I heard that live and couldn’t believe it. I guess pastor’s these days have more important things to be doing than preparing messages for Sunday morning. Unbelievable.
And then to preach on holiness afterwards was a bit weird for me. Part of that message he talked about the number one thing that people want to be know for is being authentic. What is authentic about copying word-for-word someone else’s sermon? How can we call for authenticity when we are encouraging them otherwise in the same sermon?!
Not planning to preach Dr. Merritt’s sermon! I think it is sad to see preachers like Merritt condoning this practice. It becomes very dangerous! Today, people are looking for a genuine man in the pulpit – and such practices do not provide a genuine touch to ministry.
In the words of the great Apostle Paul – “Preach The Word!
Let me say that I plead guilty that I have some personal experience for sticking my foot in my mouth (perhaps this is another one), but usually such an occasion usually occurs by accident or lack of forethought. However, in Dr. Merritt’s case, it was planned and an intentional plug for his website. I don’t know if that registers for foot action, but it is most unfortunate indeed.
I am VERY GLAD I’m not in San Antonio. I’d probably have gone ballistic on the inside. Wow. This man must have a high estimation of himself. It’s as if he’s saying, “Y’all aren’t good preachers, so just read this instead.”
You know this isn’t all that new in history. The Jehovah’s witnesses have been doing it that way for years. Every Kingdom Hall preaches the same sermon on a given Sunday. They’re all mailed out from Watchtower HQ in Brooklyn regularly. Their method seems to have resulted in substantial growth, so why shouldn’t we use it???
Timmy, The links above from Mohler and Van Neste really cover all the issues on this topic. I don’t think you are putting your foot in your mouth. Merritt said what he said. The website is clearly an intentional undertaking.
It really surprised me to see this practice advocated at the SBC pastor’s conference. Especially by such a well respected pastor as Dr. Merritt.
Someone should email LifeWay and get them to research the ‘borrowed sermon’ trend. I would assume that someone must be buying these sermons if so many websites are being created to sell them.
Wow! Thanks for pointing this out. I was unable to attend this year. You and Timmy are exactly right. This is not sticking your foot in your mouth. This is not an accident, especially in light of the conversation that has gone on this last year (my article went out in Baptist Press). This is truly sad. It is further evidence of how far (low) things have gone. Our church culture is infatuated with performance (you can buy artwork with the sermon!!) and crowds.
Gentlemen, I just had tears well up in my eyes as I thought about what this means. Timmy, I thought your post on outsourcing within the convention missed the mark a little bit.
I don’t care how nice a guy he may be, or who he knows, this is representative of a badly flawed view of the church, the pastorate, and what it means to be “qualified to teach”. I may not be able to put my finger on it exactly, but his peddling of sermons online would tend to indicate that Merritt is in serious error.
Above the pillared front entrance to Norton Hall is the greek phrase, “rightly dividing the word of truth”. I guess the folks organizing the SBC Pastors’ Conference want to outsource that, too. We haven’t even heard the convention’s opening gavel, and this has already taken a turn for the absurd.
If anyone thinks the battle for the bible is over, I think this is proof positive that there are many skirmishes yet to come, and many more casualties on the way. D-Day may have struck the decisive blow against the Germans on the Western Front, but the bloodiest battle was still yet to come, the Battle of the Bulge. True conservatives who love the scriptures must not rest on their “resurgence” laurels while such blatant examples of error are paraded about our convention. This is the kind of thing that even such bitter polar opposites as Burleson and Patterson, Ascol and the Caners should be able to unite with each other in condemning.
The resurgence has not gone too far; it hasn’t gone NEARLY far enough.
I didn’t know about the JW, but the Christian Scientists do the same thing. They don’t even call them pastors, but readers. I think it’s OK to take another’s sermon and use it as the basis for your own sermon. BTW, plagiarism does refer to copying w/o permission. If you have permission, it’s not plagiarism under the law. OTOH, in scholarly circles, it’s considered proper to reference the sources you used. Failing to do so would constitute plagiarism in a scholarly journal.
The header on the Pastors Edge website has the tagline “creative resources for rightly dividing truth”
Merritt was clearly instructing the pastors that it was ok with him to preach his actual sermon. That is the point of the whole website. So, it is not intellectual theft.
But the issue of integrity relates to what your people think you are preaching. Will they email Dr. Merritt and thank him on Sunday afternoon?
We could also talk about studying the Bible – being a pastor can not be reduced to a performance of a sermon. While using a sourced sermon does not guarantee one is not studying the Bible, it certainly is a move in that direction.
G.F., I keep thinking – is this what our Baptist heros had in mind when they stood up for inerrancy? This is about the sufficientcy of scripture, even when preached by a less than superstar preacher, to accomplish God’s work.
Ross, I’d like to clarify something with you: authorial permission notwithstanding, the reason why scholarly journals require citations is because when we do not cite our sources, we are implicitly passing off someone else’s work as our own.
In order to be clear of the charge of plagiarism, any pastor who preaches Merritt’s Father’s Day sermon this coming sunday will not only have to have Merritt’s permission (which has been given) but he would also have to state clearly to his congregation whose work the sermon was. Has anyone even heard of a congregation that would tolerate that? If I were a betting man, I would wager my last dollar that over 85% of Merritt’s paying customers are not telling their congregations who actually wrote the messages.
I’ve sat under preachers who have made direct quotations of other theologians discussing the passage at hand, but it was a brief, snappy quote to illustrate the preacher’s point, and always clearly attributed. There is a world of difference between quoting another preacher, and preaching his sermon wholesale without attribution to your congregation.
Something very terrible is going on when we have “for profit” preachers and no longer “prophets” who preach “Thus saith the LORD” – and do not put a for sale sign next to it.
What does this say about our consumer culture when even the sacred desk is auctioned off for the cheapest sermon on the market? Preachers now pick and choose their favorite sermon to plagiarize. One week it’s Merritt. Another week it is Rick Warren. Another week it is Adrian Rogers. We have men who will speak for men. Do we have men who will speak for God? That is the question of the hour.
