Sermons and their Source

I once read a piece in the New York Times about pastors swiping sermons from sermon sources. I’m wondering what you think. Here are my thoughts. I once was in a situation with a pastor admitted to using sermons from sermon sources, and he also said he hadn’t thought there was anything wrong with it. What most confused me about the situation was that he was using illustrations from other preachers in the first person — and you really did think these experiences were his. So far as I know, he stopped. I’ve also had a phone conversation with a young pastor who had impossibly high ideals, couldn’t live up to them, so he began to swipe sermons from others … then he realized morally he was misrepresenting himself (and God) and repented from it.

What do you think? Do you think every sermon should be the preacher’s own sermon? What policies do you think need to be in place?

What are the issues? 

First, it is not honest. Part of the pastoral task is to preach (if that is part of your “job description”), and that means preparing their own sermons. I don’t know any search committees that prefer their pastoral candidates and preachers to use sermon sources in order to borrow or swipe sermons preached by others on a routine basis or without acknowledgement.

Second, the temptation is evidently strong, and I’d like to know what you think drives pastors to plagiarize sermons, but here’s what I see. Sometimes they don’t have the time to get a sermon ready. Sometimes they have too many sermons or talks to get ready for the week and resort to using somebody else’s for one of the talks. Sometimes the pressure to be a good preacher is so strong the preacher is tempted to use someone else’s already-shown-to-be-good sermon. Sometimes there are so many good preachers in the area swiping sermons is the only way a preacher can “compete.” Sometimes a pastor’s job is on the line for how he or she preaches and they are able to postpone the inevitable with a few good sermons swiped from a source.

Third, pastors should not subscribe to such services if they are at all tempted to swipe sermons. I suppose these services are designed to help pastors see what good preaching looks like — but that’s another series. If the temptation is there, it is far wiser to make it unavailable.

Fourth, sermon services are partly culpable here: I’ve never been part of this so I’d like to hear how they work. Do they warn of plagiarism? Do they educate on the proper use? Someone will know more than I about these services.

Fifth, what is a sermon? Well, it’s a whole life brought to bear on a text each week for a single 30 minute or so sermon before a specific congregation. It shames the preacher not to be who he or she is in the pulpit, and to pretend to be someone else. It de-localizes the sermon from the local context. It distorts who the preacher is before the congregation. So, the sermon is highly biblical, highly personal, highly local, and highly temporal: it is the individual preacher engaging God and Bible and congregation, in that specific location, for that time.

Sixth, which brings up the philosophical issue: Is there not nothing new under the sun? Well said. To be sure, nearly every sermon emerges from books and sermons and ideas and all sorts of things that were used. But it is bricolage, it is quilting, it is convergence — it is precisely those things and not simple usage of others. It brings together other people’s ideas and says so if it is substantial; but it is a uniquely personal, local, and temporal bringing of those things together. Taking someone’s sermon destroys the bricolage and turns it into a canned, deceitful act of creating a false image in front of God’s people. Now let’s be honest: sermons don’t have footnotes and need not. You need not end each separable idea with a “I got this point from Ortberg and this one from Niebuhr and that one from Bonhoeffer.” We all use things from others in sermons, and when we use a lot from someone about some point, we say so. By and large the congregation doesn’t care about that. But, I think they expect the preacher to be preaching his or her own sermon and not someone else’s.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.kiwiandanemu.org Ali

    Hi Scot.

    I’ve struggled with this in a church I have attended. When I discovered the Pastor was using Rick Warren sermons – and had been for many years – my issue was not so much that he wasn’t authoring the sermons himself, it was more that he represented to the church that they were his sermons. In fact, after some thinking, I have come to the conclusion that pastors have to be good at so much that using teaching written by someone else (as long as it lined up with what the pastor and church believed) could actually benefit the church…assuming it was done openly.

    Sadly, in my situation, that was never done.

  • Paul W

    I was an elder of a Presbyterian church a few years ago in which this became a small issue. A member of the congregation brought this issue to our (elder board/session) attention. The past week’s sermon was remarkably similar to a copyrighted one that could be purchased from a high profile Evangelical Presbyterian pastor in NY city.

    The plagiarism was pervasive and obvious. We addressed the issue at a regularly scheduled meeting with the pastor. He was clearly embarrassed and attributed it to being busy. It was, however, unclear if he recognized the practice as substantively inappropriate.

    We took the matter to a denominational committee which dismissed the issue of copyright infringement as inconsequential and also indicated that using other people’s sermons (plagiarism) was a common and regular practice for a busy pastor. This was a non-issue as far as the denomination’s Shepherding Committee was concerned. Not only was the specifics of that issue dismissed but I felt as if the issue was treated as petty and shallow.

  • http://www.proteavalleychurch.org Brent

    I have on a few isolated occasion used others sermons but I have always presented them as such and never claimed they were my own. I have also a colleague who landed up leaving his church after accusations of plagiarism came out. He was preaching others sermons literally word for word but making them to be his own.

    I think we do the Holy Spirit’s work a disservice when we cannot trust his work in us and through us. We also misunderstand the uniqueness of God’s timely word for a specific people and a specific time when we steal others material.

    As to why people do this Scott, I think you raise valid issues: time being one, but certainly the desire to be well thought of by others must be up there too. There is a cult of the celebrity pastor and this has fuelled the desire to preach outstanding sermons every week. When so much material is so easily available the temptation becomes too much for some.

  • Matt

    I can understand if they are being represented as being original, but I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with doing this – especially for a bi-vocational pastor. I can understand why a paid pastor would be expected to put the right time in to come up with their own, original material. But even for them, I don’t think what you refer to as sermon swiping is all the bad, within the right context. There are some timeless sermons out there that could be preached again – and should be preached again. Then you take a site like sermoncentral.com – there are plenty of sermons there that are great to use as inspiration. Nothing in here really talks about the bi-vocational pastor that is doing what he/she can to make ends meet, while caring for their family and their flock. As we all know, you can’t add more time to a day.

  • James Petticrew

    I have a New Year’s sermon that rated pretty high on Sermon Central, a friend in the States was visiting family and at their Church had a growing realisation he knew what was coming next in the sermon. The pastor preached the whole sermon using my illustrations as his personal experiences. When I heard I googled some key phrases from the sermon and found a variety of uses. Some people used the outline and even attributed illustrations, no problem with that, their material made the sermon their’s not mine.

    What really shocked me was the number of pastors who posted the sermon in it’s entirety and then in the comments when people thanked them for the “word” spoke about how long they had prayed over it. One even had my sermon on a page on which he was asking for money to keep his ministry in the Word going!

    When I discovered things like this I would generally leave a comment with a link to the sermon on sermon central and saying that the sermon being claimed was actually mine. Mostly these comments were deleted and I was blocked, the sermon was removed no explanation only once did I get an apology.

