The Internet and the Ethics of Borrowed Sermons

by Dave Miller on June 24, 2014 · 157 comments

I was listening to a message not long ago and was amazed at the quality of the organized outline and presentation. It was way better than anything I’d heard the man preach before. I had a small suspicion growing in my mind. So, I wrote down a few key phrases from the outline and later entered them in the magic machine called Google. Lo and behold, the original author of the message was a man named Criswell – I think there is a college somewhere named after him. Basically, he read the sermon word for word.  It was not a case of using someone else’s outline and “making it his own.” Nope. It was a man standing in the pulpit reading almost verbatim a sermon posted to the internets by a man who got it from WA himself.

Is this ethical?

Let me point out for the record that I have never borrowed another man’s toothbrush, his underwear, or in 30+ years of preaching, used another man’s sermon. I’ve not used another preacher’s sermon outline. Never. It’s just not something I’ve done. I have used snippets, quotes, phrases, etc, but never a sermon or outline. For good or ill, I preach like Dave Miller, no one else. Since it is never something I have done or would consider doing, I found it really strange when I realized what had been done. But, just because I wouldn’t do it, does that mean no one should? Is it wrong?

1) Sermon websites exist for this purpose, don’t they? People put sermons up there to be shared, do they not? It wasn’t like he stole the sermon. He received a gift shared by another pastor. 

I did my first wedding about 30 years ago. After the wedding, a young man who was getting married a few months later came to me and said he liked the wedding and wondered if he could get the notes to have the pastor use some of the ideas in his upcoming nuptials. I was cool with it. A while later, I attended the wedding, and as it happened, I was there with the newlyweds whose service I had done. About half way through the service, I leaned over to Steve and said, “Does this sound familiar to you?” The pastor was reading my sermon word for word, only (and fortunately) changing the names. (Note: Steve and his wife had no clue – don’t kid yourselves, guys, they never hear your wedding sermons!).

I have to admit I was a little bit annoyed. I wanted to ask for half of the honorarium since I did the bulk of the work.

But the pastor I heard recently didn’t steal anyone’s message. He took one that was shared on a website. Is there a difference?

2) The people listening to that message heard a much better message than they’d have heard if the speaker had done it all himself.

If the speaker happens to read this, I hope he will not be offended if I say that WA Criswell is a much better preacher than he is. WA’s sermon was a better sermon than this guy could have come up with on his own. Our goal as pastors is to communicate truth. This man was more effective communicating truth that day by using a pre-prepared sermon than he would have been had he done it on his own.

So, do the ends justify the means here?

3) Absolutely no word was given by the speaker giving credit to anyone else for the message.

That would seem to be the key issue to me. I’m never going to use a sermon off the internet, a borrowed sermon, but I think that if you do, you ought to give credit where credit is due. The word plagiarism comes to mind here. If it hadn’t been for Google, I’d have never known.

4) No dollars were lost in the performance of this message. 

I am a preacher of God’s Word – it is his, not mine. I’ve had people ask to use things I’ve written and I’ve always (happily) said yes. With a couple of guys, knowing their line of work, I reminded them that they could not copyright those materials and that if they were going to profit from them, they probably ought to remember ol’ Dave. (One guy ran a sort of online Bible school). But if I am preaching the Word of God, do I really own my material? That’s a tough issue for me. If I ever manage to get a publisher to read one of my books and publish it, I’d want copyright laws to be obeyed. I’d be a little ticked if someone took one of my books and published it under his name (especially if it actually sold a few copies!).

But this is an old sermon from a pastor from long ago who has been with Jesus since some of the whippersnappers who blog out there were still in diapers (well, close anyway). It’s been passed around like the flu in February.

Does that make a difference?

Here’s my point. I witnessed something that I have never done and would never do. That’s just not how I preach. But this pastor did it. Was it wrong? Was it unethical? Are there hard and fast rules here?

Just wondering.

{ 156 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark Mitchell June 24, 2014 at 8:34 pm

If I ever say something someone feels is worth repreating I do not want the credit or attribution. I would hope it came from the Lord to begin with and I was only repeating what I got from Him. I do not see anything I do as mine. All are welcome to use what I say or stay away from it.

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2 Greg Buchanan June 24, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Dave,

I don’t think that any sermon can be “copy written” for any purpose ever:

- what is your source material?
- did you get permission from the author to use that source material?
- where is it written that every sermon has to be unique? (that sounds like pride)
- if it’s true, no matter whose conclusion/summation is being used, isn’t everything that is true from the author of Truth?

If I may paraphrase Phillipians 1:15 -
18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense (BORROWED) or in truth (ORIGINAL), Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

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3 Greg Buchanan June 24, 2014 at 8:49 pm

FYI, I completely reused a mini-sermon/adult-bible-study from Rob Turner this past week at FUGE in Glorieta; and yes, i told him about it to bless him by telling of the extended effect he is having at camp: first on the adults during our study, then to my youth group during our church devotion time.

It was fantastic and powerful and truth that my kids needed to hear. I feel no shame in borrowing what other’s have preached, though I never claim it as my own. In fact, it is nothing short of what the early church did when the passed Paul’s letters from one church to another or one city/village to another.

I would never claim Rob’s sermon as my own, in fact I told the kids where I got it. But I will also feel no shame at reusing something I’ve heard before if I feel it is relevant to my flock of teenagers and pre-teens.

If it is true and good and relevant, I don’t HAVE to have created myself.

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4 William Thornton June 24, 2014 at 9:10 pm

If you give credit where everyone understands, fine. If you do this Sunday after Sunday, why do they need you? If you fail to give credit, and I offer the option here that sometimes a general disclosure is sufficient, you’re stealing and defrauding your congregation and you are doing it intentionally. You are a fraud.

We all understand swapping illustrations and general outlines but academics get fired for stealing other peoples stuff and presenting it as if it were his or her own. Preachers get…what…a bigger church?

Naturally, I’m way ahead of Dave Miller on this…maybe he stole my brilliant, witty, and insightful article of last fall (more likely, he is savvy enough to know this is a problem we have with us always).

http://sbcplodder.blogspot.com/2013/09/guaranteed-to-put-fear-in-pastors-heart.html

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5 Bart Barber June 24, 2014 at 10:51 pm

I agree with William.

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6 Greg Harvey June 25, 2014 at 8:41 am

Stop it!! Stop it!! All this agreement stuff is entirely non-Southern Baptist.

Oh wait…I agree with Bart, William, AND Dave…

Sermon can be copyrighted as can any speech. The Martin Luther King, Jr. legacy includes copyrights on all of his speeches and the foundation enforces the copyrights aggressively for the benefit of itself and the family.

That a preacher would acknowledge that inspiration comes from God is precisely not relevant legally. ALL works of art and ALL innovations depend on God-provided abilities just as all tangible land ownership depends on God’s provision of dirt in a plot.

Just as we ought not trespass on land we do not have permission to enter, we should obey intellectual property law precisely. Not doing so dishonors the King in my humble opinion.

PS Saw the “ribbon version” of my first patent last night as issued by the USPTO. Kinda cool!!

7 Chris Johnson June 25, 2014 at 9:34 pm

I’m in agreement with all these great men! Sincerely.

8 Ben Coleman June 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm

As I understand it (I’m no copyright lawyer (or any lawyer at all: don’t take what follows as legal advice), but as a computer programmer, I have to have some familiarity with copyright law). you can’t copyright ideas or facts, so the particular teachings that a sermon teaches can’t be copyrighted. You *can* copyright (and, as I understand current copyright law, in fact you do: ever since the ratification of the Berne Convention, you’ve got a copyright on your particular expression the moment it’s put into a tangible medium) the particular expression used to convey those teachings.