It is not only doublespeak to call for authenticity while encouraging others to be another man’s puppet, but it is altogether another level of indictment when doing so is entrapment to American capitalistic culture. I mean, if you are going to encourage pastoral plagiarism, at least make it free. But I guess when you have an audience of 2,000+ potential customers (pastors), you can’t pass up a free public advertisement of your own product.
Look it. I know what I am saying sound harsh. It needs to be harsh. We should not tolerate flippancy with the scared call nor placate the “peddlers of God’s Word” (2 Cor. 2:17).
If the pastor is looking to be a plagiarizer than a prophet, if he has more things to do than spend time laboring and weeping over God’s Word, if he is willing to supplant personal investment and internalization of Scripture for a quick, superficial, and scandalous treatment of the sacred desk, then methinks it is time to consider one’s calling and figure out whether we are a God-called shepherd or a hierling that “cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13).
[…] I figured I would post some of the more interesting happenings at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting this week. First up: James Merritt encourages fellow pastors to download and use his sermons instead of writing their own… […]
[…] From here: James Merritt preached tonight at the Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference. He began his sermon by mentioning his website PastorsEdge. He encouraged his listeners to download his free Father’s Day sermon – illustrations and PowerPoint included – and use it this Sunday with his blessings. He assured them it was not plagiarism and they had his full permission. […]
I’m not a pastor, just one of the faithful in the pews. I’ll tell you, if instead of spending 10 or 15 or 20 hours preparing a 30 minute sermon, my pastor could minister to the personal needs of a half-dozen families in our church, I think we’d all be better off. Would God look more favorably at someone spending 10 hours at a word processor or 10 hours on his knees with troubled Christians? Do we require original music in our services? What about artwork?
I think you have a wholly wrong view of what is central. As Warfield said, when someone said to him “It would be better for a pastor to spend 10 hours on his knees than 10 hours in his study!” Warfield retorted “Better 10 hours on his knees in his study!”
Inerrancy only matters if we are proclaiming the Word of God and having the Word proclaimed to us. The problem with so many churches is that the Sermons are trite and off the cuff. The times I have seen churches where God is exalted and people are bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God are those where the pastor spends his time on his face before God pleading that the Lord will attend the preaching of His Word with the power of the Holy Spirit transforming lives. Beside there are other people in the church that should be praying with the people as well. All this to say, there is no need to have a high view of Scripture if we do not treat it with the respect that it deserves as God’s personal and direct revelation to us sinners.
Wow, I must be doing everything all wrong. Instead of wrestling with God’s Word each week I should be downloading my sermons!
I truly believe that this is one of the problems with topical preaching. If you can’t think up a clever topic then you need to look for one. If you are engaged in expository preaching then you never need to worry about what you will preach, God’s Word will speak for itself.
As a bivocational pastor I find that I don’t have the time nor talent to come up with clever alliteration and catchy points. Instead, I devote myself to the study of God’s Word, let it speak to me, and allow God’s Spirit to talk to His people each week as we navigate the Word.
I believe that this is what it means to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season”.
Dave (#18), That’s precisely what deacons are for. That very service was instituted (we have full account of it in the book of Acts) specifically for direct ministry to the people. I’m NOT saying pastors should never minister to their congregation, so don’t hear what I’m not saying.
So, yes, in fact, God would look more favorably on a pastor’s faithful study of His Word and designating others to care for the flock than He would a pastor’s caring for the flock at the expense of properly handling the Scriptures. Notice I said, “at the expense of;” hopefully both can happen. But if/when one has to give, the direct ministry gets assigned to the deacons and other members of the church.
I was really surprised to hear that this came from such a luminary as James Merritt. No wonder there is little power in the pulpit when pastors abandon the weekly process of wrestling with the text of Scripture. This trend of “easy proclaimism” seems to indicate that pastors are no longer viewing the preaching of the Word as their primary task. Sad for both pulpit and pew.
Dave, when we mention the power point slides bundled with these sermons, (artwork) it is not out of an insistence that pastors use their own power point slides, rather, it is because the Word of God speaks for itself, and does not need our showbiz gimmicks. The Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” but the multimedia church experience, the drama teams, the bright lights and flashy clothes seem to me to be an indication that we as a church do not truly believe the Gospel on its own is enough.
I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I know a pastor who can write a sermon in 15 minutes, and this is with five points of alliteration. In fact, I have watched him put together a month of sermons in one day. This is so he can have free time with more important things, like his friend other than his wife.
I of course am being sarcastic here. How so tragic that Dr. Merritt would encourage others to shirk their pastoral duty to study the Word of God on their own and to allow the Holy spirit to bring the Word of God to the sheep. I am surprised.
I know that my pastor spends between 25 and 35 hours a week preparing God’s message for His people to be brought by His servant. Allowing others to use your sermon is akin to giving you notes from class to another to prepare for a test.
I am a layman and have so much respect for pastors; in fact, my youngest son is at Boyce studying to be a youth pastor. I think he would be appalled at the notion of anyone suggesting that he use their message to use before his students. This attempt of help is not well thought out and can lend itself to spiritual laziness, apathy, and a weakened love of the Word of God.
I have to believe that those of you who are pastors and posting on this, and who do write their own sermons, have such a deep love of God’s Word and that you usually get more out of the message than we who sit in the pews. In the case of this ill-advised suggestion, does Dr. Merritt truly believe that everyone who uses it would have come to the same conclusion or CONVICTION about this particular passage? I pray not.
May I encourage all of you who preach the Word, “in seasons and out of season”, preach it as if the Holy Spirit has led you to….. because that is the way it should be.
All I really want to say about the whole plagiarism deal is that the first time I tried preaching another’s sermon was the last time. I have never been more uncomfortable. Even though I spent a week studying the message, its Scriptures, how to apply it, and tailoring it to my congregation, it just wasn’t me. So I leave preaching others’ sermons to the lazy or for use in drama or readings.