  • Matt

    @James Petticrew

    Now that, I am sure we all can agree, is completely unacceptable. Even more so when used to solicit funds to keep a ministry going. Ouch!

  • Ian Thomason

    Hi, Scot.

    Apart from such practice being both (1) theft and, (2) pastoral misrepresentation, using others’ sermons (3) largely removes the possibility for God the Spirit to speak to the particular needs of the preacher’s own congregation. It’s also sad that the preacher is (4) robbing him/herself of the joy that comes from independent discovery (via engaging in detailed exegesis, prayer, and grappling with identifying appropriate applications).

    In short, if a pastor is incapable of spiritually feeding his/her congregation, then he/she should probably review his/her calling!

    Ian

  • phil_style

    Why are pastors/ preachers so apparently unwilling to simply state that they are using material originating from another person? Academics do this all the time, and are even required to.

    What’s the harm in publically acknowledging your source? Is the anecdote any less moving if you are relaying someone else’s experiences? Is the truth any less convincing it someone else discovered it?

    The only reason I could think of, is because people want to make others believe the material is original to them. Smells like deception in the church to me.

  • Jim

    Great points but point #5 is brilliant! While i have not always been successful at doing this because of time constraints, I KNOW that a large part of sermon preparation is to be found in the pastoral care of the people to whom you preach.

  • Michael Krause

    Haddon Robinson once told me a story that happened to his friend, Warren Wiersbe. Apparently Wiersbe was visiting a church and heard the pastor preach one of his sermons, unattributed, in its entirety. He dutifully lined up after the service, shook the preacher’s hand (who was white as a ghost at seeing Wiersbe standing right in front of him), and said, “Thank you, Pastor. That was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard in my life,” and left. He later commented to his wife that there was no use going back to that church, since he had heard all those sermons before! LOL!

    I think that preacher’s intuitive response to getting caught red-handed tells all about the morality of the practice of using others’ material in an unattributed fashion.

    I personally don’t have a problem using other’s material, and have done so, but have tried to be deliberate aobut properly orienting the congregation to the source. I have found sermon outlines that were helpful, which I have cited as someone else’s thinking. I also once read most of a chapter from Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, directing people to the book. (Whether or not that makes for a great sermon is another matter!)

    In my opinion, if something is personally helpful to the degree that you wish to share it with your community, that’s one thing. If you’re ripping off material to save time/effort and passing it off as your own, that’s another.

  • Jeff Shankle

    A subject that’s been bothersome for quite sometime. Once, after speaking at a weekend retreat, a youth pastor actually took my sermon and put it on a resource site as his own. When a friend pointed it out I couldn’t believe it.

    Everything from pastors telling the same exact story off a resource dvd when inserting themself as the main character to pastors essentially reading, verbatim off of paper, 75% of their sermon. We may be busy but I think the results of such behavior show how useful it is. People simply lose respect for you.

    I think @Brent nailed it when he said its fueled by the desire of celebrity. So maybe a response would be to train and appoint pastors with more self-confidence. Not sure though.

    For awhile I just thought its so normal that maybe its not a big deal. Reading this post and the comments following however say it is in fact a problem that should be addressed.

  • David

    As a pastor I agree with you. In the first town I pastored the pastor of the biggest church bragged about plagiarizing his sermons, but I wonder where the appropriate line is. I have heard sermons from time to time that have profoundly shaped my understanding of a passage. I read a lot this also shapes my understand of things. This is bound to influence my preaching, even if I am not quoting them. If I were writing a paper I would be expected to cite these things. How does that play out in the act of preaching?

  • Michael Krause

    David #11, I hope I was understood to always be standing on the side of citation. I strive to always include a brief comment of integrity that orients people to the source of my thoughts, just as in academic citation. I also hope that I always have personal reflection to add to whatever I am citing, to reflect what the Spirit has done in me as a result of my interaction with the material or to demonstrate how the material furthered my thinking.

    (Now I sound like I do this all the time. I’ve done it maybe 2-3 times in 15 years.)

  • http://www.dennisredwards.com Dennis

    Preaching builds community; it doesn’t just transfer information. My illustrations have to be about OUR church and OUR lives. I don’t see how I could ever do that with another person’s sermon. As you say, “So, the sermon is highly biblical, highly personal, highly local, and highly temporal: it is the individual preacher engaging God and Bible and congregation, in that specific location, for that time.” I very much agree

    When I use an idea i found from a book, I will often project an image of the cover, name the author, and suggest that people read the book. There are times, however, when in my exegesis I find something from a commentary. I won’t bog the congregation down in details, but will say that some of what i discovered came from (generally or particularly) “scholars.”

    “canned” sermons aren’t honest, but i understand the pressure these days to be entertaining, informative, and relevant. and we pastors have SO MUCH to do that sermon prep time often gets squeezed, or at least condensed.

    But if i am not trying my best to be an honest shepherd–especially when communicating from that pulpit–then I’m not much of a shepherd.

  • http://theparsonspatch.com Mark Stevens

    What a great post! Scot, I am wondering though where the line is. I have never used someone else’s sermons but a few years ago i went through a really rough patch. Our young kids were not sleeping and I was exhausted. I had hit a wall when it came to sermon writing. My mentor told me to take one of NT Wright’s For Everyone series and rewrite a section in my own words and with my own illustration. i did this for a few weeks until i found my groove again. I’ve never felt right about doing that but it did get me through.

    Secondly, right now I am using your book, the Jesus Creed, as the basis for a sermon series on The Jesus Creed. Is that wrong? I would never normally do this but I thought the book was fantastic and I liked the way you provide gospel readings at the start of each chapter. These became my readings for the year. I exegete the text as normal but I bounce off of the themes you follow. I would never use an illustration about Lucas and his man-dinner as if I knew him but this week I am using the Hosea passage in chapter 5 (re-working it a little). Is this bad, is this wrong (this is an honest question). The church know the book is being used and I have invited them to read it and I have sought your permission. But am I still plagiarizing?

    One final thing, whenever I use a quote from someone else at times I wont tell the church because otherwise I will mention 4 or 5 people per sermon (not direct quotes) but in my notes it will be referenced. I take seriously my vocation as a teacher/preacher and I would hate to become someone who just preached other people’s stuff. Sadly, I hear of a lot of pastors doing it!

  • Rick

    If this is such a problem for some, perhaps they need to decide if they are managing their time well, what are their priorities, and what can be adjusted so they have sufficient time to prepare a sermon.

  • adam

    I think the question for me, is what’s the line to be drawn? I understand completely with illustrations – I can’t fathom sharing a personal story of someone else as though it happened to me – but what about an idea from a book – a question that you heard someone else pose – that springboards you into your sermon? Wouldn’t all sermons be filled with verbal footnotes or citations – to the point that the sermon would be lost? A sermon seems to be a little different than an academic paper, maybe it’s more of an art?