Thus, it seems that using a sermon word-for-word would be a copyright violation without the permission of the original author. Taking the teachings of a sermon and re-expressing them in your own words would not.

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9 William Thornton June 24, 2014 at 9:12 pm

My comment above falls under Greg’s comment but I’m not aiming at him and apologize if it looks that way.

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10 Greg Buchanan June 25, 2014 at 11:08 am

Thank you for the clarification.

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11 Christiane June 24, 2014 at 9:16 pm

is any sermon ever really ‘proprietary’ . . . if it is based on sacred Scripture?
and it is given in service to Christ and to the Church?

?

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12 Greg Buchanan June 25, 2014 at 11:14 am

This is my whole point: we are all using someone else’s message, namely God’s Word. Within, we are using Paul’s or Samuel’s or Moses’ letters/sermons/writings.

Yes, we are giving credit when we say, “Please turn to…” But at the same time, should we take so much pride in our “original” material when after all, we all claim inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

No pun intended (well, maybe a little) we all have the same “Ghost” writer don’t we???

I agree with giving credit where credit is due; i.e. I once heard a sermon with familiar ideas and then he claimed to call these ideas “Christian Hedonism…” and no, it was NOT John Piper. It would have been easy to just source the idea and preach who right it is based on scripture, rather, it was a sour experience for me.

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13 Tarheel June 24, 2014 at 9:22 pm

Hey Miller! Did you not just attend a service where Adam Blosser was the preacher?

I know he got some Criswell sermons on CD at the SBC A couple of weeks back.

;-)

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14 Dave Miller June 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm

I did. Adam preached a fine message. It gave every evidence of being his own, as well. My friends in Drakes Branch are well served.

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15 Adam Blosser June 25, 2014 at 6:26 am

“It gave every evidence of being his own,”

I hope you wouldn’t blame Criswell for my sermons. ;)

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16 Tarheel June 25, 2014 at 6:34 am

Yes, Mr. Miller they are. Don’t tell Adam I said this, but he’s a good preacher and an even better man.

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17 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 4:37 pm

I promise not to tell.

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18 andy June 24, 2014 at 9:35 pm

I think for me, giving credit would be key, not that I necessarily give credit for every idea in a sermon, as it would likely hurt the flow to keep stopping for citatons, but if someone mentioned a certain point I had made, I would say, “yeah, I got that from Tim Keller.”

I think a pastor could legitimately read “Sinners on the hands of an angry God.”….but not if they presented it as their own.

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19 Jeff P. June 24, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Is it legal, probably. Is it ethical, no. I’m like you Adam, as I’ve never used another’s outline or preached another’s sermon in it’s entirety. I have on occasion while in study found much of what another has said very applicable to what I feel God wants me to say that day, so at the very beginning I may say something like this: A lot of what you will here today comes from Dr. Adrian Rogers look at Romans 9. I want you to understand this and he said it far better than I can. It’s not often this happens, but when it does, I give the person the credit for speaking for God in a meaningful way

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20 Jeff P. June 24, 2014 at 9:50 pm

I meant, Dave, oops

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21 Bob Browning June 24, 2014 at 10:15 pm

This is really interesting timing. Either the Lord is trying to correct my thinking or He is giving me an opportunity to simply share my own example. Last night I preached at our local rescue mission as I do most every Monday night. However, the last two weeks had been ridiculously busy and I had not had time to prepare as well as I would have liked. When this happens (and yes, unfortunately it has happened before) I have two options. I can go wing it, or I can simply not show up and they will graciously play a video of someone like T.D. Jakes or Kenneth Copeland. Thus, if I just go read from Leviticus it is infinitely better than the alternative.

But yesterday, it occurred to me that I had some excellent notes from a sermon I had heard recently. So I spent about 30 minutes before time to preach going over the text and looking over the notes and then I went and preached. As I opened my message I acknowledged that the notes were borrowed from a brother’s sermon and then I prayed that the Lord would grant grace in our time there. I believe that prayer was answered and am thankful that I could lean on what the Lord had taught me just recently through this brother.

Thus, my take on this is really close to what John MacArthur has said about posting his own sermons. He basically says he doesn’t mind anyone using them, but that if they want to grow in their own walk, then they had better put something into it for their own sake. I think this is what we should be more concerned about. We should not be primarily greedy for the credit, but instead, we should genuinely be concerned that those who are responsible for feeding the flock are truly being fed by THE Shepherd first.

With that said, I am hungry to get back on track with my own study and preparation for teaching next Monday, so I bid you all goodnight.

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22 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm

I see absolutely no problem in what you said or did. You have shown some good thinking.

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23 Tim B June 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm

The story is told of a student at Criswell college who brought a message in preaching class that was familiar to someone who heard it. They remembered hearing Criswell preach the same message years earlier. The student was adamant that he had not taken the sermon from Criswell. The student was brought by the professor to Criswell’s presence for a moment of truth. The sermon was presented and Criswell confirmed that he had in fact written the message. The student again insisted that he had not gotten the message from Criswell but did in fact reveal he borrowed the message from a source which pre dated Criswell. Criswell had to admit that he too had borrowed the message. The moral of the story (if this story is true) is that Brother Dave is even more original than even the great Dr. Criswell.

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24 Christiane June 24, 2014 at 10:24 pm

I love this story. :)
Is it really true?

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25 Dave Miller June 24, 2014 at 10:28 pm

That’s funny.

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26 Mike Leake June 25, 2014 at 8:57 am

I’ve heard this same story about Spurgeon.

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27 David R. Brumbelow June 25, 2014 at 10:38 am

I too have heard the same story about Spurgeon.
David R. Brumbelow

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28 Bill Mac June 24, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Bottom line: You must give credit. If you preach a sermon, then unless you say otherwise, the assumption is that you have written it (even assuming the leading of the Holy Spirit). Otherwise it is unethical. I suspect that most people who post sermons do so under the hope that someone reading it will be blessed or instructed by it, not that they will take it and re-preach it.

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29 Warren June 24, 2014 at 10:45 pm

I have used outlines that I’ve gotten from others – used them for my notes and often didn’t even refer to them from the pulpit, though. I’ve also gotten ideas from phrases that I hear in others’ sermons. I have no problem with either of these things (obviously). The problem I have with preaching someone else’s sermon has nothing to do with copyright, though.

His sermon was meant for his congregation. His congregation has specific needs, and that sermon was crafted with them in mind. My congregation may find the sermon interesting, and better than what I preach, but will they find it edifying? Will they find it challenging? Or is it touching matters that they don’t struggle with, challenging them in ways that they aren’t being led by God? His congregation isn’t my congregation, so my sermon should not be his sermon.

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30 Jess June 24, 2014 at 11:12 pm

I think there are things in our subconscious that are borrowed, phrases that we have heard years ago that stick with us, even though we have long forgotten who said them. I know I’m guilty of using phrases that someone else has said, I just don’t know who might have said them. I’ve come up with phrases of my own that I know other preachers have used. I have to say, I was flattered by them using my phrases. When we were discussing new names for the SBC, I sent my recommendation in to a Baptist paper. I wanted to call it the Great Baptist Commission, of course I think it’s just coincidence that the name turned out to be Great Commission Baptists.

I heard a preacher once that no doubt used someone else’s sermon.
He couldn’t even pronounce the words if they had more than seven or eight letters. I almost laughed sitting in my seat.

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31 Anon June 26, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Same thing in my church, he could not pronounce some of the words. He stole sermons for seven years and split the church.

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32 Ken Smith June 24, 2014 at 11:13 pm

Years ago, in Dexter, Mo., we had a visiting evangelist who for his Sunday morning message recited the Sermon on the Mount from memory. If you are going to “borrow” you go right to the top.

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33 Kevin Peacock June 24, 2014 at 11:47 pm

I bet he gave credit!