I do want to say one more thing. Mark said, Allowing others to use your sermon is akin to giving you notes from class to another to prepare for a test. I disagree, but I want to make clear this is a nuanced disagreement. If we aren’t willing to see what others have preached when constructing a sermon, how can we refine our arguments? How can we eliminate fallacies or just plain wrong arguments? Or if we discover someone is using the same argument in a sermon that we are on the same text, could not those sermons be used to tighten our exegesis and application?
I know Mark isn’t speaking to that type of sermon usage, but I just wanted to put that out there for your consideration.
I don’t get it – wouldn’t the way to evaluate if it is wrong or not is by the reaction of the congregation if they knew the truth of whose sermon it was? Preach someone else’s sermon, but if you’re trying to cover it up in the slightest, no doubt you know something is wrong.
Who would you say is the preacher’s primary audience? For the man of God, the reaction of whether it it acceptable or not comes from the audience of One. Itching ears have a large following of the fabricated folly of famous preaches (hello Joel Osteen).
I would argue that it is wrong or not whether God approves of it. Some of God’s choicest prophets were kicked out of town and scolded for remaining true to the Word of God and the God of the Word. That’s part of the problem with popular, savvy preaching these days. We are measuring ministerial success on purely pragmatic principles and the appraisal of man. In the end, it is the man who is faithful to God and steadfast in His Word that finds the applause that eternity brings.
Thanks for a thought provoking post. I would ask – why the need to “borrow” another’s complete outline? There’s been plenty of documented cases where the congregation has asked the pastor to resign on account of plagiarism. Where are the original authors of these sermons in addressing this serious issue? If the majority of my congregation would view this as wrong, shouldn’t I give that some consideration, whether I think it is wrong or not? I would go further to say that the pastor that is using these online sources as the bulk of their sermon is more trying to gain the appraisal of man (interesting, thought provoking sermons, beautiful illustrations) than to God.
Again, if there is no morality issue, why not tell the congregation : “I got this sermon off of Rick Warren’s Sermons.com”? Or at least print it in the bulletin? Please see
I blogged about some very concerning things leading up to the convention, namely the fact that we were going to see revival without Jesus. I’ve got numerous posts in the last 6 – 8 weeks about the articles on BP.
This just continues that trend. Preaching without Jesus. Revival without Jesus. Leading without Jesus. Conversion without Jesus. Life without Jesus.
As long as you have your “get out of hell” free card, you’re good. Jesus is unimportant at that point because the prayer was said. I hate to say it but is the convention going to be the next “Church” in need of Reformation?
I apologize if I mislead you, but I am in no way whatsoever supporting the idea of pastoral plagiarism or anything resembling that practice. My comments in this thread was to point to what I see are the terrible realities of the state of the sacred desk which is the primary responsibility of a preacher.
For what it’s worth, I wrote about this last year when Dr. Van Neste brought it to our attention. I also linked to other posts as well. You can find my articles by going here, here, and here.
Gentlemen, where is the line? Have you ever “borrowed” an outline? How about a point in an outline? How about a phrase in a point in an outline? How about a word in a phrase in a point in an outline? Let’s be careful that we don’t foster the spirit of a Pharisee while trying to diagnose a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I think minimizing time in the work struggling to find what is saying is cheapened by the download shortcut, but I find the many broad, bombastic comments equally wrong. Let’s help our fellow pastors out by identifying the boundry not simply thumping our chests. Where is the line?
There is a stark difference between quoting someone and the replication of a sermon in its entirety. I am sure that everyone here reads commentaries and grammars; however, I doubt anyone would show up on a Sunday and preach the entire text of a single commentary. The line is a clear one; let us not confuse ambiguity with humility.
This clearly denies the work of the Spirit of God through the Word of God in the heart of the man of God before he goes before the people of God. We are most certainly living in an age without discernment.
Thanks Keith. I am not sure your understand my point since in your desire to give clarity you are guilty of being ambiguous. The “line”, in your opinion, is the “replication of a sermon in its entierty.” I agree. I assume then that you think it is OK to “borrow” an outline, illustration, introduction, phrase, etc. and not be guilty of plagiarism? Let’s be helpful to our brothers and not thump our chests with unhelpful rhetoric.
Dan, Your point is well-taken. All preachers utilize the material of other preachers and/or scholars in the preparation of sermons. That is a given. I think what the commenters are reacting to is the brash invitation to shortcut the process of preparation and ride the wave of someone elses work.
There seems to be a growing segment of pastors who think it is OK to minimize the importance of exegetical study and sermon craft in favor of other pastoral duties which are deemed more important. The issue is not that we all use the material of others. The issue is the trend toward devaluing the impact of personal study and preparation in preaching.
My preaching prof in Bible College said, “Men, milk a lot of cows but always make your own butter.”
Kelly I agree. The issue or “line” for me is not the whole of a message or the parts (whether this be the outline, phrase, etc.). The “line” is: Am I working hard to determine the meaning of a passage for myself? Until I have done this any presentation I would make would be wrong not because of I am breaking the law in regard to plagiarism, but because of my responsibility as a teaching before God. This is the issue. Let’s not sink to the basic rules that this world is governed by.
After I do this, I feel complete liberty to use other resources if they help me express the point(s) that I worked hard to find. If this means using an outline in total, I will cite it. A picture? I will pay for it. However, I will not cite phrases or word pictures since those are related not so much to substance as they are to delivery.
BTW. To not happen to turn a phrase someone else has used probably means that you are not studying/observing other teachers and this is foolish in regard to being a steward of your gifts.
Brothers, help me be sharper and give me counsel in this area. Would I be wrong to have this as my standard? Is this helpful or am I nuts?