    Also, is it even fair or right to think that all preachers should be able to come up with a unique, never before said or heard way of presenting the Scriptures – every week? Is that even possible?

  • Phillip

    Robert S. reid and Lucy L. Lind have a good discussion of sermon plagiarism in their book The Six Deadly Sins of Preaching: Becoming Responsible for the Faith We Proclaim. They discuss plagiarism under the heading “The Pretender” and the problem/sin is “In-Authenticity.” Among other things they note that the issue is that the preacher doesn’t engage the text him/herself and encounter God. Rather the preacher “plagiarizes the faith of others and presents it as his or her own” (please note the quotation marks!). Such preachers sacrifice their credibility as a reliable witnesses to the faith.

    This chapter and the whole book are good, and provide a number of helpful warnings, reminders, and encouragements for preachers.

  • http://www.kiwiandanemu.org Ali

    @Michael Krause #10. I’ve read that Wiersbe illustration before, but instead of Wiersbe, it was Spurgeon. Seriously.

    Did someone plagarise that illustration? Not accusing you(!) just find it ironic.

  • Shannon

    I think it is important to look at scripture on this, and there is one verse that is catching my attention.

    For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, (Hebrews 5:12 ESV).

    I believe it is easy for us, the pastored, to get a little upset, feel offended, or mislead by a Pastor that is not being honest about his or her sources. The main concern needs to be, where is the spiritual nourishment for our Pastors? Pastoral leadership is a huge call, and I am convinced that, just as you and I make mistakes, so will they. Their mistakes just happen to be made, at times, in the public’s view.

    I guess, what I’m saying is, I think it’s more important to look into the lack of inspiration, and help these folks get the spiritual sustenance they need. Just because one is called to Pastor does not mean that they don’t need spiritual guidance as well, probably even more so. Because we are all cracked eikons (thanks Scot) we need to be tender towards our Pastors and look at them as broken too.

    We all go through cycles in life were we need to be fed the milk of infancy, and work our way back to solid foods again. We need to help our Pastors get the support they need during those times.

    BUT, those who are called to Pastoral leadership need to be held accountable for their actions, and if they are students of the Book, they know. Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1 ESV)

    Sensitive subject, Scot. Glad you brought it up.

  • Mark Andrews

    Good,words Scot. What do people think about the solo pastor who uses others works, not because of time constraints, but because of spiritual struggles, dry spells, times of testing or just not being able to come up with something worthy of the text and the congregation? Failure to deliver spmethinganything decent, 48-52 weeks a year can be amaingly difficult during tough seasons of life.
    Yes, we must be honest, and we need to share where things come from, but I think some people need to ease up on claims that like, if you can’t write it yourself you should find another job. Where is the grace?

  • scotmcknight

    Mark and others,
    The line is drawn at two levels: attribution vs. deception, and practice vs. exception.
    1. Always attribute to others what you take from others, esp if the audience doesn’t know. But this can’t get obsessive. Quotations? Tell your source. But sermons are not footnoted so if you find an OT parallel in a commentary that you exploit, no need to cite. The preacher should never fear saying he or she has learned from others. Never citing sources becomes deceitful.
    2. If you are in a dry patch and need some kick starts, say so. If you never can find a sermon on your own, find a spiritual director and work through it and began building confidence… etc. Many preachers have found some sermon by someone else to be so good they re-did it. Tell your folks that. I believe this should be rare.

  • Jerry

    What are the boundaries? I once supervised a preacher who used a sermon from a sermon site including the outline and illustrations. I thought that was over the line. But I have to admit, some of the illustrations were great. He didn’t present them as first person. If he had just used a couple of the stories I wouldn’t have had a problem. Some outlines are great and should be reused–they bring out the essence of a biblical tests. A good story can work again and again.

  • http://ineloquentanthem.blogspot.ca/ Tyson

    Scot – thank you for posting this. This has been a troubling issue for me.

    As a young associate pastor, I was honoured to be able to share with my congregation quite regularly. I sought counsel from experienced pastors and they directed me to be as transparent with source material as possible and cite accordingly (giving credit where credit is due).

    It does give me serious pause when pastors ‘pawn’ material off as their own. That is an integrity issue for me. If one is to use the general framework (and give credit), I find that an acceptable option – but it is dishonest to preach someone else’s sermon and take the credit.

    I believe this becomes a stewardship issue, as there are many pastors who’s primary ‘job’ is preaching. If these preaching pastors are ‘stealing’ sermons, then as a church, we are indeed not making the most of God’s blessings.

  • http://apprentice2jesus.com Dan

    Amen. And AMEN. Great thoughts.

  • http://www.michaelpahl.com Michael Pahl

    “…the sermon is highly biblical, highly personal, highly local, and highly temporal: it is the individual preacher engaging God and Bible and congregation, in that specific location, for that time.”

    I had a pastoral colleague once who did not want us to post our sermons online publicly for just this reason: we’re not preaching to everyone, but we are preaching among these people at this time, part of an ongoing conversation and presence in this particular community. While published sermons can have tremendous value for the wider Church (Hebrews, anyone?), and I have at times shared my sermons with those who were there and wanted to pass my sermon on to a friend who wasn’t, I think in general terms my colleague was right: we should think carefully about the indiscriminate publication of our sermons, quite apart from modern notions of plagiarism.

  • Becky

    Hey Scot,

    Thanks for the post and generating good discussion. I agree with you and the commenters that if I pastor is completely plagiarizing and not doing their own work its spiritually and emotionally deceitful and they should be held accountable. It doesn’t live up to the James 3 qualifications of a pastoral leader – to be above reproach. One should never pass off another’s spiritual work as their own. In seminary I was taught very clearly in homiletics that I was to take a journey through the passage before preaching from it and express that journey in relation to the congregation and myself in the sermon. There is no way you can do this by using someone else’s sermon. If you can’t preach the sermon because you are emotionally and spiritually not there, then you need to be honest about that before your congregation and that will actually do more to lead them than preaching someone else’s.

    Also, if you feel you have to preach and look “good” no matter what and don’t know how to do this yourself, then you have a greater spiritual and emotional problem in your own heart and in the heart of your congregation. Plagiarizing sermons speaks to a greater internal ill – we only steal when we are uncomfortable with what is going on inside us and what we can produce.