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34 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 12:47 am

Ken,

You lived in Dexter? I love the ribs in Dexter. What was the name of that BBQ restaurant, there? The Hickory Log, or the Smokehouse, or something like that? The BEST ribs, anywhere…the BEST. Of course, the cook left and opened another rib place in Sikeston, MO called Dexter Ribs, and they are just as good as the ones from Dexter.

I’m sure you’ve eaten there. BTW, I have a lot of family in the Bootheel. They mostly live in Portageville and Caruthersville.

David

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35 Max June 25, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I was raised in nearby Malden, MO … the name of the BBQ place you refer to is “The Hickory Log”, although “Dexter Ribs” gives them a run for their money. However, to stay on topic, I doubt that they plagiarized Hickory’s BBQ sauce ;>)

Hey David, if I say “Sikeston”, what is the premier restaurant which comes to mind by most Baptist pastors familiar with Bootheel cuisine? I’ll give you a hint: flying rolls.

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36 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Lambert’s.

Max, are you old enough to remember Two Tony’s Restaurant? it was really good,and it was my Grandfather’s favorite.

David

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37 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 7:45 pm

I ate at Lambert’s years ago when I led a January Bible Study at FBC. Good food and yes flying rolls.

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38 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 2:14 am

Now that’s funny.

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39 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 10:08 am

I’m always glad to be a blessing. And, anyone out there please feel free to use what I said above about ribs. it’s okay with me that you use it.

David

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40 David Rogers June 25, 2014 at 1:32 am

As my present job consists largely of editing my dad’s sermon manuscripts that we are in the process of publishing, I have had occasion on a number of times, for one reason or another, to Google phrases from his sermons. On several different times, I have discovered verbatim (or near verbatim) copies of his sermons online, attributed to someone else. I am also aware of at least one person who regularly preached my dad’s sermons, including first-person illustrations of events that happened in his life, only changing the names to make it sound like the same thing happened to them. Of course, this is not ethical.

On the other hand, my dad was fond of repeating the following quote he originally heard from Rick Warren (if I am not mistaken): “If what I preach fits your gun, shoot it. But use your own powder.”

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41 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 2:18 am

In preaching class back at SWBTS we were specifically warned not to use Adrian Rogers sermons in preaching class.

He claimed he’d heard them all.

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42 Adam Blosser June 25, 2014 at 6:41 am

David, you mention your dad’s sermon manuscripts. What did he take with him to the pulpit? Anything other than his Bible? Did he write out a full manuscript when preparing his sermon? If so, did he memorize it or was the sermon delivered just a close representation of the manuscript?

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43 David Rogers June 25, 2014 at 9:34 am

Adam,

He did not write out his manuscripts. What he took with him to the pulpit was a little notebook with an outline and a few notes. The “manuscripts” I am working with are transcripts written out after the fact, most of which were originally typed out for editing purposes with the tv/radio ministry. He did not memorize his sermons either. There is often a pretty big difference, for instance, between the 9:30 and 11:00 transcripts of the “same” sermon. He did have a great ability for remembering what he wanted to say, though. That is one of the reasons, as well, that he liked so much to alliterate his outline points: to help him remember what all he wanted to say.

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44 Adam Blosser June 25, 2014 at 10:39 am

Thanks, David. I am always intrigued by the methods employed by various preachers regarding notes.

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45 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 11:21 am

I’ve always heard many preachers say the same thing as Dr. Rogers…if it fits your gun, then shoot it. I would say that if you use someone else’s outlines, then, at least, make it your own…use the outline…the basic outline…and then, develop the sermon on your own. I think most preachers wouldn’t mind you using their outlines. But, quoting their sermons word for word, and using personal illustrations as if they were your own life story…..that’s just wrong.

Also, I’d say that if you ever want to publish a sermon, or write a book, then you’d better be very careful…..lots more careful….to not plagarize…to make sure that it’s your own, or that you give credit.

I’m kind of like Dave….I do my own thing, and I really doubt that anyone would want to plagarize me….lol. I preach verse by verse thru books of the Bible 99% of the time. I did use one of Dr. Criswell’s sermons for a funeral…..I needed another funeral sermon….was preaching a lot of them during that time….but, I used his basic outline, and made it my own.

I do lean heavily on Greek helps and commentaries while preparing messages….and, unless I’m directly quoting someone, I don’t give credit for every single thing that I’ve learned from the Greek helps, or the commentaries.

David

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46 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 4:40 pm

David, the sermon to which I refer in this post was actually a funeral sermon. I’d love to know if they were the same sermon.

47 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Dave,

I bet they were….lol. I got it from Criswell’s Handbook for Pastors.

DAvid

48 David R. Brumbelow June 25, 2014 at 10:42 am

I think I’ve read where Adrian Rogers said,

“I use the milk from many cows, but I churn my own butter.”

David R. Brumbelow

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49 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 1:04 pm

The problem with using AR’s sermons is that 3000 other preachers have used them.

When I am discouraged I will play one of AR/s sermons. I am always blessed.

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50 Tarheel June 25, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Just 3000?

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51 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 2:13 pm

yeah, good point!

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52 Dale Pugh June 25, 2014 at 6:42 am

It’s interesting………I have preached a sermon about Moses and God’s use of the stick in his hand several times. (The idea came from a dying saint who told me, “Young man, God will use a stick to accomplish His purposes. Will you be less useful than a stick?” Honestly, I may have heard the basics of the sermon from someone else, but I don’t remember it.) It’s the only sermon that I’ve ever preached more than once. I first preached it way back in the early 80′s. Lo and behold, I read a few years back that Rick Warren preached a similar message at one of his conferences! Think I should go after him? Haha!

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53 Doug Hibbard June 25, 2014 at 7:15 am

I think #3 is part of the key–give credit.

There are, after all, some sermons that it would do good for your church to hear that you didn’t write. But be honest and clear. And remind your congregation often that you get information and ideas from multiple sources. Every few months, make a few book recommendations to your congregation, and not just the fluffy Lifeway Bestsellers. Haul in a few of your nerd books and point them out. You may want to say that they are more for research than late night reading, but show folks how you do your work.

I think overall it’s the passing off someone else’s work as our own that must be avoided. And the “personal illustration” swiping is completely out-of-bounds. If it did not happen to *you* then it does not go in first-person.

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54 John Wylie June 25, 2014 at 7:56 am

I had a guest speaker this past year, in fact a former pastor to the church I pastor, he basically preached Criswell’s message entitle “The Orthodoxy of the Devil”. He didn’t give the message the same title of course and he didn’t preach it verbatim. After the sermon I didn’t rebuke him, he’s about 80 years old, but I just ribbed him a little bit. I said, “I see you listen to Criswell too.”, the man just smiled sheepishly at me.

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55 Jess June 25, 2014 at 9:41 am

About nine or ten years ago I was kicked back in my recliner watching the Today show. They used the phrase, “What a difference Today makes”. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and gave me a title of a sermon, “What a difference a day can make”. I have preached this sermon several times over the years, and it is a good one.

About three or four years ago I was flipping through the channels and found John Hagee preaching my sermon four years after I first preached it. It sure is mysterious how the Lord works. John Hagee used the exact phrase the Today show used, “What a difference Today makes”, and I didn’t.

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56 Andrew Green June 25, 2014 at 10:32 am

I always reference people when I use quotes or someone’s outline. I try to make my work be as original as possible. The last thing a pastor needs to be accused of is theft of any kind. I had a person in my congregation get upset with me because I would reference websites I got stats from or I would reference direct quotes. I replied; especially since he was a former school superintendent; would you be okay with one of the students at your school writing a paper and claiming everything they wrote was there own work? He replied no and he understood. I think pastors need to be honest and say this quote, story, or outline did not originate from me especially if we use the information word for word.

