Preaching and Plagiarism

I am finally catching up on my blog reading and I came across this post on The Gospel Coalition blog concerning the question, “When has a preacher crossed the line into plagiarism in his [*ahem* or her] sermon?” It is worth reading (as well as the responses) because it touches a really important issue in preaching ministries.

I brought up this subject in my own post “My Preaching Manifesto.” One of my points is:

I am to bring my best to God and his people. I will be prepared enough to allow for the Holy Spirit to truly work. I will refuse to “borrow” messages from other pastors; it’s plagiarism and does not allow God to bring his specific message to my local church.

I know that I can be idealistic about ministry, especially as far as preaching is concerned. Preaching a few times a year (as I do) is far less rigorous than preaching weekly, sometimes pastors even preach a few times a week. I get that life as a minister can move at breakneck speed; however, I am resolute about this because I firmly believe that preaching is a key role of a pastor.

Go back to Acts 6. When the pressures of meeting people’s physical needs became too much for the apostles to do both that and preaching, their response was, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

They refused to choose the business of doing ministry at the expense of ministering to their souls. Meeting people’s physical needs can never replace meeting their real spiritual needs (whether or not those are felt needs). That isn’t to say don’t meet people’s physical needs; we ought to empower and equip others to minister in that way (another key role of a pastor).

Ultimately, I don’t have a problem with using others’ material, if it is cited as such. I don’t think it is an integrity issue to cite others’ sermons or books. Refusing to indicate that you are borrowing from others is a symptom of an underlying issue.

When it comes to integrity, I believe that people (especially ministers) don’t start out intending to be duplicitous. It happens over time as a result of cutting corners. Cutting corners comes from too little margin in life. Something’s gotta give at some point and it is usually the deep, inner part of us that no one will notice is missing. I know from personal experience that cutting those corners leads to disaster.

Two questions to seriously consider when borrowing material are:

1. If you don’t have make the time to allow the Bible and the Holy Spirit to teach you before you teach others, who is feeding your soul? Are you feeding your soul? I learn a great deal personally through the process of preparing to teach others. I believe God uses that wrestling to continue to shape us, even if we’re just trying to produce a sermon.

2. What does borrowing whole sermons tell the congregation about the Bible? The implicit message of borrowing is that people do not have to do the hard work of wrestling with scripture and listening to God themselves. Or it says that once we read a passage, we know all we need to know about it. Either way, we are teaching them to devalue God’s word and its power in shaping our faith and lives.

May we handle God’s word faithfully both before and when we enter the pulpit so that lives, including our own, will be transformed.

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