Please understand that as a layman and the one who sits in the pew and hears the message each week, I truly have a great love and appreciation for those men who have heeded the call of God to be a shepherd. I think yours and the others posting is a very special and unique calling, thank you for being obedient.
Having said this, I do question where the line is and how I would perceive my pastor if I knew that he had “borrowed” someone else’s sermon, in whole or in part. My immediate concern could or would be, why can’t he study and prepare on his own. What I think means so much to me is when my pastor studies (and I know he does) is to see just how the Holy Spirit spoke to him in this passage, not merely for the content, but more so in how to convey (preach) this to the members. In short, it is as if the Holy spirit is telling you, my pastor, or the other pastors who have posted here, “this is what I want my sheep to hear and this is what I want you to say.”
With that in mind, what am I or others to think when or if I find out, well this wasn’t really my own digging and searching and hearing, I got this from Dr. Merritt because he said it would preach well? As for the line, the trouble with setting lines is that typically they will ultimately be crossed or moved, and that is when one starts down the slippery slope. One mro enote if I may and I apologize for the length; often times my pastor will quote Spurgeon, Piper, Mac Arthur, or others, but that is usually as an added to what he has said, as if to quantify his point even further. But rest assured, he always, always brings us back to the authoritative Word of God and that, that alone is his plumb line. He does not rely on anyone else but his own research and trusting the Holy Spirit.
Thanks Mark. I agree with your sentiments and also wholeheartedly believe we must be plowing the field of God’s Word for ourselves. When that is done this issue disappears since we will have the jewels of God’s Word imbedded into our souls and growing excitement of showing others our great God. When a person buys a “message” all get is a mechanical sermon that has lost its unction.
I just get concerned when we sound so above this and give no definition for those who truly need to grow in discernment. In our day of the WWW we need to provide guidelines as well as distain for this type of practice. After all Dr. Merrit is a “hitter” in the SBC. If he is promoting this, how many believe among the SBC throng are in lock-step? So, let’s give tools for pastors to grow in discernment or they will simply compare our chest-beating as being mean-spirited in comparison to the legacy of Dr. Merrit.
BTW. I like Dr. Merrit, I think he is a great guy. But let’s face it, he is in the belly of the beast that is the SBC; which often is more concerned with marketing itself that it is with spreading God’s fame.
Hary Emerson Fosdick was arguably the best-known preacher of the first half of the 20th Century in America (yes, I know he was liberal, but his theology is not the point–bear with me). Several books of his sermons were published. Once, while on vacation, toward the end of his life, he stopped to worship at a small church in Maine, where the young minister preached an old Fosdick sermon, exactly as Fosdick had written it 30 or more years before. As he left–stooped, and walking with assistance–he complimented the young preacher with an old man’s voice, then asked how long it took him to write the message. “Oh, a long time. Several hours.” With that, Fosdick pulled himself up to his full height, and with the full force of best voice, replied, “Well, it took me 20 hours to write it!”
It is well known that Fosdick–and most other notable preachers of his era, liberal and conservative alike–advocated one hour in the study for every minute in the pulpit. Fosdick himself had a magnificant office in the Riverside Church, but he rented a tiny, cramped office, I believe at a nearby bank, where he did most of his sermon writing. He didn’t even have a telephone there, so minimize distractions, and was not to be interupted unless the building was on fire.
In a town where I formerly ministered, one preacher there bought “canned” messages. I heard him once, and thought the message was good, but the congregation quickly discovered what he was doing, and pressured him to leavev after only two years. I am not a “prince of the pulpit,” never have been, never will be. And personally, I have rarely had the “luxury” of spending 20 or 30 hours in sermion preparation–too often ministry interferes, and then there is the little thing called “family.” But shouldn’t the “princes of the pulpit” in the SBC challange us to “rightly divide the Word” for ourselves as did liberal Fosdick?
Thomas Long wrote a good article on this describing where the boundaries are etc. I posted on it several weeks ago including a link for the article here: http://rvanneste.blogspot.com/2007/05/thomas-long-on-plagiarizing-sermons.html I’ll also say that I find it sad and puzzling that the boundaries here seem so unclear to so many. Isn’t it patently obvious the difference between learning and drawing from various sources and simply copying others? It seems to me that the root problem is in what we seek to accomplish in our preaching. Is it discipling/equipping people or crowd drawing/pleasing performance?
“Let’s be careful that we don’t foster the spirit of a Pharisee while trying to diagnose a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I think minimizing time in the work struggling to find what is saying is cheapened by the download shortcut, but I find the many broad, bombastic comments equally wrong. Let’s help our fellow pastors out by identifying the boundry not simply thumping our chests.”
“Let’s be helpful to our brothers and not thump our chests with unhelpful rhetoric.”
“[L]et’s give tools for pastors to grow in discernment or they will simply compare our chest-beating as being mean-spirited in comparison to the legacy of Dr. Merrit.”
Dan, it is evident that you want to drive your point home. Point taken.
But alas, the point in addressing this issue is to focus on a serious issue going on in the pastorate. Pastoral plagiarism is not only accepted but encouraged and even now marketed. Perhaps the reason some of us are as passionate about preaching God’s Word and honoring the sacred desk is due to its woeful neglect and contemptible treatment thereof. By no means is anyone trying to come across as “mean-spirited” or “bombastic” while “thumping our chests.” Rather, it is to be clear, direct, and convictional about a matter that deserves nothing less. I certainly hope you understand the nature of the concerns represented in the comments aforementioned as reflective of that noble aspiration.
I just watched the video clip of James Merritt telling pastors to use his sermons and then go straight into saying that he was there to talk about holiness. I find that a little ironic. How about holiness of the pulpit and pastor having integrity.
