‘If you have eyes, plagiarize’: When borrowing a sermon goes too far

"When Reese typed the sermon title into Google, a link to her pastor’s latest sermon series popped up. But so did a three-year-old series from a church in Kentucky. The Kentucky sermon was almost identical to the sermon her pastor had preached." - RNS

1815 reads

There are 15 Comments

Donn R Arms's picture

There once was a preacher named "Spurgy,"
Who scorned the use of liturgy,
        But his sermons were fine,
        and I preached them as mine,
And so did the rest of the clergy!

Donn R Arms

Bert Perry's picture

Somehow Tom Lehrer's song "Lobachevsky" came to mind for this one. There are places where I disagree with Scot McKnight, but part of preaching the Word is, indeed, preparation.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Robert Byers's picture

Several years ago I met with a client just after he returned from a conference for pastors on the topic of integrity in the ministry.  He told me that at the event, three different speakers told the exact same illustration--as a first person event that happened to them.  Not good.

Bert Perry's picture

.....doesn't every pastor crush his own son in a railroad bridge's gears?  Take it easy on them, Brother Byers!  :^)

Seriously, well said, and I have to wonder if the pattern of plagiarism has something to do with pastors not being trained to do their own work.  One picture of this is that when I was on a search committee for a new youth pastor, I asked the interviewees two big questions to figure out how they thought on their feet.   First, what is their go-to theological reference, and second, what they would study at a seminary level if time and money were no barrier.  The interesting thing I got is that it was always a commentary that was the go to resource, and it was always practical theology.

And so I wonder if our movement's emphasis on practical theology rather than doing theology from the ground up from the original languages (I was hoping someone would at least say "my favorite Greek reference" or "my favorite Hebrew reference" or something like that) has something to do with many pastors' difficulty in "thinking on their feet."  I'm guessing it also has a lot to do with the reluctance to address cultural habits in the light of Scripture--many are simply not in the habit of asking "how did we get to this conclusion?"

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

I have heard two well-known pastors recently relate the same story first person. I agree this is not good. 

Rob Fall's picture

also the reliance (at least in days gone by) on books of sermon illustrations.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I understand the motive of laziness, but I don't get why someone would take another person's story and make it first person. That's beyond 'using without crediting.' It's lying. It didn't happen to you. But going back to motivation, it's just as easy to tell the same story as "So and so tells a story..." or even just "the story is told..."  Illustrations don't have to be "yours" to work. A good story is a good story.

To Bert's point about training, I wonder if anyone's looked for a correlation between sermon plagiarizing and level of education or type of training institution, etc.

I suspect it's mostly about laziness + a certain infatuation with celebrity preachers--thinking somehow their stuff is better ("I'll be successful like them!!"). But even their stuff is better, it loses that quality when you try to imitate it. My advice: absolutely learn to deliver better and structure better from these guys, but beyond that don't imitate, assimilate. Better to assimilate skills than to imitate sermonic moments.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

pvawter's picture

I appreciated this post from Dr. Michael Svigel on the subject. He's absolutely right, and doubly so if the preacher isn't giving credit to the original writer of the sermons.

http://www.retrochristianity.org/2012/05/19/no-more-microwave-messages-please/

A pastor I know was recently forced to resign after he was discovered plagiarizing messages. Not sure all the reasons involved in that situation, but when my dad and I were talking about it, he theorized that guys who lack seminary level training just can't come up with that much material. In his opinion, they either move on every few years, recycling old messages, or they have to borrow to keep things "fresh". Studying and writing sermons is time consuming and just plain hard work most weeks. If a man cannot do that for whatever reason, he should not be preaching and teaching regularly, if at all.

Mark_Smith's picture

Give your pastor 20 hours a week to study and prepare sermons. Yes, a lot of time. Stop asking him to visit every person and hang out and be cool. He isn't your best buddy, he's your pastor. Hire a guy who can study, not just the cool charismatic guy you want to fish, hunt, shoot, and water ski with.

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me,per Mark's thoughts, that in addition to adequate time/reasonable workload so a pastor can really prepare well, you want, to a certain degree, to hire nerds to the pastorate--or probably more Biblically, a "man of the Word."  Someone who gets into the little things, but can also back up and see the big picture.   

Not so much "do do do" but a lot more "be be be".  One parallel thought is that when I was working with teen boys recently, a lot of them confessed they don't do well at evangelism.  Well, if you mean "handing out tracts" or "cold calling", I'm in that group, too.  On the flip side, if it's more about being who you are and "letting the cat out of the bag", as Doug Maclachlan used to say, then I'm there a lot more, and I encouraged the boys with that--that they really need to contemplate who they are and how that ought to come out quite naturally.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

We're not saying a lot here about giftedness, but I think a percentage of pastors really don't have the providential or spiritual giftedness for what they're trying to do. So things like sermon prep are extremely difficult, frustrating, time-consuming etc. If you have the right default gifts, the skills are entirely learnable at the college level, though I'm certainly in favor of seminary education to mature it. 

I don't know what the solution to that is other than more local church involvement in evaluating and choosing men who will be future pastors.

I was blessed to have youth leaders who "volunteered" me into some small speaking  opportunities much earlier than I had any interest in doing any such thing. But they were eye-opening experiences, in terms of what others recognized as potential for future ministry of the spoken word. 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

No doubt that some pastors don't have the requisite gifts--I remember when the former security guy at 4th told me he went into the ministry because it was the thing to do back in the sixties--and he crashed and burned.  It explains as well a lot of churches struggling to get by because people simply didn't have the gifts of the pastorate, which would of course include a bit of "market analysis."

But that said, I've also seen a few pastors who seem to be just getting tired, and when they get too tired, they go to the "factory default setting"--sometimes repeating the culture that they experienced in Bible college.  I've seen people teach and preach wonderfully on Wednesday night, but when it came to the Sunday morning sermon, it was quite different.

It brings to mind something Tyler mentions often--that a church optimally ought to have multiple elders who can share the load.  If a pastor needs to preach three times a week, and requires 15-20 hours to study for each lesson/sermon, it stands to reason that there's only so far that caffeine can carry him.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I'm intrigued.  Is there a Biblical text that defines or endorses this particular gift?

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

....but the level of "market analysis" I'm talking about is pretty much along the lines of "what current churches in the area have the same basic theology as the one you want to start" and "are there enough people in the area to actually support a church?".  The impression that I got from talking with the security guy is that a fair number of people were going out there without even getting these things answered.  End result; lots of good men crashing and burning, wounded for life.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I would probably put this more in the category of common sense.  Why consider starting a church in an area where there is not an obvious need?  If the need is apparent, and you believe God is prompting you to do it, and if you are correct in that analysis, you can rely upon God to supply what is needed.  As the old saying goes, "Whatever God orders, He pays for."

G. N. Barkman