It was early in my first pastorate. There were two Sunday morning worship services. My father’s custom had been to preach two different messages. So that’s what I did.

It wasn’t long before I found myself in a jam. Before I started pastoring, I wrote a new sermon every couple of weeks. But it was a whole another thing to produce two new sermons every Sunday.

I needed a second sermon idea one week. Reading through a book of sermon outlines (Can one actually read a book of sermon outlines?), I stumbled across one entitled, “Other Little Ships” from Mark 4:36. In the King James Version it reads: “And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.”

Jesus was on the main ship. But that there were other little ships traveling with Jesus to the other side. So it is in Christianity, went the argument. When you get on the ship with Jesus, there are other little ships that must go with him, like church membership, discipleship, worship, fellowship, and stewardship.

Get it?

I thought this idea was brilliant. I preached it confidently. And I thought it went over well. After the service, however, a sister walked up to me and showed me her Bible. I don’t remember what translation it was. But it read “other little boats,” instead of “other little ships.” I couldn’t say anything. She smiled knowingly and walked away.

I learned several lessons from this “shipwreck.”

* Do not preach someone else’s outline or sermon without giving him credit for the work. (After being embarrassed, I wish I had given the author credit for that outline!)

* Sermon outline books may be helpful to see how another preacher handles the text, but they should not be used to steal material. Warning: Sermon outline books thrive on lazy preachers. So do sermon websites.

* Do not preach a message that can be easily trumped by a just simple comparison of translations. Focus on meaning. Don’t play with wording.

* Textual preaching, which lifts words, phrases, or sentences from the text without considering the context of the passage, is not the most faithful way to preach the word of God.

* Do your homework. Study hard so that you will be fully ready to preach and will not have to take shortcuts.

Have you ever had an “Other Little Ships” moment? What do you do to avoid taking shortcuts in preparation? Join the conversation in the comments section.