christmas to Life Again

Fresh Ideas to Connect Christmas with Life

101 Christmas Sermon Series Ideas

Want to be the leader your people need but feeling overwhelmed and on edge?

Get a copy of our FREE guide to avoiding burnout and discover what causes pastoral burnout, and how to heal so you can lead well into the future!

Where can we send this ebook?

Bring Christmas to Life Again

Powerful and Relevant Illustrations Connect Christmas with Life

Christmas Illustration Ideas Mockup iPad

22 Fresh Advent Sermon Series Ideas for Christmas 2021

Inspiration to Breathe New Life to the Traditions of Christmas