    My practice personally, as a preaching pastor in the United Methodist Church, is to do the work personally first (research, read the passage over and over, pray, journal, wrestle with where my congregation is at, etc.) then explore other resources for help in organizing if need be. If I am struggling with coming up with illustrations will go look up sermons on the passage and see what illustrations they used. I’m careful not to use personal illustrations from sermons. BUT if I learn of one from a friend or colleague that works, I will always tell the background of who’s story it is before sharing their story and get permission before sharing. Sometimes if I’m struggling with organizing my thoughts I will look to other pastors for help by calling on pastor friends to dialogue together to see how they approached the passage and see if it can help give me direction for my own personal sermon. The key here is the dialogue part, that I’m not looking to them to write the sermon for me but rather help me explore my own experience.

  • http://rickwadholmjr.wordpress.com Rick Wadholm Jr.

    As someone who has preached a fair bit over the last fourteen years (approximately 2800 unique messages), I have never taken anyone else’s message, and anytime I have used a statement or thought from another I have noted that in some fashion or another. And I’ve done this all the while being bi-vocational. I really do think it is largely laziness, or spiritual lethargy. When God grips us and we share our lives with the folks we minister to, we ought to have His message for His people on our hearts and in our mouths. I would be more likely to replay a video or audio of a sermon, because, well, chances are they did it better anyways.

    I appreciate your discussion of this Scot. I find this trend to be more and more pervasive with the advent of the internet (though apparently it was an issue in Warren Wiersbe’s day through his writings). I am deeply troubled by this trend as well.

  • Tommy O’Keefe

    As a pastor who preaches weekly, I have never preached someone else’s sermon. As far as being influenced by the work of others, I try and always give credit where credit is due.

    If we can’t be humble enough to admit than an idea or an entire sermon came largely from the thinking of others, then how can we expect humility and faith to be the response of people to these sermons? To some degree it seems that cheap, canned sermonizing will create cheap, canned responses.

    I don’t think that sermon-preaching is the end all be all of the life of the church… far from it! But for most of us, sermons are a major part of the weekly gathering of the saints, so they deserve the time and attention of the preacher regardless of how busy ho or she might be.

    It seems the golden rule should apply here as well. Would we want someone to take our work, and represent it as their own? To use our stories and our thinking and act as though it was their original work? I don’t think any of us what that.

  • Tommy O’Keefe

    typos. doh.

  • Rodney Reeves

    Although I don’t belong to a tradition that practices this, I wonder if some of the pressure would be alleviated if the preaching responsibilities were shared by several “ministers.” I’m afraid many ministers feel the pressure of being “the one” to deliver God’s Word because we’ve given into the personality cult of Christian celebrity.

  • Shannon

    I think we need to look at scripture for some insight.
    In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Hebrews 5:12 NIV)

    Being called to pastoral leadership is a huge call, and I believe that we all go through cycles of spiritual highs and spiritual lows. During those low points we need others to help us get the spiritual nourishment required to cycle back to a more appropriate state. We need the milk of infancy, so we can handle the solid food of maturity.

    I think there is an important word that needs to be at the forefront of all this- transparency. Pastors need to be honest and upfront during spiritual dry spells. And yes, if a Pastor is not feeling moved by the Holy Spirit in a way that he or she can produce their own sermon, or at least acknowledge the references, then they are in a serious dry spell and need guidance. We are all cracked eikons (thanks Scot) and we need to realize our Pastors are too.

    If one is called into a Pastoral role, and if they are a student of the Book, then they should be aware of: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1 NIV)

    Sensitive subject Scot, nice post!

  • http://robertaustell.blogspot.com Robert Austell

    Maybe it’s me, but I have trouble even ripping myself off. :) Maybe 3-4 times a year I’ll pull an old sermon (of mine) out, but it always gets updated, re-illustrated, etc… It’s not some moral high ground, just the way I go about connecting with the text. What illustrated five years ago in my life and the life of my congregation has changed; otherwise, it sounds old.

    I think there is much to be gained through reading/listening to others – commentaries are an academic version of listening to another preacher. I don’t think rigorous citation is needed unless you want to point people to a source to follow up or do further reading (several good examples given in the comments). But claiming others’ scholarship or illustrations as one’s own is clearly deceptive and runs counter to the message and the One we represent as preachers.

    And perhaps we miss what should be one source – rather than spend two hours poring through sermon sites or looking for someone else’s stuff, maybe spending that same amount of time prayerfully reading and pondering scripture would provide some ideas. :) One thing I’ve been doing the past few months for an evening study is “previewing” the sermon text for the coming Sunday in a group discussion format. That often invites fresh perspectives, rooted in the life experience of the ones to whom I will preach. (And if one of them has a particularly helpful insight, I will often note it as “something from last Wednesdays sermon preview gathering” – both to give them credit and to invite folks to come out and join us.)

  • http://patrickfranklin.wordpress.com/ Patrick Franklin

    I think this tendency is unfortunate. It reduces the sermon to the passing along of information, rather than being a specific proclamation to a specific group of people at a specific time and place. Moreover, preaching using the sermons of others bypasses the spiritual disciplines necessary to shape and form both the preacher and the sermon (e.g., study, prayer, silence and listening to God, personal wrestling and confession, etc.). Using another’s sermon removes the important element of discernment (not to mention ‘theology’ as a spiritual, formative discipline) from the process. The inevitable result is “information” sermons that pass along useful information (to some anyway) in memorable points. We need more prophetic proclamation today (I don’t mean ‘charismatic’ per se, but a discerned Word from God that is right for the time and people and places the congregation and its people within the kingdom narrative to which they are being called).

  • http://bloodstainedink.wordpress.com Scott William Bryant

    I wonder if this issue is not part of a much larger problem that has emerged in evangelicalism. In a typical service, there are only two elements present: the worship package and the sermon. So the weight of the entire church “experience” rests on the these two things, placing an enormous burden on both the worship leader and the pastor. When one of these comes up short, we talk about it being a mediocre service.

    What if we took some of that weight off by regularly incorporating other elements such as: scripture readings, communion/eucharist, corporate prayers of confession, etc…? In other words, what if preaching became only one element in a much more balanced and congregationally-engaged service? Would this ease the pressure that pastors feel to be rock-star preachers, world-class conselors and visionary leaders all at the same time? I think it might. And if it did, I wonder if we wouldn’t need to have this discussion.

  • http://sermonsleuth.com Cole

    Hello all:

    I’m a ‘sermon source’ guy, albeit different than the typicial websites and services (i.e. providing sermons). Here’s my response:
    http://sermonsleuth.com/response-to-scot-mcknights-sermons-and-their-source/

  • Theo

    Several years ago I too discovered that our pastor was lifting sermons from the web, passing them off as his own, and even recounting the first-person stories as if they had happened to him. He was apologetic when I drew this to his attention privately. We are no longer at this church, so I have no idea whether he still does this. The congregation as a whole never found out.