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57 Greg Buchanan June 25, 2014 at 11:28 am

I think we need to try and get our flocks to understand: we are NOT academics.

All truth is God’s truth; our job as pastor’s is to prepare the congregation to do the work of the church. In other words, we are the drill sergeants in God’s army. EVERY drill sergeant has to memorize, word for word, the “step by step method of instruction” for each task that they teach to a trainee.

However, they still have to relate to each trainee differently as they all have individual personalities. I see preaching the same way. We are all using the same material: the Bible. However, we must relate and teach it differently depending on a given flock or individual.

We should source ideas, phrases, and stats for 2 reasons: to remain humble so people don’t think we are SUPER smart AND so they can check on things themselves (Bereans).

However, we should not be above using in part or whole another’s sermon because if we are so adamant about being original, either we run the risk of falling into Ben Coleman’s quote and/or we are flirting with if not down right giving in to self-righteousness.

It is a thin line to walk, no doubt about it.

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58 Ben Coleman June 25, 2014 at 11:15 am

Just stumbled across this quote and thought it was relevant. No preacher wants to have something like this said of his sermons:

Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not
original and the part that is original is not good.
– Samuel Johnson

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59 Ed B June 25, 2014 at 11:18 am

I am not against pastors or other minsters and teachers using notes, outlines or complete sermons/lessons that were penned by another. But for scholastic integrity the pastor or teacher should give credit to the person they borrowed the material from. To do otherwise is plagiarism. It is a very simple thing to say that I found a wonder message, quote, sermon series, etc. from “Reverend John” or whoever.

I remember a hearing a sermon on the radio given by Chuck Swindol. It realized I had heard it before, and after some head scratching I realized I had heard this almost word for word at my Church about three months earlier. I will be honest, I was disappointed. I don’t know where the sermon came from but someone was using it without a simple acknowledgement of its source.

Now if some group like Lifeway has some canned sermons written by anonymous authors that any pastor can draw from..…I don’t know…maybe it doesn’t require an acknowledgement? But I would think more highly of the pastor or teacher if they made some simple mention that they were using a series that the pastor found very edifying and felt led by the Holy Spirit to share with the congregation. It’s just honest. Many of us laypersons have complete colleges degrees and grad studies in our fields. We understand the ethical requirement to give credit to our sources of information. Ministers, Bible teachers, and small group leaders should do the same. It isn’t even hard.

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60 Ed B June 25, 2014 at 11:22 am

The typos are killing me. I wish we had an edit button. :)

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61 Greg Harvey June 25, 2014 at 3:48 pm

You do. His name is Dave. If he doesn’t die of mirth first due to your mistake and you petition him carefully, he will hear from Iowa and answer your prayers of confession and repentance…textually only of course.

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62 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 4:41 pm

I have an edit button, as do all the contributors here. I use it freely.

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63 Greg Harvey June 25, 2014 at 4:48 pm

You are so not fun. :P

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64 William Thornton June 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

I appreciate all the high-minded, ethical approaches to preaching. Unfortunately, plagiarism of the most shameful variety looks quite commonplace to me. Just go by any church’s sign and if they give a sermon title, google it. You will be shocked.

A sizable church near me had a guy who decided to google his pastor’s sermons. He found that almost every sermon was stolen and the pastor rarely did any original preaching of his own. The pastor was forced to resign.

What could the pastor say that would fix this? “I’m too busy to do my own sermon prep”…”I’m careless about attribution”… “I’ll start this Sunday doing my own preaching”.

Now that folks bring their smart phones into church to follow the scripture verses, do you think that some will google your stuff in real time? How would you like to have some smart mouth member say on the way out of the service, “Great sermon, Pastor. Spurgeon did a good job on that one. You weren’t half bad either.”

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65 John Wylie June 25, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Just because a sermon title is the same doesn’t mean that the sermon is plagiarized. Who hasn’t preached a sermon entitled “The Attitude of Gratitude”?

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66 William Thornton June 25, 2014 at 4:04 pm

The issue was more than a sermon title – points, sub points, illustrations…the whole thing. I think we recognize when we’ve crossed over into a questionable area.

An illustration that is presented as if it happened to me, with all the first person pronouns, but was one that I stole from you? Am I an actor? It is such a simple thing to start an illustration, “John Wylie tells the story…” and then launch into it.

I recall Adrian introducing a tale with the caveat that it had been around so long it is now common property among preachers. Same for some outlines.

I love, for example, Criswell’s clear, concise outline on Stephen: 1. Stephen was a man who knew how to live, 2. Stephen was a man who knew how to die. Add my sub points under that and I’m fine.

Or, Truett’s outline on fear: 1. Don’t be afraid of life, 2. Don’t be afraid of death, 3. Don’t be afraid of eternity.

I’d still give credit but if I overlooked that it is only the outline, not the whole thing. And it’s almost generic. I’d almost bet that neither Criswell not Truett was the first on either of those.

But if I commandeered one of Adrian’s highly and elaborately alliterative outlines, the ones that carry the scheme way down into the sub points and which utilize two and three word phrases, I’d be stealing, not to mention sounding like a fool. That’s Adrian (and a few thousand wannabes) not me.

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67 Cody Busby June 25, 2014 at 11:41 am

Long-time lurker. Second time poster.
Early in my ministry I used other guys’ sermons with reckless abandon. I became convicted when I realized I was using those sermons because I did not know the Bible, nor my people well enough to communicate Scripture effectively. I am now an avowed sermon-writer, and better for it.
I can understand why a man would, on occasion, use another’s work. I think this practice is acceptable only if credit is given. It is the regular weekly practice of passing off other men’s sermons as your own that I find deplorable.
I find this practice especially present among church-planters, but truthfully it is everywhere. Forget Criswell. The vast majority of people today are being fed diets of Noble, Furtick, and Groeschel, with Platt and Piper for dessert. When a man preaches the sermons of others on a weekly basis it tells me several things about his character; notably, he covets the numerical and professional success of others. Therefore, not only is the sin of coveting in play. So too is idolatry, as a man takes ethical shortcuts to make his own name great, rather than exalting God through a long obedience. One other consequence that has not been mentioned; preaching other men’s sermons will allow you to be a spiritual train wreck, but still come off sounding anointed. There is accountability when we have to study and write for ourselves.
The sad reality is we are a denomination of pastors who do not know how to preach. How can we call ourselves “people of the book” if we do not actually study and preach the book to our people? Many are comfortable in the pulpit. Few are capable. I wish pastors would commit to purer faith in the Lord related to every aspect of their pulpit ministries, a greater commitment to continued training and education, and a deeper understanding of their people for the sake of better application.

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68 Greg Buchanan June 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm


the regular weekly practice of passing off other men’s sermons as your own…

This is indeed an ethical dilemma. Where it happens, the “preacher” should be honest and then evaluate if they are indeed called to that ministry. Perhaps they have a false idea of what “pastor” means in their drive to have great sermons.

Sermonizing is a small part of being a pastor, not the chief defining attribute.

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69 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Good comment, Cody.

Thanks for lurking.

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70 Jim Pemberton June 25, 2014 at 11:48 am

If I get something from the Bible, I’m going to let people know that it came from the Bible. If I get something from someone else, I’m going to let people know that it came from them so they don’t think it came from the Bible. Personally, however, if I’m not interacting with the scripture then I’m not going to preach it. And in the course of that, I will investigate what others say about it because I’m not an island of interpretation. (However, I will redact, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize in the course of my studying the Bible.) But I won’t just use what one other person says. I’ll check for consensus or disagreement. So I might say “most theologians I’ve read say this…” or “some theologians say this, but other theologians say that…”. If someone said something well, I might quote them explicitly. But I can’t see ever taking someone else’s sermon and reciting it verbatim.

