Sermon Plagiarism

April 24, 2007

Thomas G. Long has an excellent piece in the Christian Century about preachers plagiarizing sermons. The piece is entitled "Stolen goods: Tempted to plagiarize." It is quite lengthy as he carefully tackles this issue from several perspectives. Here are a couple of highlights:

Perhaps as much or more than any other form of communication, preaching depends upon a cord of trust binding together the speaker and the listener, the preacher and hearer. A good sermon consists not primarily in flawless logic, soaring poetry or airtight arguments, but in passionately held truth proclaimed with conviction. To compromise the truth in ways that hearers would consider deceptive makes them reluctant to extend this necessary trust and damages the witness. For evidence, we can point to the hard disillusionment and sense of betrayal experienced by many in congregations where pastors have been caught plagiarizing sermons.

... A good test of this point is to ask, What would happen if the preacher told the truth? "Hey folks, it's been a busy week and I didn't have time to work on a sermon, and honestly, I'm not all that creative anyway. So this is a little something I found on the 'net.'" The fact that the air would immediately go out of the room is a reliable indicator that the tacit agreement of the sermon event has been violated. This is why plagiarists, for all their blather about God's words being free for all, never confess their true sources and always imply that these words are coming straight from the heart.
Amen! We are supposed to be people of the Truth and thus our words must be truthful in all ways. It is sad when preachers do things that would get my students an "F" on their speeches. It is time for us to set the example and be above reproach.

6 comments

  1. Brian, thanks. good post.

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  2. Brian, thanks for this observation. I don't think there's any excuse for stealing someone else's sermon. If it's been a bad week, then the preacher can just riff on the Gospel reading, telling the story in a way that the Spirit can break through to hearts hungry for hope.

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  3. Thanks for the comments.

    Deacon Tim: You make a good point. I had a preaching professor who argued that when we have nothing to preach we should just read the Sermon on the Mount. He figured that we could not go wrong preaching Jesus’ sermon.

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  4. I don't know the answer to this question, but I wonder where the line is drawn between plagiarism, marketing and laziness. I've attended, and left, two megachurches because there did not seem to be any originality in the sermons. After a while at the second church I realized I was hearing the same sermons that I had heard at the first church. They were even using the same Powerpoint slides.

    I did a little research on my own and found two sites - pastors.com and wiredchurches.com - that appear to be force behind these canned, online bought sermons.

    I don't believe purchasing a widely distributed product to use in a sermon is necessarily bad, even though I don't like it. But, using such a sermon and speaking phrases such as "While I was preparing this sermon..." is just as bad as plagiarism.

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  5. notthesun: You raise a couple of good issues. I don’t think laziness is necessarily the whole reason, but it likely is a big part of it.

    What I really appreciate about this article is that it points to the issue of telling the truth as a major concern with plagiarism. Thus, the worst part is not the using of the sermon but claiming (even if not explicitly) that it is one’s own.

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  6. This is gorgeous!

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