    But I do wonder whether there might be a place for a “canned” sermon when this is acknowledged by the preacher. At every annual Easter liturgy, Orthodox Christians hear St. John Chrysostom’s paschal homily. Whether they tire of this I can’t say, but they’ve heard it repeatedly for some 1,500 years. The Church of England’s Book of Homilies is another source that priests were expected to use in the 16th century. Are ministers perhaps reinventing the wheel when they think they have to come up with something fresh every week?

  • ScottB

    Our community uses multiple teachers, partly to expose the community to multiple perspectives and styles but also partly to guard against burnout and allow for multiple folks to exercise their gifts instead of just one or two. When you aren’t pressured to be the only person week after week but you have a team that supports you, I think the temptation of this sort of thing is much reduced.

    If we can do this in a community of approximately 300, I would expect that others might be able to do so as well.

  • T

    “What do you think? Do you think every sermon should be the preacher’s own sermon? What policies do you think need to be in place? What are the issues?”

    This is an area that I am increasingly passionate about. Can somebody please tell me how it is that even the great Paul was merely one of many “teachers and prophets” in Antioch before God set him and Barnabas apart for missionary work, but that today the job of teaching local congregations is so repeatedly seen as a job for a lone ranger, week after week, year after year? Do we really think we get a more accurate picture of Jesus by letting/requiring one man do 90% of the verbal painting? I don’t. Are the rest of our congregations so bereft of either seasoned old-timers or up-and-coming teachers that this duty cannot be more mercifully and cheerfully and fruitfully borne by a congregation in teams of teachers? I highly doubt it, given God’s track record of sharing such duties and the power of his Spirit. Where is the passing on of these truths to faithful people who can pass them on to others? Where is the equipping saints for the work of service?

    We have a system right now that produces these pressures that one man is expected to do it all for the rest. One man should live and die for the people. How we got here from the NT practices I will never fully understand other than Satan is just plain good at his job. Please pardon the tone, but the issue is that one man can’t do it all. One Man Can’t Do It All!

    ONE MAN CAN’T DO IT ALL!!!

    But even if he could, why would we want him to? Our scriptures are a marvel at many levels. One of them for me is the range of voices and people and perspectives that make them up. I find it especially great that Jesus didn’t write a single book. Think about that. To say that our God is into delegation and pulling us–all of us–into his work is like saying that our planet is a bit wet. We have the problem that Scot highlights because there is no faith in the congregation (in the pulpit or the congregation). There is no trust that the Spirit is poured out on all flesh. I feel a bit like Moses’ father-in-law: “What you are doing is not good!” — for the pastors or the people.

    Train some help and even a replacement or two.

  • T

    And “Amen” to the idea that our gatherings could be much more (and more edifying) than singing and sermon alone. And Amen to quoting others–and acknowledging the quote.

  • Alan K

    Every sermon ever preached is a non-repeatable event. The specificity is not only location and day, but hour of the day and the people that gather. A “borrowed” manuscript runs roughshod over the particularity of the lives of the people that are gathered at any worship service.

  • Tom

    I did a whole series years ago called “Sermons I wish I had written.”

  • Randy Gabrielse

    There is a thread in the comments here that seems to point to another issue that is worthy of discussion: What is expected of pastors? How much time do they have for sermon prep? & How much time should they have for sermon prep?

    I attend a predominately white Christian Reformed Church on most Sundays (although I have a practice of visiting another church once per month) and I attend a racially integrated preaching session on Thursdays.

    It is clear from the messages that the preacher on Thursdays spends far more time than our church pastor discipling young men and dealing with street violence than does our traditional church pastor. In fact he sometimes rails against pastors who “spend all week in their studies.”

    I also just finished a seminary class on “Preaching in the Urban Context” where we explored prophetic, African American and Hispanic preaching traditions. I must say that I came away with more respect for these other traditions. When I think about why that is, I realize that it is because they are more in touch with their people and speak directly to the people, rather than a abstracting something TO BE TAUGHT TO THE PEOPLE.

    Perhaps the root of the problem is that we expect far too much from sermons and preachers or we have become used to expecting the wrong things from them.

  • http://www.unfinished1.wordpress.com Mike Khandjian

    Great words here, Scot – Being a preacher, you hit it squarely by speaking into the ‘right now’ reality and the whole life and community context into 30 minutes. And to take it a step further, I wouldn’t be comfortable repreaching my own messages other than in multiple services, because there is something fresh, imperfect and broken, though lovely, that is of the Spirit and can’t be replicated even with one’s own stuff. Peace. PS May I quote this article in my next sermon?

  • Daniel Fiester

    So did Jude plagiarize Peter’s sermon or did Peter plagiarize Jude’s sermon? Did Isaiah plagiarize Micah’s sermon or did Micah plagiarize Isaiah’s sermon? (cf. Isa. 2 and Micah 4).

  • http://truthontheway.net/ Jon Sidnell

    With the advent of many services actively offering sermon outlines, it would be churlish to say it’s always wrong to avail yourself of such services. Even there, attribution is important, and it should be contextualised with your own stories and illustrations where possible.

    The much more interesting question to me, though possibly slightly off-topic, is the legitimacy of broadcasting the same sermon from one location out to multiple “satellite” churches a la Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill and an increasing number of others. I can’t help thinking that 1) an unhealthy idolization of a superstar preacher is going on here. 2) in line with #5 from Scot, the local church is being cheated out of the benefits of local ministry happening in their midst. 3) Future preachers are being cheated because they don’t get the regular opportunity to hone their preaching in the fires of experience, therefore 4) the church gets cheated again because in 20 years time, there’ll be a dearth of experienced preachers to feed people with God’s word.

  • phil_style

    @tom, #32, what a marvelous suggestion.

    @Jerry, #20 “What are the boundaries?”

    Using material originating with other people does not cross the boundary. Pretending as though one is not borrowing IS a problem. Passing off someone else’s work or experience as one’s own is immoral. If a pastor is going to download and use a sermon from somone else, then why not just say so?

    “everyone, last week I was seeking inspiration and I was led to this amazing work online, which I really want to share with you today… I’ve taken time to ponder this message and I think it’s important for us as a community too, even though it was originally written for others” – provided the preacher really did take time to review the sermon, and truly does believe it is an important message, then why not just do that?

  • Steve

    Scott Gibson, preaching professor at Gordon-Conwell, wrote a good book dealing with this topic. Here is a link to it.

    http://www.amazon.com/Should-Someone-Elses-Sermon–Paste/dp/0310286735/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363365385&sr=8-1&keywords=scott+gibson+sermon

  • Jim Rolf

    After reading thru all the posts, I’m still left with the question– when/what do we need to attribute sources? I think we all seem to agree that passing off someone else’s experience in the first person and insinuating that we’ve had the same experience is deceitful. But what about if we hear a great illustration and then simply re-use it? Do we need to attribute the source? If so when/where? In our notes? Stop the sermon flow and say “here’s where I got the following sermon”? What if I see a great outline in a Chuck Swindoll book and then use the basic structure of the outline but fill in with local illustrations/applications? Do I need to attribute? When/where? I truly don’t want to pass off material as my own, but the reality is that very little of what I say is genuinely unique despite many, many hours of study, reflection, and prayer.