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71 Max June 25, 2014 at 11:48 am

I’ve been a Southern Baptist for 50+ years, but only had one pastor during my journey who always had a fresh word from the Lord for his church. His sermons penetrated the hearts of his listeners and moved the pew to action as effective witnesses for Christ. You won’t find his name recorded in the annals of mega-church personalities or SBC elite, but he continues to be at the top of my list of all time greatest preachers on planet earth. (He would not want his name mentioned here; God has already recognized him). Thirty years later, I still remember many of his sermons (but don’t preach them!). His secret: countless hours in prayer and Bible study, from which he emerged with a “Thus saith the Lord” … a rare and endangered species in SBC life these days.

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72 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 11:56 am

I’ve been a Southern Baptist for 50+ years, but only had one pastor during my journey who always had a fresh word from the Lord for his church. His sermons penetrated the hearts of his listeners and moved the pew to action as effective witnesses for Christ. You won’t find his name recorded in the annals of mega-church personalities or SBC elite, but he continues to be at the top of my list of all time greatest preachers on planet earth. (He would not want his name mentioned here; God has already recognized him). Thirty years later, I still remember many of his sermons (but don’t preach them!). His secret: countless hours in prayer and Bible study, from which he emerged with a “Thus saith the Lord” … a rare and endangered species in SBC life these days.

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73 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 11:57 am
74 Max June 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm

David – I resemble that remark!

“Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another.” (Jeremiah 23:30)

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75 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 2:27 pm

lol

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76 Max June 25, 2014 at 2:37 pm

“What a good thing Adam had. When he said a good thing, he knew nobody had said it before.” (Mark Twain)

77 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 4:43 pm

wow.

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78 JS Houston June 25, 2014 at 11:58 am

Dave,

I am doing a series this summer on Sunday nights entitled: ‘Great Bible Preaching from Great Bible Preachers!” I have contacted Dr. Vines and told him that I will be preaching two of his messages verbatim that I believe my people need to hear- giving him full credit- the when, the where and the context of his message. His two messages are ‘A Baptist and His Bible’ and “Climbing the Second Coming Mountain.” He graciously said, “Preach them..”

I am also sharing w/ my people Dr. Criswell’s, “The Scarlet Thread of Redemption” and Dr. RG Lee’s, “Payday Someday.” I am telling my folk where they can find these messages and to read any and all material they can from these men. I am going to close the series w/ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Edwards. My people absolutely loved Dr. Vines message.

David (AS), every preacher in this comment stream owes a great debt of gratitude to your father. I believe it is a sin if we DON’T use some of his wisdom and thoughts. As well, if any have never heard of Francis Dixon, I urge you to google the name. I am convinced that he may have been one of Dr. Roger’s favorite writers/preachers!

Great topic Dave. May we all draw wisdom from many but may we moreso labor diligently in the Word as we have been called to do, and thus present it with passion and conviction.

Stuart

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79 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Stuart, I was present in St. Louis when Vines preached “A Baptist and His Bible” – definitely a memorable moment.

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80 Tarheel June 25, 2014 at 12:03 pm

If we use the intellectual property of another (stories, quotes, manuscripts) we should say so….However since none of us should be preaching “new” truths or ideas one might reasonably think that the chances of similarity in our content might be great.

We should be taught and inspired and encouraged by the work of others relating to a passage we are preaching/teaching but we must not lift it and purport it to be our own.

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81 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 12:10 pm

If we use the intellectual property of another (stories, quotes, manuscripts) we should say so….However since none of us should be preaching “new” truths or ideas one might reasonably think that the chances of similarity in our content might be great.
We should be taught and inspired and encouraged by the work of others relating to a passage we are preaching/teaching but we must not lift it and purport it to be our own.

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82 Adam Blosser June 25, 2014 at 12:43 pm

I certainly wouldn’t make a habit of plagiarizing Tarheel if I were you. ;)

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83 Tarheel June 25, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Adam, shut it!

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84 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 12:55 pm

lol

85 Greg Buchanan June 25, 2014 at 12:18 pm

I’ve commented a lot on this thread, more so than in a long while. I think I need a caveat so I don’t sound like I’m defending plagiarism.

Please hear my heart: I don’t think plagiarism, the claim of borrowed material as one’s own, is acceptable at all. That is the sin of theft.

What I don’t want to see is people so burdened/obsessed with crafting a completely original sermon that they feel it is beneath them to borrow ideas, points, sermons in part or in whole. That is the sin of pride.

Pride is as much a sin as theft and they will damage your ministry equally at some point in time.

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86 Kevin Peacock June 25, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Several thoughts —

First, your sermon needs to come from God. Your people need to hear a word from God, not a sermon (and the people can tell the difference). God spoke against prophets who “steal My words from each other” (Jer 23:30), a word that I believe all preachers need to heed. The keys are timeliness relevance. A preacher can preach the wrong message at the wrong time, even though the message is ‘biblical.’ The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day were preaching from Isaiah (the salvation of Jerusalem) while Jeremiah was preaching from Micah (the destruction of Jerusalem). God said of these false prophets, “But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds” (Jer 23:22). God has a specific word to say at a specific time. No matter where that word comes from, it needs to be timely and relevant, otherwise it’s not God’s word. If a preacher doesn’t have anything relevant to say, it’s not because God doesn’t have anything relevant to say. It’s because the preacher hasn’t spent enough time with God to get it.

Second, even though your message may be ‘original,’ it still may not come from God. God said of the false prophets, “They speak a vision of own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jer 23:16). He calls this preaching “falsely in My name” (23:25), using “their tongues and declare, ‘the Lord declares’ (23: 31). I would rather hear a relevant and timely message from God’s word that was well-planned, well thought-out, and well-organized (even if it is borrowed from another messenger), than irrelevant pablum thrown together at the last minute. God promises a message to those who spend enough time with him. “But who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened?” (Jer 23:18).

Third, God sends specific messengers with the specific message. Of the false prophets, God said, “I did not send these prophets but they ran. I did not speak to them but they prophesied” (23:21). God has a specific messenger in mind for His message to be delivered. Phillips Brooks defined preaching as “truth through personality.” That’s why God raises up messengers. Even if a message is borrowed from another messenger it must be filtered through, flavored, and delivered through the personality of the messenger He has raised up to deliver it. Preaching someone else’s message word for word in a different setting eliminates the very reason that God raised up a specific preacher for this specific congregation. Even though the gist of Jeremiah’s message originated from Micah’s prophecy (Jer 26:18), the message Jeremiah preached was his own, the word that God gave him.

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87 John Fariss June 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm

I read a supposedly true story about a stooped, elderly man, with a nurse and an oxygen tank, who showed up at a church somewhere in Maine one Sunday in the mid-1960s. The young pastor there gave a rip-roaring sermon. As the elderly man was shuffling out, he asked the pastor, “Young man, how long did it take you to write that sermon?” The preached looked off in middle distance, and replied with a pained expression that it took him most of a day to come up with it. At that, the old man drew himself up to full height and full voice, and said, “That’s good! It took me over 20 hours, spread over several days, back about 50 years ago, when I wrote it!” And with that, Harry Emerson Fosdick walked on, leaving the young pastor standing with his mouth open. Fosdick’s rule of thumb was “one hour of preparation for every minute of preaching.”

Several years ago, I heard a Methodist pastor where I then ministered give a sermon at some sort of joint service. I thought it was a great message, and told him so. He only stayed at that church two years though. The congregation asked their hierarchy to move him because he bought all his sermons from Will Willimon.

John

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88 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Heard the same story about R.G. Lee and Payday Someday

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89 Tarheel June 25, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Fosdick preached sermons?

