New York, New York - Pastors across the country suddenly found themselves in a bit of a predicament this past weekend as Sunday morning quickly approached. The trouble began Saturday afternoon when word began spreading that the Sermon Writers Guild was going on strike on the grounds that they were not being paid enough for their work.
The Sermon Writers Guild has, for the most part, been a secret to the church-going public. Founded in 1977, the organization started out as a small group of theologians and laypersons who were "gifted and creative in the art of preaching" but lacked the charisma necessary to pastor and lead a congregation. When the group was formed they began offering sermon writing services for "witty pastors who lacked scholarly abilities" and who were "less than studious" for a fee of only $20 per sermon. Over the years the guild expanded to over 1500 "ghost preachers" who have written sermons for some of the most famous pastors in the country.
While the price of the sermon service has risen over the past thirty years to $75, many members of the guild have felt an increasing frustration towards many of the pastors for whom they write sermons.
"We put a lot of time and effort into our work to produce a good sermon, custom written according to the specs of the pastors" said Allen O'Brian, a twenty-year member of the guild. "We do it all, hell-fire-and-brimstone, touchy-feely social gospel, health-wealth-and-prosperity, ultra-liberal to ultra-conservative, and we're still only getting paid $75 per message. When we try to raise the price all we get is complaints. Some of these pastors are making more than CEOs of major companies. I know they can afford to pay us more."
For obvious reasons, few pastors were willing to talk with TBNN about the current strike. But one pastor, who asked only to be identified as "Pastor O," was willing to be questioned.
"I've been using the Sermon Writers Guild since I started out preaching," said Pastor O. "My daddy used them before I did. I don't really think it's wrong because I do actually tell the writers the themes and the ideas that I want in the sermons, and hey, presidents do this kind of thing too. But now with the strike on it's going to be really tough for a while. I haven't actually written a sermon in...well...I suppose I've never actually written a sermon. But I've had to recycle some old ones."
And "recycle" was the decision that most pastors made this past Sunday. As it turns out, most pastors who regularly use the Sermon Writers Guild normally put in their requests Saturday evening. When word of the strike came Saturday afternoon most found themselves within 15 hours of Sunday morning services with nothing to preach.
"I pulled out an old one from about 5 years ago," said Pastor O. "I was hoping no one would notice, but we have a really large church. I'm afraid that someone has probably caught on already. Not to mention that we're on television, and no doubt someone has picked up that something isn't just right. I don't know if I can afford for this to go on too long."
But at this point in time no one knows exactly how long the strike will continue, and churchgoers may be faced with "rerun sermons" for some time to come.
"We feel like it's time to move from a per-sermon fee to a more commission based fee, especially for the larger churches" said O'Brian. "If such-and-such pastor is racking in $100 million a year for his sermons then I think %5 of that would be more than fair."
"We made it through one Sunday" said Pastor O, "but I'm already worried about next. I don't think we're going to get this resolved before then. I've looked into hiring non-union writers, but I'm just not sure of the quality I'll get. I'd take a shot at preparing my own sermon, but I'm not sure where I'd begin."