    I would love to hear some ideas here.

  • Jairus Hallums

    I would have to agree with Steve. Dr. Scott Gibson’s book would be helpful when figuring out if (or when—if there is a “when”) to use another’s message. The book explains the implications of doing such, and how to properly handle the issues of using someone else’s message in a church context—because there will undoubtedly be some issues sooner or later.

  • Derek

    After one particulalry tough week I found I didn’t have anything to say or share in the sermon so I read a sermon by Will Willimon. I shared the occasion and why and was pleasantly surprised by the congregation’s reaction.
    There is ample precedent for this in the Methodist tradition considereing we have a book of Wesleys Standard sermons!

  • nate s.

    blech. i think this is a non-issue. go back far enough and people were just giving sermons memorized straight out of the sermon on the mount and other parables, etc. this ‘sermon plagiarism’ just represents the bent our culture has toward ego building (both for the ‘originator’ and against the ‘copier’), ownership of that which was meant to be shared to begin with, and performance pressure.

    certainly there is issue with WHY many pastors are giving sermons they didn’t write, but that doesn’t mean the practice of doing so is a bad thing. when Jesus spoke and people repeated him, it was because he was worth repeating, even word for word. it’s no different today. if Rick Warren speaks and it’s worth repeating, then repeat it. share it. give the same sermon; because it’s worth hearing. are we really so concerned about getting credit for the sermon? or for a pastor who recognizes that what was said to one community might also be just what he is being led to bring to his community?

    the part i agree with is the illustrations being used in first person… that part is tacky and dishonest. the rest of it, though? if we’re to trust that pastors bring what the H.S. has for His people, then there should be no issue with other pastors using it.

    and finally, no church should be paying a pastor to creatively come up with unique sermons. seems a great risk that such pressured creativity would lead to uniqueness in spite of the Bible…

  • Shannon

    Jim-

    I think there are a few answers that are simple & others much too complex to discuss here.

    Obviously all sermons are a compilation of other people’s work, with a personal spin made relevant to the unique character of a particular audience, or point you are trying to make.

    If you are giving a sermon that was “inspired” by someone else, just begin the sermon by saying, ” This sermon was inspired by…” Or “I was so moved by a sermon I read/heard, etc. that I believe it would be beneficial for you all.”

    I think you get the point, right?

    If you are using someone’s word during a sermon, that are unique to them, then you can say, “someone has said…” or give them credit specifically by using their name.

    There is nothing wrong with a brief interrupter, when a pastor credits a source during a sermon, because it might inspire the parishioners to look further themselves.

    My Pastor often mentions other people’s work, and he is a very, very good teacher & wonderful Pastor.

    Again, I think it is all about transparency, and giving credit, to the deserving party!

    You could also start ALL sermons by saying, ” the following sermon is filled with other people’s work, and some of my own, and if you care for citations I will post them on my webpage!” :-)

  • adam

    @ Nate – #52

    I was wondering the same thing when it comes to the motivation…

    “and finally, no church should be paying a pastor to creatively come up with unique sermons. seems a great risk that such pressured creativity would lead to uniqueness in spite of the Bible…”

    I don’t know if agree wholeheartedly, but I definitely catch your drift. Heresy is unique, too.

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    Scot,
    A very good and important post.

    A few observations:

    1. One of the issues is honesty. Why not just say before using a quote, “I like the way John Ortberg expresses this” or “Consider the way Tom Long has expressed this same idea in a sermon preached several years ago.”

    2. Typically what I attribute are quotes, expressions, and stories that are particular to an author or another speaker. “Andy Stanley tells the story of a woman who one day. . .”

    3. I once used a portion of a sermon by Frederick Buechner entitled “The Room Called Remember.” However, I attributed the approach in the sermon to Buechner. I preached a sermon several times that I called “But When Life Tumbles In, What Then.” It was based on a sermon by the same title which Arthur John Gossip, preached many years ago a few days after the death of his wife. I attributed this to Gossip.

    4. As a weekly practice, my sermons need to be the result of my work with the text. Yes, this takes time and energy. It does, however, shape me into a preacher who can bear witness to what God is doing in my life through the text and the Gospel.

    5. Besides the important ethical implications of preaching someone else’s material, the practice over time really does impact the preacher. There are probably ways to work more efficiently in one’s ministry. This shortcut, however, is not the place to start.

    6. I realize that when one has preached for a number of years, it is easy to forget where you first heard a phrase, gained a perspective, or heard a story. Not long ago, I came across a particular phrase that I later used in a talk. At the time, I thought it was something I had originated. Later on, I remembered where I first heard it. Consequently, I want to give other preachers grace in moments of forgetfulness and innocent neglect. The intention in such a case, however, is not deception. I have found that when you regularly practice giving credit to others, such slip-ups are more likely to be overlooked.

  • LBT

    What is the picture of spirituality presented by a preacher that does not attribute his or her use of the words of others?

    “It’s just me and God there in my study folks. I have to figure this out on my own (and you know what, I did!), just like you have to study scripture on your own – [paradoxically] under MY guidance.”

    What is the picture of spirituality presented by a preacher that frequently uses and acknowledges sources?

    “I do not have all of the answers. I seek to understand God’s word, but I do so in the company of others (the global church, the church through time, and other helpful voices outside the church). You, too, should expect to need to call upon the wisdom of others. I expect God to speak through me, but I am merely one member of a company of saints.”

    What is the picture of the church presented by a “soloist” preacher?

    “The church is a lecture hall. I give you God’s answers; you believe and go and do. I receive my gospel directly from God. You all should strive for this in your private lives, but let’s focus on me (as God’s spokesperson, of course!) just now.”

    What is the picture of the church presented by a “choir” approach to preaching?

    “The church is the local gathering of saints trying to live faithfully together and in the world. The preacher humbly speaks God’s word to us in communion with the saints and we test his message in communion with the saints. Sometimes the one called (by God and through us) to preach is dry or focused on other tasks, so another member of the local body or a member of the catholic church is called to proclaim the gospel. Of course, since the church is more than just a lecture hall, we share our lives in many ways when we gather together: we remember and proclaim Jesus through the Lord’s Supper, we read long passages of scripture, we confess, intercede and petition in prayer, and some are called to offer personal testimony of the work of the Spirit of the Lord in our lives….”

    All that to say, there is a lot more than “modern fascination with academic integrity” involved in this question.