What did he use for a text given how he disregarded the inspiration of scripture. ;-)

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90 John Fariss June 25, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Tarheel, the fact that I have read a biography of him does not mean I am a fan of his theology. The few sermons of his that I have read I found to be mired in the early 20th Century liberalism, and couched in terms that lock him in time to that era. (Some men are great within their time and given their milieu; others are great in a way that transcends their surroundings. I never found anything in Fosdick’s sermons that moved me, but I have in Martin Luther’s.) On the other hand, as a pastor and leader, he was very effective, and if I recall correctly, a very widely admired chaplain/YMCA leader to American troops in France in World War I.

John

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91 Tarheel June 25, 2014 at 5:04 pm

LOL. I know.

My snark was not meant as a jab at you. It’s not often that Fosdick’s name gets thrown around these parts often, ya know. ;-)

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92 Mark Lamprecht June 25, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I appreciate what Spurgeon wrote about using borrowed sermons.

You must feel it yourself, and speak as a man who feels it; not as if you feel it, but because you feel it, otherwise you will not make it felt by others. I wonder what is must be to go up into the pulpit, and read somebody else’s sermon to the congregation. We read in the Bible of one thing that was borrowed, and the head of that came off; and I am afraid that the same thing often happens with borrowed sermons – the heads come off. Men who read borrowed sermons positively do not know anything about our troubles of mind in preparing for the pulpit, or our joy in preaching with the aid of only brief notes. Read more…

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93 Adam Blosser June 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm

My favorite is when people use the comments section of a blog to promote their own blog.

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94 Mark Lamprecht June 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm

My favorite is passive-aggressive comments, from Christians no less, that questions other’s motives.

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95 Adam Blosser June 25, 2014 at 2:39 pm

No doubt.

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96 Doug Hibbard June 25, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Can’t we all just be happy and get along? :)

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97 Tarheel June 25, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Apparently not, Rodney King – I mean – uh, Doug. ;-)

98 Ben Coleman June 25, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Get a dachshund (a long little doggie)?

99 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 5:14 pm

I also hate when people use the comments section of a blog to promote their own blog.

For instance, http://southernhillsbc.blogspot.com/2014/06/those-who-are-with-us-june-25-readings.html

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100 Zack Stepp June 26, 2014 at 10:59 am

I’m apathetic towards people who use the comments section of a blog post to promote the specific blog post that the people are already reading.

See: http://sbcvoices.com/the-internet-and-the-ethics-of-borrowed-sermons/

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101 Mark Lamprecht June 26, 2014 at 11:32 am

I’m apathetic toward my neighbors named Zack.

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102 Tarheel June 26, 2014 at 11:57 am

I’m Sympathetic toward those who are apathetic.

103 volfan007 June 26, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I’m not only sympathetic to those who are apathetic, but I’m also empathetic.

David

104 Dave Miller June 26, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Okay, true story.

The blog I linked to here is my church’s devotional reading challenge – trying to get people to read through the Bible in a year. I write a daily devotional on some part of the readings.

It does not get a tremendous amount of traffic.

So, after I posted this, hits more than tripled today. Almost fourpled!

So, that linking thing works, I guess.

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105 Adam Blosser June 26, 2014 at 10:03 pm

I admit. I clicked on it.

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106 Dave Miller June 26, 2014 at 10:42 pm

I guess I need to advertise!!!

107 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Obviously preaching other’s sermons predate the internet. Anyone remember Hershel Ford’s SIMPLE SERMONS ON SIMPLE THEMES series?

My wife always referred to them as SIMPLE SERMONS FOR SOMPLE PREACHERS. I have 12 volumes!

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108 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Obviously preaching other’s sermons predate the internet. Anyone remember Hershel Ford’s SIMPLE SERMONS ON SIMPLE THEMES series?
My wife always referred to them as SIMPLE SERMONS FOR SOMPLE PREACHERS. I have 12 volumes!

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109 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Okay, okay…I’ll stop it, now.

:)

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110 Tarheel June 25, 2014 at 2:42 pm

You ain’t right, Volfan. Just plain ain’t right. ;-)

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111 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 7:56 pm

My oh My!!

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112 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 5:16 pm

What is a Somple Preacher anyway?

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113 Ben Coleman June 25, 2014 at 5:19 pm

A quick Google search suggests that it’s primarily a last name, so I guess a Somple Preacher might be someone more accurately addressed as Preacher Somple.

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114 Ben Coleman June 25, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Which makes me wonder: why are people writing books of simple sermons only for preachers named Somple?

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115 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Yeah, that was my question.

116 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 7:57 pm

You guys don’t get out much do you? :-)

117 Ben Coleman June 25, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Only when I come up for air after hunkering in front of the computer all day, D. L.

118 Kevin Peacock June 25, 2014 at 5:24 pm

I’m not sure what the term means, but I heard Volfan use it. He didn’t give credit, so I’m sure he came up with it himself.

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119 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 6:49 pm

I think that term came from the song by Lynyrd Skynyrd called “Somple Man.”

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120 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Dave
A “somple” preacher is a simple Montana redneck preacher who cannot spell “simple”

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121 Ronny Cooksey June 25, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Thanks, Dave. I couldn’t find my toothbrush. Now I know you don’t have it. I will keep looking. No comment about the other item you mentioned . . .

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122 Ronny Cooksey June 25, 2014 at 4:27 pm

BTW, the “no comment about the other item” was referring to the underwear, not the plagiarism. I guess this means I ended up commenting on it. :>)

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123 Tim B June 25, 2014 at 4:15 pm

For years preachers have relied on the outlines of others like Ford, Olford, Chappell etc for inspiration and guidance in handling a text. Now using these tools can get you fired. As a word of warning, in this day when folks can quickly discover the source of a message, the preacher must be very diligent. The accusation of plagiarism is becoming a reliable and effective accusation for factions who want to fire the preacher.

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124 Anon June 26, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Taking credit for another’s labor is serious, as a Christian honesty matters, anyone can read a sermon to the congregation off the web, even do it for free.
Those who oppose plagiarism cannot be grouped together just as those who want to fire the preacher. Much more is involved such as honesty, slothfulness, stealing, even lying if he uses others personal stories as his own. God’s standards of righteousness do matter in Christ church what we ” think” not much. James 3:1 Lack of convictions can also be a cause of just stealing sermons. Each church should investigate the extent of the plagiarism, the church may need to be protected from such apathy in the pulpit.

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125 Bill Mac June 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm

I am rather amazed that this post has surpassed 100 comments, since it isn’t really that controversial. We get ideas for preaching from all around us, everything we see, hear, and read. No one expects any less. Some of these things are actual resources developed to help with sermon preparation, and many are not. No one questions anyone’s right to use these things. And in most cases doesn’t require any attribution.

But to preach a sermon developed by someone else, word for word (or nearly so) 1) Shouldn’t be done often, otherwise what do they need you for? and 2) Requires attribution.

This isn’t that hard. It’s not an ethical dilemma unless you think stealing is an ethical dilemma.

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126 Greg Harvey June 25, 2014 at 6:33 pm

I see what you did there…

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127 Ronny Cooksey June 25, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Well said

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128 Jerry Smith June 25, 2014 at 7:39 pm

I have a fellow classmate that’s a pastor too. Once my wife was speaking to him in Walmart & He told her. “I always use the sermons of others I don’t have time to study. All of our members are elderly & will never know the difference.”

As for me I did not surrender to preach for the glory nor the money. If anything I say & or write anything can help any person explain God’s Word or win a soul to Christ they should feel free to use it. And no I do not use others sermons or outlines as my classmate does.

I’ve never understood those who have a problem with others using their material or failing to mention their name when using one of their quotes. It almost seems if many are in singing of Gospel Music, preaching, pastoring, teachings God’s Word for the money, glory, & name recognition.