I am just a lay person but I have firsthand experience with pastoral plagiarism. My former pastor was discovered using sermons that he bought from a very popular sermon download website. He would read these sermons word for word in the pulpit Sunday after Sunday. He would even go as far as claiming that the personal illustrations of the author were his own experiences. Not only was he plagiarizing, he was lying. Week after week of rehearsed lies from the pulpit. We found out that he was doing this for his entire 3 yr tenure at our church. I ask you this, how can a man of God lie week after week and not get convicted enough to stop and repent of this practice? When he was confronted with the evidence he claimed he did nothing wrong. That it was OK for him to use these sermons because he had the author’s permission via a disclaimer on the sermon service website. I am curious if this same “permission” defense would hold up in an academic setting where a student bought a term paper from another student and the student buying the paper was given full permission by the seller of the paper to user and pass off the sermon as his own. Now, when the professor caught the student using a bought term paper, would he be not be charged with plagiarism because he said he had permission from the original author of the paper? I think we all know the answer to this question. Therefore, in the House of God where we are to hold to higher standards than the secular world why do we cloud the issue of pastoral plagiarism?
I speak from personal experiences where I have seen the effects of this practice first hand. I have seen a pastor who was caught in bearing false witness by passing off sermons that were not of his own labor and study of the Word. I have seen this pastors continue to lie and manipulate the situation and cloud and contort the situation. I have seen a church almost torn apart. I have seen many members leave the church I love so dearly when this pastor finally resigned in shamed after 3 months of denial, lies, and manipulation. This isnt some test case for me. This is what my church a year later and a new pastor is still healing from.
What upsets me about James Merritt is that he gives pastors that plagiarize and decieve their congregations license to continue to do this. Pastors that engage in this pratice now can use James Merritt as their defense, “well James Merritt says its OK”. All the while, churches are sufferring for this practice. I pray that James Merritt will repent from this practice and understand his influence he carries and the responsibility of that influence. I futhermore hope that some day the SBC will denounce pastoral plagiarism.
For me, like I have said, this is no matter of theorectical debate or hypothetical situations. It is a very personal matter that I have seen the first hand damage of pastoral plagiarism and the feeling of betrayal of trust of the most holy pulpit that results from it.
Timmy and Sam, I agree with both of you. Timmy, thanks for letting me know I was getting through – it helped greatly.
Teaching Pastors who teach from manuscripts that were created by other men (even if bought) is wrong. It will lead to a performance-based ministry mindset that will invariably implode (i.e. Sam’s story). When we see this practice we must condemn it.
We also need to encourage pastors that to wade into Scripture should be a joy since we will see Jesus there! Sure it is work, but it should be joyful work. When it loses its joy or simply becomes a performance then we have taken a step toward becoming a rip-off artist.
Let’s rebuke people for taken others messages and push them all the way back to enjoying our great God in their times of study.
We have a new pastor, a recent grad from Southern Seminary’s PhD preaching program, at our large church in Chattanooga and he has been preaching James Merritt sermons (mixed with others) since day one. He claims he has permission from Merritt and sees nothing wrong with the practice. He has not however, informed the congregation that he preaches cut and paste sermons.
Plagiarism has two prongs: theft of another’s work and deception of the audience. Preaching a Merritt Father’s Day sermon with Merritt’s permission gets one off the ethical hook of theft. Unless one proceeds to announce, “By the way, this is a James Merritt sermon,” one still has an ethical problem.
As for Merritt, if you’re in the business of selling sermons you have a self-interest in asserting that preaching them is OK. Cigarette companies and crack dealers want you to smoke–your health and legal issues notwithstanding.
I never read blogs within the SBC and I have confirmed today why that is.
James Merritt is a man of known integrity that is perhaps unrivaled among our ranks. He loves people, evangelizes furiously and has an unbelievable record of service to our convention.
He is a bridger. He holds sway with the “old guard” while supporting progressive ideals and ministry approaches. He is one who can be said to truly represent all Southern Baptists.
The posted messages above boil down to little more than gossip and you should be rebuked rather than responded to. Rather than clicking your mouse you should be turning pages in your Bible, and find out that if you have something against another brother like James Merritt, you must take it up with him.
Most of you write behind the cloaking absence of a last name and I can understand why. Mr. Lasley, you are especially despicable airing your churches dirty laundry on the internet! Does that promote unity? If you have a problem with your pastor, take it to your leadership don’t shamelessly gossip.
James Merritt needs no defense from me, and he certainly doesn’t deserve any of this pompous bloviation from any of you.
Jared (I notice that you didn’t leave a last name),
Personalities aside (you will note that I didn’t mention any names in my previous post), do you believe that it is acceptable for pastors to download sermons from the internet and preach them in their churches?
Slow down Jared (no last name). The very thing you have just accused those expressing their opinions and thoughts you have done but in a more shameless and derogatory manner. Yes, some have posted and questioned the integrity of telling others, “hey, here is my fathers day message and it is free, unless of course you want the whole package, then send $8.00 to my web site.” Personally, and this is not a slam against Dr. Merritt, but it does strike many of us as odd, in the truest form.
In addition, you totally miss the entire point made in stressing the need for pure self studies in preparation for bringing the Word of God to the sheep by the shepherd. Rather than address the issue, you strike out in attacks and attack the messengers rather than the message.
As a layman in my church, I expect that my pastor has studied the Word of God and I so look forward to hearing the message that God has put on his heart and that i truly see him as an instrument used of God to bring His Word to all of us. I take great delight in knowing that this man has poured himself over and through the scriptures and spent many hours in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to him what he is to say on Sunday morning and evening.
Having said this, how do you think I would feel if I learned that he was merely repeating what someone else had said and done and researched? I would be upset, shocked, and yes, probably mad. Taking another man’s message that he has prepared is dishonest, sneaky, dishonorable, and uncalled for. It creates laziness, slothfulness, weak understanding of the message (because it is not his own), and lack of trust.
As for airing the dirty laundry, the man neither mentioned his church, the pastors name, or what city he is from; he made an honest and valid point with not merely a hypothetical, but a real story. Again, in your haste to judge, you failed to see how this action hurt this brother…. you missed the point on this.