  • TJJ

    I attended a church on Easter Sunday as a visitor. I had heard the pastor preached great sermons. The primary point of teaching and application rested on a specific detail of Jesus ressurrection and the purported first century jewish significance of that detail. Having studied the ressurrection passages in grad school and having preached and taught them myself many times, the alleged first century cultural “significance” did not ring true to me and was one I had never read about before as a true first century jewish background that informed theBiblical text. When I got home I got on the internet and googled the text and detail to research the issue. What I found, was no verification whatsoever for that alleged historical/cultural background, but What did find were church websites from all accross thecountry of pastors preaching the same or very similar sermons, all based on the same false jewish cultural background. To say the least I was shocked and dismayed on several levels. I intended to talk to the pastor about it, both because the alleged main teaching point was clearly false, but also because the sermon was one that others all accross the country were also preaching. But I never got the chance. A few weeks later he resigned for other issues of moral failing, and moved away.

  • James Petticrew
  • TED M

    I personally agree with #52 Nate. The job of the pastor is to feed the flock and for it to be the best food available for his flock. When my wife puts a great meal on the table I don’t care how it came to be. If I ask her I expect the truth and would feel betrayed if I didn’t get it. But I don’t feel like she owes it to me to make everything herself.

  • Vern

    Very thoughtful blog. What are your thoughts on using other’s outlines for starting points in developing your sermon?

  • Douglas pierce

    Being a Pastor and a speech teacher. I suspect time is not as much an issue as people claim. I suspect it is more about fear and appearance. Word for word using someone else’s sermon cannot really be considered as anything other than plagiarism unless it is clearly stated that it is an interpretation of someone else’s work. Someone mentioned using Scott’s book as basis for a sermon series. I think that is fine but when I have done that I announce it and suggest people buy the book if they want to go deeper. Sometimes I go to a preaching conference and hear something that I want to use with my congregation then I will always preface the sermon with a statement. Of where the idea came from. Tougher question is how about filching liturgy? If I tint a liturgy and use it I usually footnote the sourcein the bulletin but probably not a 100% especially if it is very short. And of course not worrying about denominational materials.

  • yngar10

    Daniel F (45) asks “So did Jude plagiarize Peter’s sermon or did Peter plagiarize Jude’s sermon? Did Isaiah plagiarize Micah’s sermon or did Micah plagiarize Isaiah’s sermon? (cf. Isa. 2 and Micah 4).” Since all Scripture is God-breathed, it might be more appropriate to ask if all the ‘authors’ in the Bible plagiarized God. It was their responsibility to share what God had given them. The preacher is responsible for sharing what God has shown him. In other words, his sermon should be ‘God-breathed’ also, but not on the level of divine inspiration, of course. Thank you everyone for excellent insight into what is apparently a wide-spread sin among many who claim to be serving God while bearing false witness and stealing. For another excellent treatment of this problem, see
    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-is-plagiarism
    and
    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2010/12/20/tgc-asks-when-has-a-preacher-crossed-the-line-into-plagiarism-in-his-sermon/

  • Ray

    Scot,

    I am in a context where I put together 3-4 different messages every week. When I first started out, I needed services like Sermon Central in order to just survive (especially when I was in seminary). I think it is ok to use someone’s outline as a starting point if you have done the study of the text yourself. Likewise, using someone else’s story is ok as long as you don’t become the main character in the story. Stealing word for word and claiming it as your own is wrong in every sense of the word. I rarely use those sites anymore (partly because there is a lot of bad sermon outlines on those sites), but will use stories or ideas from sermons I hear from other people. Usually when I do this, I will give credit to the person who had the idea. Then I will adapt it to my context in Shawnee, Ok. Again, this is rare the more I have been in ministry and the more I have learned. There are weeks when time is an issue and one needs help. These were just rambling thoughts, but if people are crunched for time, I pass no judgment on the preacher who relies on someone else to help them out from time to time. Just as long as it is not everytime.

    Ray

  • Stephen Hesed

    I think there’s a lot of Western, Eurocentric assumptions about intellectual property in this post. That’s not to say I support borrowing sermons, but it’s definitely worth considering that this whole idea of someone “owning” something they create is definitely the product of a certain culture.

  • Julie

    My mom had been reading a book by well-known Christian speaker/writer when she thought that her pastor’s sermon series sounded an awful lot like the book. So one day she brought the book along to a church service — it got to the point where she could predict, word-for-word (including first-person stories), what the pastor would say next. She wasn’t impressed. Even less impressed that the pastor chose a book that was at that time on bestseller lists — this wasn’t some obscure source.

  • Clay Knick

    Why do preachers do this? Pressure, laziness, exhaustion, time crunch, and a host of other reasons. I had a colleague tell me he couldn’t wait for the next Lucado book so he could have something to preach about.

    This isn’t hard. If you use another preacher’s sermon say so. Tell how much or how, it does not take long to do this. If a quote is good from a book take the book with you and read it holding the book in your hands.

    It is simply wrong & deceptive to represent another person’s work as our own.

  • blake

    I know a very known pastor in Dallas, Tx who completely ripped off Rob Bell’s series “The Art of Living” and never cited them. Same stories. Same titles. This was at the dawn of the rise of the internet and so I may be the only one who noticed this. Not to mention the pastor and their church had not reached megachurch status and the popularity had not yet soared. Later, the pastor blasted Bell for his theology. I dont have a lot of respect for that kind of stealing of sermons without citation and then turn around and blast the same person you stole from.

    I get what Ray is saying. Sometimes you just need a jolt to get the process rolling especially for a young pastor. That is far different from ripping of outline, stories, and an entire series.

    But hey, if people have to be entertained so they come back to church, and we value Sunday and especially the consumption of a sermon as the most important work of a pastor during the week, then I can see why many pastors feel the pressure to find someone who they believe is “better” than themselves and take their ideas in full.

  • Kelly Johnston

    When I was one month into my first pastorate I thought I’d ask one of the oldest, wisest members of our church for his insights on what I ought to preach for my Christmas sermon. He just looked at me and asked, “Don’t you have a book of sermons or something like that?” That made me smile.

    Perhaps in a previous era this practice was acceptable in a different sort of way, but I prefer to preach with my own voice and reference my sources when needed.

  • RJS

    This subject came up several years ago, and it brought to mind a quote from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography then as it does for me today:

    About the year 1734 there arrived among us from Ireland a young Presbyterian preacher, named Hemphill, who delivered with a good voice, and apparently extempore, most excellent discourses, which drew together considerable numbers of different persuasion, who joined in admiring them. Among the rest, I became one of his constant hearers, his sermons pleasing me, as they had little of the dogmatical kind, but inculcated strongly the practice of virtue, or what in the religious stile are called good works. Those, however, of our congregation, who considered themselves as orthodox Presbyterians, disapproved his doctrine, and were joined by most of the old clergy, who arraigned him of heterodoxy before the synod, in order to have him silenced. I became his zealous partisan, and contributed all I could to raise a party in his favour, and we combated for him awhile with some hopes of success.

