My sermon prep and sermon delivery professor, a former large church pastor, would tell the young Spurgeons on the first day of class that any outline or sermon submitted if found to be copied would result in immediate failure of the class. While that was to be expected (and who should expect graduate academic credit given for stolen work?), it still put fear in the hearts of students because those who already had a body of sermonic work seldom were certain that their material was original. It is probably more accurate to say that the brethren absolutely knew that many of them were, ahem, borrowed from others.
Simple solution: submit your own outlines and words, even if they aren’t all that clever. After all, aren’t seminaries loath to flunk anyone in a sermon class? Especially when church folks give a passing grade (and even a paycheck) to poor sermons every Sunday.
When I asked a DOM (soon to be the new and exciting AMS) about a certain pastor leaving his church he related the general story that the church had caught him in repeated and blatant sermon plagiarism. Other factors no doubt contributed but the result was his forced resignation. He was offering stolen material, representing it as his own. Tsk. Tsk.
Your humble hacker and plodder blogger has borrowed a sermon outline or two. In fact, once A deacon encouraged me to steal as many of Adrian Rogers’ sermons as I could. I did borrow a few but common sense and an increasing distaste for alliteration compelled me to jettison his outlines. Never could get his voice tone down either. Back in the day, most every fellow seminary student I was around could do a passable imitation of Billy Graham – “The Bible says!” – complete with the big black Book held up just so. No law against that, I suppose.
I think I had a stretch when Spurgeon found his way into some of my preaching. Umm, that didn’t work all that well, Victorian, 19th century British urban meets late 20th century Rural America. Never could get comfortable with the big black cigars, either. It still strikes me as utterly ridiculous when I hear a guy use his 19th Century vocabulary or, worse, material from earlier, Puritan heroes.
There are people in the pews who check your stuff, pastor. You know that, right? Used to be the little old lady who would pencil in a date by a text and cheerfully remind you that you preached on that passage on a certain earlier date. I had a lady like that. I’d just say (patiently and with a pleasant smile), “Well, if it was worth preaching once, it’s worth preaching twice.” Now, some folks are motivated to run a search on your outlines and sermon titles. Woe is you if they find that you are preaching from some guy’s book rather than from God’s Book. So, come up with your own material and give credit when you do borrow an outline or illustration.
Consider this current article on the subject of plagiarism. A quotation is lifted, word-for-word, and put into someone’s mouth. Even when found out and an apology is offered, the original creator of those words has to endure, for the rest of her life, her words being bandied about under false pretenses. Other examples are related. Will LifeWay forego revenues generated by popular authors who are repeatedly caught plagiarizing material? Is it all about celebrity status with the content being more-or-less immaterial? I hope not.
And in academic life, shouldn’t blatant plagiarism bring the death penalty in the same way that students are immediately failed for such things? These are people who are training others in the disciplines. They know better.
In blogging…well, anything goes. I’d expect someone to run some of my stuff through a plagiarism checker. Have at it. Let me know if you find anything. I’m with Adrian in stating that I’ve never had an original thought in my life. I will confess, but with absolutely no contrition at all, that I employ a nice word or phrase that I read from someone else. Frankly, it puts me in a bad mood that someone was clever enough to think of it before me. Look for “cold-eyed, astringent” to appear in an article of mine in the near future. I googled the phrase and got two hits, neither of which was from the author whose book I was reading when I ran across it.
Any fool can self-publish an e-book these days…and many do. Be sure your sin will find you out.
I’ve been out of the classroom for many years. How serious is this subject covered in our seminaries?