It is probably well that you do not blog (although you must because you did) because it appears to me that you are not one who can handle constructive rebuke, or instruction, or that people are entitled to their opinions and should feel free to express their concerns.
And by the way, I have used my last name each time I have posted. You are Jared ???????
I will answer your question with a question and then elaborate. How many preachers on this blog get up and preach a 100% original sermon every Sunday? That number is small is there are any at all. Let me go further: How many have EVER preached one? Again, not many.
In almost every sermon, preachers borrow, at the very least, jokes and illustrations. We read another’s thoughts in commentaries and we borrow strong lines from books on the subject. We get other preacher’s cds on that text and we download podcasts. The point is: there is a measure of plagarism in every sermon.
That being pocketed, let me say I do not personally believe that one should consistently preach another’s sermon. That is a personal belief drawn principles like honesty and integrity. Let me be clear: that is a conviction.
Here are some things that are not based on conviction:
Leviticus 19:16 – “Do not go about spreading slander among your people… I am the Lord.”
Romans 1:29 – “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness… they are gossips.”
1 Timothy 5:13 – “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house (insert blog to blog). And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.”
And, Jerry, these words ARE plagarized… from the word of God.
How many preachers on this blog get up and preach a 100% original sermon every Sunday? That number is small is there are any at all. Let me go further: How many have EVER preached one? Again, not many.
Originality? Is that the standard? If so, then someone has missed the mark. I am content to continue to tell “the old, old story”, and will allow the Holy Spirit to lead me to the message that he has for my congregation each week.
In almost every sermon, preachers borrow, at the very least, jokes and illustrations.
Sorry, but I don’t find a place for jokes when I preach, and illustrations, while rarely used by me, come from my personal experience. I have less use for illustration books than I have for canned sermons.
We read another’s thoughts in commentaries and we borrow strong lines from books on the subject. We get other preacher’s cds on that text and we download podcasts. The point is: there is a measure of plagarism in every sermon.
I find that C.H. Spurgeon had the best take on commentaries (take a look at “On Commentaries and Commenting”) but they should not form the substance of any message.
Once again I ask you: Is it acceptable for pastors to download sermons from the internet and preach them in their churches?
It seems to me that you are blowing smoke, and your continual complaint of “gossip” and “slander” is growing old.
Jared wrote: Most of you write behind the cloaking absence of a last name A quick scan of the comments shows that his statement is mistaken. I count seventeen people posting using their last names. I count ten people posting without a last name. They identify themselves as: Ross, Tom, Dave, Sean, Mike, Dennis, Mark, Dan, Sam, and Jared. Of course, Tom, Sean, Marc and Dan all identify themselves clearly on their respective blogs, and links to them are embedded in their postings, so I’ll remove their names from the list. That leaves us with Ross, Dave, Mike, Dennis, Sam, and Jared who, paraphrasing Jared, “write behind the cloaking absence of a last name”. 6 out of 27 do not consitiute “most”.
Later, Jared wrote, if you have something against another brother like James Merritt, you must take it up with him.
Dr. Merritt’s comment was made publically. His website is up for the entire world to see. He shocked an awful lot of people at the convention, as well as on the live simulcasts. His remarks really broke my heart. Nobody here is calling Dr. Merritt an apostate or a bad person. I think we all recognize that Dr. Merritt is a good preacher and that he has been a positive influence in the SBC. But all of us are still sinners. All of us. A doctorate does not make one immune from making mistakes. When our brother makes a mistake, and it is not a one time thing or a slip of the tongue, but a sustained mistake that seems to result not from maliciousness or evil intentions, but a misunderstanding of what the Gospel is, we need to call it what it is.
-Plagiarism in the Pulpit is an error. -Purchasing a sermon online and preaching it verbatim as though it was my own is an error. -Giving one’s blessing to the verbatim preaching of a sermon purchased online is an error. -Someone who runs a website for the explicit purpose of selling sermon manuscripts to be preached verbatim is in error.
Those are the issues, and our comments have focused on the issues, and have been critical of the errors and not the man. This topic has suddenly veered away from the issues, and folks have starting responding in a heated way. I appeal to all of us to not make this personal, when it has been a thread that was good about discussing the issues. As I’ve been writing this post, Jerry and Mark have posted reactions to Jared’s posting. Jared’s posting seemed to be assailing the people posting here as pompous bloviators. In accordance with Said at Southern User Expectations #2 and #3, I lovingly call on Jared, Jerry, and Mark to remember to participate in this forum in a way that honors Christ, before this degenerates into a flame war. I also lovingly call on Ross, Dave, Mike, Dennis, Sam, and Jared to identify themselves in this forum.
Great reminder. Our user expectations are a ’sufficient guide’ for all comments. Please review them. Our readership has grown significantly since we first published them. I’ve now added a prominent link to them in the left column.
I like what G.F. has done. For us to build healthy discussion here it is imperative that our community begin to moderate itself.
I have noticed you have been wandering to other blogs and posting as well (eg- Hershel York’s).
First, you mention that Jared needs to identify himself. If you will read his second post, you will notice that he does. Perhaps partial readings and trigger-finger responses are contributing to your misspeak.
I have one real big problem with your post: You incenuate that Dr. Merritt’s comments “seems to result not from maliciousness or evil intentions, but a misunderstanding of what the Gospel is.” I certainly hope, Mr. McDowell, that you are a layman because your understanding of New Testament theological, salvific and ecclesiological classifications are either sadly mistaken or poorly worded.
THIS IS NOT A GOSPEL ISSUE. There is no mandate in scripture about originality in preaching a sermon, and it in no way pertains to the gospel. You can discount James Merritt’s theological education all you want (and it is world class, by any reckoning), but perhaps if you had studied with Dr. Merritt you would be making more responsible comments on this forum. You should apologize in like manner.