    There was much scribbling pro and con upon the occasion; and finding that, though an elegant preacher, he was but a poor writer, I lent him my pen and wrote for him two or three pamphlets, and one piece in the Gazette of April, 1735. Those pamphlets, as is generally the case with controversial writings, though agerly read at the time, were soon out of vogue, and I question whether a single copy of them now exists.

    During the contest an unlucky occurrence hurt his cause exceedingly. One of our adversaries having heard him preach a sermon that was much admired, thought he had somewhere read the sermon before, or at least a part of it. On search he found that part quoted at length, in one ofthe British Reviews, from a discourse of Dr. Foster’s. This detection gave many of our party disgust, who accordingly abandoned his cause, and occasioned our more speedy discomfiture in the synod. I stuck by him, however, as I rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by others, than bad ones of his own manufacture, though the latter was the practice of our common teachers. He afterward acknowledged to me that none of those he preached were his own; adding, that his memory was such as enabled him to retain and repeat any sermon after one reading only. On our defeat, he left us in search elsewhere of better fortune, and I quitted the congregation, never joining it after, though I continued many years my subscription for the support of its ministers.

  • sean b

    I truly hope this point is heard and thought about. I think that preaching, the way we in western society think of it, is given far too much weight and value in the life of the church.I’m certainly not talking about the public speaking of a pastoral leader or elder within a congregation, I’m talking about the emotionally connecting, soul stirring, motivationally moving sermons whose job it is to excite, ingratiate, and impassion the congregation toward the incidences of the faith. Nowhere in the scriptures do we see this version of preaching given such a prominent role in the church culture. In fact, paul consciously refused to rely on this use of rhetoric and “persuasive speech” to convince this congregation of the truth or their response to it. The word “preaching” really connotes a proclamation and was mainly used to refer to speaking the gospel publically. It was a public proclamation or even teaching the gospel, but it wasn’t used as the main tool of church leadership (I.e. pastors) in leading the congregation in the issues of the faith. It is my belief that this motivational speaking in scriptural words is a western phenomenom that puts undue pressure on pastors to perform while they strive to explain spiritual truth in the time allotted. It is this need to perform well that drives tired, weary, and often lonely leaders to draw from the wells of others who have apparent success in the popularity of their sermons. According to Paul, the leaders and elders ought to be able to teach. This teaching is less about drawing on the emotions and presenting evocative messages and is more geared toward laying new foundations of thought and being transformed by the renewing of the mind. This type of focus from the pulpits on Sunday mornings would remove that societal pressure to be clever, funny, cool, etc. Teach the word, expound on the living and active word, explain the truth, and trust that the spirit will stir the hearts and minds of the congregants. If pastors want to motivate, impassion and stir them to spiritual thought and action, do it face to face, do it small group to small group, do it as you raise up elders and leaders to personally invest in the lives and families of individuals. I offer this with great sympathy for pastors overrun with responsibility. I also offer this with great hope for change, where the culture of God’s church will not simply mimic the culture of the world around us.

  • nate s.

    Sean B #70, well said.

  • Adam O

    In my gut, I am against the practice. But I also know that I appreciate when people utilize other people’s prayers/common prayers in worship, both making them for the local people and from their own heart. I suppose that preaching is somehow fundamentally different than prayer, but is there not some overlap here? Is this merely a matter that praying prayers written by others is a time-honored tradition while preaching other people’s sermons is not? I don’t find it dishonest when someone prays a prayer written by Luther or Cranmer, but then again, I also don’t have the expectation that their prayers will be “original” and generally you can tell the difference even if it is not noted. The major problem I see is the dishonesty, if you essentially tell people that you “wrote” this sermon. But in my cynicism, any time a pastor begins to tell a story, I generally assume it never actually happened to him unless he mentions his family or congregation folk by name.

  • http://www.unfinished1.wordpress.com Mike Khandjian

    Who would ever do this? Of course I’m feeling no pressure right now. It’s only Monday, but Sunday’s a comin’ – Wait, has this been said before???

  • Christina

    I left a nondenominational church last year in part because I was bored and not learning anything new. The pastor was recycling a lot of his sermons from 2 or 3 years before. Shortly after I stopped attending I was looking at the websites of other nondenominational churches in the area and found sermons series with the same titles and artwork as some series my former pastor had preached. After doing some googling, I found that several of the series were canned series purchased from Andy Stanley’s ministry. I suspect that other series were canned sermons from other sources but didn’t continue searching. As far as I know, my former pastor was inserting his own illustrations at least as far as if they were in first person, but I was really bothered by the discovery. My objection was not so much that he used canned series but that he did not make it known that he was not coming up with his own material for the most part. Every week people were talking about what a great message he gave and it seems to me the discussion should have been more of what a great performance he gave. He was not a seminary trained pastor and to me not admitting where his sermons came from gave the impression that he was more knowledgeable than he actually was. From the searches I did of churches in my area this appears to be a common practice among the “lay” preachers who have not attended seminary. It was a very enlightening discovery and led me to the conclusion that if I join a church in the future it will be somewhere where the pastor has been to seminary and who I can be reasonably sure is preaching their own sermons.

  • yngar10

    Don’t count on it, Christina (74). Believe me, too many ‘seminary-trained’ pastors are committing the same sins of theft and bearing false witness week after week by allowing people to believe that their cut-and-paste sermons are the product of their personal study of God’s Word. As you point out, people compliment them on their wonderful sermons, when they know in their heart it was someone else’s work. By not giving credit where credit is due, they willingly deceive the very people they are charged to help become more Christ-like!! Paul said “Imitate me as I also imitate Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). Is a ‘shepherd’ who weekly (and weakly) stands in the pulpit and delivers the fruits of another’s diligent study of Scripture and acts as if he were the one doing the studying and praying to be imitated? Is that following Christ? Hardly. Christina, don’t assume a college education cures anyone of the ability to commit the multiple sins involved in sermon plagiarism of the type you have seen.

  • Christina

    yngar10 (75) – I’m sure sermon stealing occurs across all denominations and among seminary trained pastors as well. In my area though the prevalent use of the canned sermon series appears to be in nondenominational churches with non-seminary trained pastors. So my comment was directed toward what I observed in my search of churches in my geographical area. I have listened to sermons online of a few local churches with a more liturgical bent and seminary trained pastors and there was a distinct difference in the depth of the content and the exegesis. Of course that doesn’t ensure that they are coming up with their own work. The only one I would say I feel fairly certain that was is one that I corresponded with via email regarding an academic and obscure book she referenced in her sermon. So discouraging when those who are supposed to be shepherding the flock to be imitators of Christ are not attempting walk the walk themselves.


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