Why pastors should plagiarize in their sermons

Why pastors should plagiarize in their sermons November 8, 2011

I’ve been thinking about the differences between classroom teaching and pulpit preaching.

When I teach, I use the work of many scholars to help students understand the material, with proper citation of course.  Yes, I give my own ideas and analyses (and probably more than I need), but the the core of my material is the work of others.  If I had to present *only* my own ideas, the class would be about an hour or two long, and then I’d have to call it for the semester.

In contrast, there seems to be a norm among pastors that all sermons have to be original in idea and expression. The problem is that this is very hard to do; I know I couldn’t produce an original, useful 20-30 talk every week.  So, a lot of sermons aren’t really that good.

This leads me to wonder why pastors do not more frequently base their sermons on the work of others. Presumably pastors know the best books about Christian faith & practice, and, with their theological training, pastors are in a better place to understand & explain the ideas of others. Why not take a book, for example, that has had a broad impact and walk their congregation though it over several sermons.  Or, why not adapt a sermon on someone else’s sermon?  Why not show video series?

To be clear, the pastor would need to clearly indicate the source of the material; otherwise it is plagiarism. (Okay, the title of this post isn’t quite accurate, but it’s catchy, no?).  I’m advocating using others’ ideas with full acknowledgement.

Pastors almost seem to feel guilty about using the ideas of others–as if somehow they are avoiding their pastoral responsibility.  To the contrary, I think that they would both give better sermons and have more time and energy for the many other responsibilities of pastoring if they more frequently summarized and illustrated the ideas of others for their sermons.


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