The fact of the matter is, this Jared Miller guy has a point. James Merritt is a man of integrity- I am from Georgia and seen his work first-hand. If this forum intends to discuss the issue of plagarism in the pulpit, fine. That is not what James was advocating. If this forum intends to discuss laziness in the pulpit, fine. James Merritt leads by example here. He has perhaps the most well-researched, textbook expositions around.
Jared makes another good point. This discussion has become little more than gossip. If any of you have the backbone to shed light on what you mistake is a gospel issue spoken by Dr. Merritt, I will give you the number to his office and I am confident he would be happy to speak with you about it. Then, you could “lovingly restore” Dr. Merritt as you see fit. However, if I know Dr. Merritt as well as the rest of you do – that conversation would be one of a different nature. And, that is why each of you resign to cowardly typing rather than biblical confrontation.
This whole conversation has been informative for me. I have never heard Dr. Merritt preach – until the pastor’s conference.
I have heard a great deal of talk about borrowed sermons. The links in the main post will direct you to such. Dr. Mohler and Dr. York (both expository preachers and I assume friends of Dr. Merritt) have talked about these issues on the radio. You can find that link in the main article as well.
I have carefully formulated a point-by-point response to Mr. Bill Renfro’s earlier post. First, I will precis his points, then I will carefully answer them.
Mr. Renfro’s points: 1. I asked Jared to identify himself. 2. His one big problem was that I categorized Dr. Merrett’s statement as being mistaken, not malicious or evil. 3. He hopes I am a layman. 4. I don’t understand New Testament theological, salvific, and ecclesiological classifications. 5. There is no scriptural mandate for originality. 6. I am discounting Dr. Merritt’s theological education. 7. I should apologize “in like manner” for discounting Dr. Merritt’s theological education. 8. Dr. Merritt is not advocating Plagiarism. 9. This discussion is gossip. 10. Mr. Renfro suggests we call Dr. Merritt’s office and “lovingly restore” him. 11. Mr. Renfro insinuates that “each of you” is cowardly typist.
And now I will respond to each of his points.
1. Yes, I did lovingly call on Jared, Ross, Dave, Mike, Dennis, and Sam to identify themselves to this forum. Yes, Jared gave us his last name before I posted my loving call. Jared had posted a falsehood that most here were posting without using their last name. Jared did this without using his own last name. I issued a very mild correction. This was not the result of a “trigger finger” response. If you note the time stamp, I posted my response more than an hour after Jared posted his. I give you my assurances that I did not post in haste.
2. I don’t know how to respond. I do believe Dr. Merritt’s remark encouraging pastors to “preach every word” and his website selling “complete sermon solutions” are the result of a mistaken understanding of the gospel. I do not think he is an evil or malicious man, just mistaken. Would you have less of a problem if I had categorized Dr. Merritt’s remark and website as evil? That is not what I think, and it would be unbecoming of a Christian to say that.
3. Bill Renfro hopes that I am a layman. Whether or not there was a veiled insult in that statement, it is a fact that I am one. I am not insulted in the least.
4. Bill Renfro says I don’t understand New Testament theological, salvific, and ecclesiological classifications. He does not back up his accusation with any evidence. Perhaps I can clarify my position.
I agree with the Apostle Paul when he wisely wrote, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”. When a preacher finds himself tired and worn out, supplying him with a “complete sermon solution” for him to preach verbatim seems to belie the idea that the Gospel truly is the Power of God.
Even in the hands of an uneducated, stuttering man who cannot string together a complete sentence, God’s Word is an immensely powerful thing when he reads it aloud. If we tell such a man, “here, take this complete sermon solution you can preach every word I wrote” it is because at some level we don’t believe the Word of God can be powerful in his hands. If a man needs help in being a good expositor, we should be willing to help him learn the skills of exposition better. Spoon-feeding him pre-made sermons will not help that preacher in the long run. Teach a man to fish, as the proverb goes, and he’ll have food for a lifetime.
5. There is a scriptural mandate against stealing and against bearing false witness. Dr. Merritt’s statement precluded the former but not the latter. Dr. Merritt’s website is ripe for misuse and abuse, and could take more steps to prevent preachers representing Dr. Merritt’s sermons as their own.
6. I am not discounting Dr. Merritt’s theological Education. I never have. All I’ve really said is that he is mistaken. All of us make mistakes. Making mistakes does not make a person not intelligent, it makes him human.
7. I am convinced that I haven’t discounted or impugned Dr. Merritt’s education or character. Demonstrate otherwise, and I will gladly repent and apologize “in like manner.” I have already repented of my sins stemming from this matter once, and if I am willing to do it again.
8. This is the crux of the disagreement. I believe that Dr. Merritt was either mistaken about or unaware of the definition of plagiarism. For the record, the Oxford American Dictionary states, “pla-gia-rize v. to take and use (another person’s ideas or writings or inventions) as one’s own. Permission (or lack thereof) to use another person’s writings has very little bearing. You disagree with what I and many others on here have said. Was Dr. Merritt not encouraging Pastors’ Conference attendees to “preach every word” of his sermon that he had written?
9. The same dictionary defines gossip in the following way: “gos-sip n. 1. casual talk, especially about other people’s affairs. 2. a person who is fond of gossiping. v. to engage in or spread gossip.” I am a Southern Baptist. The unfortunate remark was made at the SBC Pastors’ Conference and broadcast all over the world. This is my affair. I do not do this casually. My heart is heavy about Dr. Merritt’s website and remark. Your accusation is wide of the mark, Mr. Renfro.
10. “lovingly restore” assumes that someone has been subject to church discipline and excommunicated. I don’t think for a moment that Dr. Merritt’s comments were intentionally advocating plagiarism. This is nowhere near a case for church discipline. If I were to call him, that would not be my goal, because it is just not appropriate in this case. At any rate, my email address is gmonay[at]gmail.com (I disguised the @ in order to prevent it being harvested by a web-crawling spambot.) If you’ll kindly send Dr. Merritt’s office telephone number, I would be pleased to give him a telephone call next week.