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129 D. L. Payton June 25, 2014 at 8:14 pm

I agree one should give credit. However there is a balance that must be maintained for a least two reasons. (1) Many phrases or ideas have become commonplace down thru the years. Even tho one read it in a book it is well known an well used and does not need to be referenced. (2) I have heard preachers who are forever saying “so and so” said or ” theologian Dr. Doe believes”, to the point that it becomes a distraction.

Re. number 2; I actually heard a man behind me at a convention a few years back say about the man who had just finished preaching; “he was really bragging about how much he read and knew”. One could argue that this listener would gripe abut the color of grass, which was probably true. However there could be a point in this.

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130 SVMuschany June 25, 2014 at 10:03 pm

As a historian I can affirm your 1st point is not used, at least in my circles. If you quote from something (or if you use an idea/concept that you got from a source), even if it is the most read book in the world (the bible) you STILL need to reference it. Of course referencing in writing is a bit easier than in speech. But even when we present papers, if we directly quote from another source, we must reference from where we got it from.

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131 Tim B June 26, 2014 at 10:16 am

You do realize that even the most original of us are not nearly as original as we think we are. We borrow ideas all the time. It would be impossible to attribute every one. Perhaps we should begin our messages….”I want to thank my mom, dad, teachers, spiritual leaders, authors, everyone I ever met and most of all, the Lord Jesus Christ for the content of this message…” Preacher Johnny Hunt used to start his messages with the statement…. “None of what I say is original.” If someone insists on noting everything why not, rather than bog down the message with attributions as though it was an academic paper, just publish the message with proper attributions for any who wants to know where the ideas, quotes etc came from.

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132 SVMuschany June 26, 2014 at 11:30 pm

I mean this with respect, but that is spoken as someone who has never had to do any serious research at any level of education. Trust me, you would not do well in an academic environment.

It is true that the line between innate knowledge and borrowed knowledge is a thin one. Here are the three “rules” for citation according to Turabian’s guide to the Chicago Manual of Style.

- when you quote exact words from a source
- when you paraphrase ideas that are associated with a specific source, even if you don’t quote exact words from it
- when you use any idea, data, or method attributable to any source you consulted

The fact that two people have come up with the same idea is negligible. There have been many people who have had to trash entire thesis/disertations/original research, all because they found out very far in (i.e. proof reading/editing phase) that another person had already done the same research, and came up with similar results. Now these two people likely never met, maybe did not even use all of the same source material. It does not matter. Original research is just that, original. If you borrow from, or get an idea from anyone or anything else, you HAVE to cite it.

Again, I will say that written research papers, and oral presentations are different in the way sources are presented. That said, giving reverence to who you are quoting from should never bog down a sermon, that is unless you are borrowing from everyone all the time and are not doing your own preparation, which gets back to the whole point of this entire thread.

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133 Tim B June 27, 2014 at 5:41 pm

I take your comment for what it is….disrespectful. Every degree I have has been conferred with honors. Very few ideas we have are truly original. You won’t do well as a preacher if you are constantly attributing sources every time you use express a thought that is not original with you.

134 SVMuschany June 27, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Take it as disrespectful as you want to. That is your right. But the fact remains that there are professors and entire schools that, frankly, don’t deserve to be handing out degrees, with honors or not. Places and people who make a mockery of scholarly research, whether it is written or orally presented. You can follow your philosophical lines of thought all you want about the “origins of thoughts”. But the simple fact is, if you are researching X, and you read book/sermon/ect Y by person Z, and you say “hey I like that, I want to use that!” You better well site that source, either in your foot/end-notes/bibliography in written form, or orally in a presentation. If you do not, you are plagiarizing, you are stealing, and you are not acting like a follower of Christ Jesus.

135 SVMuschany June 25, 2014 at 9:55 pm

As a historian, the idea of using sources (primary or secondary) without attribution is so ingrained in me as pure evil, that the idea of passing another person’s sermons off as my own is anathema. But even better for me, is because I am so ADD, I have a hard time preaching my own sermons correctly after I prepared them, that I don’t know what I would even attempt to do with another mans material. It would take me just as long to study and learn that other sermon as it would to write my own.

If pastors are having periods where they can’t “find the time” to write their own sermons, than they need to start preparing their own file of emergency backups. Don’t have the time to do a new sermon? Go with something you have done before. if you have 10-20 of those, than even if you stay at the same church for 20+ years, those folks may still only hear the same message 1 or 2 more times. And if it is a good, biblically based message, who cares! Most people don’t even have good memories to remember that you preached that message 5+ years ago.

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136 SVMuschany June 25, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Let me also say, something of your own is better than nothing. While I only have supply preaching experience to draw upon, I can say that the “best” message I have ever gave had been one I was given short notice of my filling in, and only had 3-4 hours of sermon prep time. Conversely I have had a message where i have spent several days, 15-20 hours easy, on it, and it was not very good in the end at all. Maybe that is due to my inexperience, but perhaps, it is evidence that it is possible to deliver a message with little prep time, in some situations. I believe ethically, it is much preferred to theft and the stealing of another person’s material.

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137 Sam Downey June 25, 2014 at 10:49 pm

All my ideas, thoughts, and words belong to God. I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to use them as He directs. The integrity of the Spirit of God keeps me from theft.
Many years ago, when I was in an area where I could regularly hear radio preachers, I would OFTEN be surprised to hear Dr. Rogers or Dr. Stanley, or another, preach a similar message that week on the radio. I know those sermons preceded mine, but I had no access to their ideas prior to preaching the same thing. Just coincidence?
I remember years back getting offers in the mail from high-powered SBC preachers offering “100 Sermons that Will Preach” for $59.95, cash, check, or money order. I can only imagine whats available on the internet today. Did I just plagiarize a song title?

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138 Dave Miller June 25, 2014 at 11:19 pm

I remember that years ago one of our entities used to give out books with 52 messages in them – one for every week of the year. Pretty convenient. Used to give out a different one every year.

I could have gone several years without preparing a sermon.

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139 volfan007 June 25, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Maybe we know now how some of these Pastors spend so much time doing other things? I mean, I’ve always wondered how in the world a Pastor could spend so much time out of the office….doing all sorts of things….and still prepare 3 sermons per week.

I preach 3 times a week…teach a new members class when we have new members to teach….and I guide a Discipleship Training class thru a lesson each Sunday night. It takes time to prepare 3 messages per week….time.

David

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140 Christiane June 26, 2014 at 1:56 am

I found this on line. It’s supposed to be some of the ‘best’ Southern Baptist sermons on the internet. (Now, I have no clue as to the truth of this but I thought some of this might offer encouragement and be a source of ideas to help those who may need some muses)

My own favorite sermon reading is found on ‘Word On Fire’.
And I love many of the great sermons found in Eastern Christianity among the Fathers . . . Chrysostom especially.

Best sermon ever for me starts with ‘blessed are the . . . . ‘ and it IS the Word of God undiluted and rich in meaning for all Christian people . . . but it takes you out into the deep waters and maybe that is not such a terrifying thing when you consider the sermon’s Source.

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141 Christiane June 26, 2014 at 1:57 am

oops, forgot the link which I sincerely hope is helpful for some:

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermonssource.asp?keyword=Southern+Baptist&denom=true

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142 Brandon June 26, 2014 at 10:01 am

Most of these posts seem to revolve around whether this is legal or not. My question is whether it’s ethical? Whether it avoids the appearance of impropriety? I once sat in a seminary class and recognized one of the students used an illustration of his own life that was word for word from Charles Spurgeon. While someone’s else’s sermon or outline might be helpful as a study tool or a starting point, plagiarism is a dangerous game. I can tell you of a pastor right now who is out of a job because he began using broad chunks of internet sermons. He was confronted by members who recognized the sermons from listening to them online. Eventually he was fired.

