The Preacher in the Shadows

Great job pastor, I really enjoyed your sermon!” This often heard refrain on Sunday mornings is far too often not accurate. A shockingly large percentage of those wonderful messages are actually stolen material. Plagiarism in the pulpit is becoming almost as usual as a Power Point to illustrate the points of the lesson.

I read just this morning of pastors who resigned in shame after being caught preaching someone else’s sermons. What a sad way to perhaps end a life of ministry!

We live in a fast and furious society governed by day planners and calendars and alarms on cell phones. And, ministers often have way too much on their plates to do any of it well. The ease of “cut and paste” and the temptation to circumvent the needed time to study and pray has produced a crop of habitual plagiarism preachers, …and bloggers.

Here are some simple rules to avoid being caught in the trap of stealing what someone else wrote or said and presenting it as your own original material.

  • Give credit! A simple mention of the source even if presented almost word for word makes you honest. I doubt that any minister, or writer minds being quoted if they are credited. I don’t think crediting the author will take away any of the impact of what is said or written. When I quote someone on this blog I credit them, often with a link, and send an email asking permission before, even if they have stated it isn’t necessary. Many have done the same for me and I am always glad.
  • Pray! Your ancient brothers seemed to give equal importance to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Shame on you if you don’t bathe your sermon preparation and delivery in prayer.
  • Begin your preparation with only a Bible. I have followed this rule for decades. My Bible of choice is the ESV on I even turn off the references and footnotes and read the text, comparing scripture to scripture at first using only my memory of other texts. Only after I have set what the heart of the study is do I look at outside commentary and other resources.
  • When you do use some other writer or minister’s material, make it your own before presenting it. I see nothing wrong with presenting one of Surgeon’s sermons with credit given but only after the message and biblical texts have gripped your heart and moved you toward God.

If we are nothing else, those of us who speak on behalf of God, must be people of integrity. It is easy to reason “It wont happen to me, I will not get caught“, perhaps the same sentiment of those who did get caught and resigned or were fired in shame.

I think most people are like yours truly. I am delighted when I receive a note asking permission to use a post or part of one in a church bulletin, or Sunday school class. I think you will find wonderful response when you ask permission or at a minimum give proper credit. By all means use books by gifted people, preach great sermons by others, but don’t steal anything and expect God’s blessing on your work.

I said this!