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143 Dave Miller June 26, 2014 at 10:40 am

I remember a post or article a couple of years ago that put most of us evangelicals in an uproar, but I don’t remember the author or the source. Maybe someone can help me.

The author asserted that with the availability of internet sermons and online resources, pastors were wasting precious time if they spent much time in sermon prep. We should do other things, devote ourselves to “ministry”, then find a decent sermon, download it and preach it.

Why devote hours to coming up with your own sermon when there is so much available out there that is perhaps better than what you would come up with on your own.

Am I the only one who remembers that?

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144 Dave Miller June 26, 2014 at 10:41 am

It was NOT posted here. Even I have some standards!

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145 Sam Downey June 26, 2014 at 10:48 am

Even if I started with an outline from someone or somewhere else, I would still have to prepare to preach it. I can’t imagine the problem I would have just trying to read a manuscript.
In 50 years of preaching, I have almost always been bi-vocational, which limited study time behind a desk. It has always been amazing to me how God prepared me while stocking shelves, baling cotton, or driving an eighteen-wheeler. I always knew He was preparing me – not the sermon. I never preached a sermon up to the standard I desired, and I never preached one that any other preacher would want to borrow, but somehow, God got the message out, and people’s lives were changed. But I wouldn’t be comfortable trying to preach someone else’s sermon either.
By the way, I did have a young man come to me one time, in a full-time pastorate, and told me he thought I should just stand up in the pulpit and play a recording of AR, Charles Stanley or John MacArthur. He figured they would all get more out of it.

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146 Tim Snider June 27, 2014 at 12:12 am

Long time lurker…first time commenter.
As this thread is now ‘below the fold’, not sure my comment will get any interaction…yet here goes.
Knowing that most of the ‘regulars’ on here are pastors, my perspective is unique (Southern Baptist deacon; employed in academia at a major state university (not speaking on behalf of them btw)).
Some of the counterpoints I see here and elsewhere (‘we’re not academics’; ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’, etc.) seem to either not fully understand the issue or are set up as straw men.
No one is asking a pastor/preacher to submit a MLA or APA based set of citations and footnotes with a prepared manuscript. The issue I hear Dave raising is the problem with preachers essentially reading a sermon someone else prepared, especially so if it is done week after week.

My personal interest in this is twofold: 1. my academic environment – I am troubled when I recognize that professional colleagues in a secular environment have higher intellectual property and citation standards than many preachers do. 2. Secondly, I was a member of a church where – to the best of my knowledge – the seminary graduate preacher never preached an original sermon. Moreover, he would literally read sermons easily traceable to sources on the internet. His favorite sources were: Rick Warren, OS Hawkins, and Bailey Smith. Much of this happened before the ready availability of iPhones and 4G connections, yet I could recognize phrases he could not have written, go home and ‘Google’ those phrases, and find the sermon he just preached. When he was working through a Rick Warren series, I got to where I could print out the text of the next week’s sermon and follow along as he preached it live. (His ‘recitation’ of it was often more ‘word for word’ than Rick Warren’s audio track of his own sermon text.) The sad outcome of this preacher’s ‘ministry’ goes beyond this too-long comment.

This preacher never indicated he was using other sources – I would be fine with a preacher occasionally saying the following: “I’m in a busy season right now with X,Y, and Z. With a full calendar, I have less time to study. Therefore, I’m going to be adapting and using a Rick Warren sermon series on heroes of the faith for the next 5 weeks.” With such a statement, there is disclosure, transparency, proper handling of intellectual property, credit, and humility. The preacher I write of would even insert statements indicating he had composed and prepared the sermon – that was difficult to swallow when I was holding the internet sermon text in my hands.

I will close my comment by saying that the comments above of Sam Downey and William Thornton get it about right. I’d like to highlight that my current pastor is bivocational, high school educated, and a dozer operator. He prepares three sermons a week that are clearly original. Though the sermons are not word-crafted, focus-grouped, ‘relevant’ messages a la Chandler, Piper, Jeffress, Floyd, Hunt, Warren, Furtick, or Noble, they are clearly the result of his laboring in the Word and his time with the Lord. For that, I am very grateful for my pastor. His example should be held up to the shame of any preacher whose sermon preparation consists of two steps: 1. Download, 2. Print.

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147 Dave Miller June 27, 2014 at 1:54 am

This comment is almost worthy of a post of its own.

I’m tempted to close comments at this point. Not sure we can improve on this one, Tim.

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148 Dave Miller June 27, 2014 at 1:55 am

This quote: “His example should be held up to the shame of any preacher whose sermon preparation consists of two steps: 1. Download, 2. Print.”

Wow. Wow. Oh, and wow.

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149 Tarheel June 27, 2014 at 6:51 am

Yea, that quote one is golden, Dave.

But you didn’t cite it. ;-)

Seriously, great post Tim!

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150 Ben Coleman June 27, 2014 at 4:05 pm

A triple-wow response from Dave. That’s impressive, Tim.

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151 Greg Harvey June 27, 2014 at 2:47 am

You should lurk less and comment more…

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152 Tim Snider June 27, 2014 at 6:45 am

I appreciate the welcome and the interaction with my comment. Thanks to Dave and Greg for the nice words of welcome. I shall try to lurk less and comment more (and work on brevity, as well).

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153 Jim Pemberton June 27, 2014 at 7:52 am

Well said, Tim.

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154 Clay Gilbreath June 27, 2014 at 8:06 am

so… being bivocational, fulltime job, 4 kids at home, and pastor of a small church, I can relate to many of the comments above. Today I got my main points for Sunday message from “The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible.” Sometimes I go to sermoncentral.com and find outlines and illustrations that fit. I even have several annual volumes of the Zondervan Pastor’s annual that provides 52 Sunday AM/PM and Wednesday messages (complete with Word documents of each message). I will get an average of 2 or 3 messages per year from that annual volume that I take and try to make my own. Sometimes I have used Bible Studies/Sermons that were provided in the kits for certain emphases – like around the movie “Courageous” or many of the Max Lucado studies… I really like the idea of the “God’s Not Dead” church kit (complete with sermons)…. I have never preached another’s sermon verbatim, but have used other’s main points often… never have I felt that I should site: today’s sermon outline came from the Zondervan Pastor’s annual….. what say you guys?

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155 Jim Pemberton June 27, 2014 at 8:59 am

I admire bivo pastors and I don’t begrudge anyone using helps like this. But you are still interacting with the text and making it yours although you get some ideas that help you organize your thoughts into a way that helps you communicate what you want to say. I think that’s fine.

I think this all goes back to where the line is between what we should cite and what we shouldn’t cite. Personally, if I think someone else will get upset over me not citing something, or if I feel the slightest bit disingenuous not mentioning my source for something, then I’m going to say something about where I got my material. It shouldn’t be a stumbling block against hearing an important message.

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156 james mahan June 27, 2014 at 1:49 pm

I attended a church where the pastor was bi-vo and used sermons week after week without attributing his source. I lost huge respect for him because I came to believe that this man was spending time in the Word and had brought these words out of the forges of his own time spent immersed in the Word, praying, and seeking a message from God. While it may be easier to do this type of thing as a bi-vo pastor, it is lazy in my opinion, and unethical. It is deceitful. Yes we all preach ideas that our not our own, but to preach entire sermons is wrong. I do not want a man as a spiritual leader/teacher who cannot “rightly divide” the Word himself. How can he teach me? What does he really know personally of the Lord? Its less about sermon prep and more about being a man of God with integrity. If you can’t find the time to prepare a sermon on a regular basis ( I understand it happens to everyone) then you should consider stepping down as pastor. Nobody is forcing you to be pastor, and you have made a commitment to that congregation as well as your secular employer.

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