11. Uhhh, no I’m not. Sorry, I’m not insulted.
Mr. Renfro, in light of the insinuations attempted insults, and unfounded accusations made in your post, I’d like to lovingly call on you to remember to participate in this forum in a way that honors Christ, in accordance with the User Expectations of this website.
I hesitate to even respond to Mr. McDowell’s blatherings, but with the abundance of falisities, I feel compelled. If it is more understandable, I am happy to borrow your format.
1. I did not point out that you asked him to identify himself. I pointed out that you weren’t even reading carefully enough to notice that he did.
2. “His one big problem was that I categorized Dr. Merrett’s statement as being mistaken, not malicious or evil.” Also not true. I had (and have) a very big problem with you categorizing his statements as stemming from a poor understanding of the gospel.
3. You are correct here. I did hope, and am glad you are a layman. For your sake, however, I hope your lay career is not in the field of law, because your lack of intention and schizophrenic logic have enough holes to float a grey hound through.
4. You do not understand salvific classification because you have insinuated that plagarism is a gospel issue. I would be happy to recommend a number of books to clarify primary theological issue or you could perhaps watch Dr. Mohler do it for me on the home page to this site.
5. You do not refute that there is no scriptural mandate for originality, rather you suggest that this is bearing false witness. Does no one on this site realize the amount of tongue-in-cheek talk (and it was) in what he said. I would refer you to the example James Merritt has set in preparing messages.
6. I am discounting Dr. Merritt’s theological education. That you were. Thank you for backing off that.
7. I should apologize “in like manner” for discounting Dr. Merritt’s theological education. Again, this is not true. I asked you to apologize for accusing Dr. Merritt of misunderstanding the gospel. Sir, for you to accuse Dr. Merritt’s understanding of the gospel (especially publicly) is to argue above your pay grade. You should either clarify your comments or apologize for misspeaking.
8. Dr. Merritt is not advocating Plagiarism. Again, there was an amount of jest in what he said. If you feel this way, I would drop him an email and ask him if you are correct.
9. I did enjoy the self-incrimination with the definition of gossip. You are commenting on the character of a pastor speaking to pastors. Even though you are not a pastor, I urge you to make it your business. Ask Dr. Merritt outright.
10. Here is a little education for the theologically challenged. Christians are able to lovingly restore other Christians outside of their own body of believers. Remember, Paul did it quite often and was not a member of any particular body. Your lack of ecclesiological accumen here only serves to validate my earlier statements. You will NEVER… repeat… NEVER find an instance in scripture where one believer has a problem with another believer and they are commanded to open it up for public discussion without first speaking to that believer.
11. Uhhh… quit doging my question: Will you call Dr. Merritt or not? If you ARE NOT a coward then answer that on this forum. His assistant’s name is Kalli and the church number is 678-812-4500.
I AM taking the Biblical approach. I have a serious problem with your actions as a professed believer, so I am confronting YOU. Are you man enough to confront Dr. Merritt on his gospel misunderstanding. If not, keep your comments to yourself and quit infecting this place.
why did you choose to sarcastically imply that mr. mcdowell was dodging the question of whether or not he would contact pastor merritt when he specifically asked that you give him the number so he could call? he plainly stated he would contact him if given a number, and yet you closed your post with venom as if he were dodging the issue of contacting pastor merritt.
at best it is an oversight, at worst it is bearing false witness in order to make an emotional appeal.
if it is an oversight, then are you due the same measure of grace that you extended to mr. mcdowell on his perceived oversight that you called him out for?
if it is bearing false witness against a brother, then are you due the same measure of grace that you have extended to mr. mcdowell for his words toward pastor merritt as you see them?
mr. mcdowell has provided that he may be wrong and has put forth that if he finds he is, he will do his best to make it right.
i wonder, if you are so concerned with christian behavior between brethren, why do your words come with such vitriol and no grace?
whether or not merritt was right or wrong, and whether it was intentional or not, if he is the godly man you say he is ( i have no reason to doubt that he is) would he agree with the tone in your post as you defend him?
This is sad conversation. There are some who seem to impugn the character of an established and, clearly, gifted communicator for doing what has been done for years in the past. In years past this same thing was done, and acceptably done, in preaching annuals and tape ministries. Those who are crying flow here simply have no understanding of their history.
All that is offered is some texts and (importantly for pastors in churches without the resources) some great presentation graphics and packaging for a series and messages. There aren’t too many churches that could put together an entire sermon series from a packaging standpoint like Dr Merritt is offering…and for the price. This is simply good stewardship. For the time pressed pastor who does not have access to a full-time (or part-time) researcher, and especially for the bi-vocational pastor, this is a great resource for wonderful illustrations and framing a future sermon.
Interesting isn’t it that for hundreds of years (even through the Reformation into some branches of Protestantism) the Lectionary has been used which provides sermon titles, topics, Scriptures, and main points. The Lectionary has been a staple of established Christian preaching for hundreds of years and has provided just as many (if not more) converts to Christ than supposed original messages.
Personally I see no litmus test for originality in the Scriptures. Without fail, most every Epistles in the NT uses a preformed tradition to make up its parts. The preformed tradition includes: common confessions, illustrations, hymns, and other homiletical tools common the “contemporary” preacher.
Even Paul’s mighty address to Stoics and Epicureans in Acts 17, Paul lifted a text from Aratus in vs. 28 to help solidify his point. There is no litmus test for originality in the Scriptures.
There is simply no original content at that. If we are receiving our inspiration for texts and topics from the same Holy Spirit (which I would suggest is the case) than they aren’t ours to begin with.
Of course this isn’t the main issue. The main issue is that several people around here, and apparently around this fine convention, feel that access to a keyboard allows them the place of pontification and endless diatribes against fine pastors-theologians in our churches who have, through faithfulness and the power of God, accomplished much for the Kingdom. The reality here is that many who cry out against these fine, God anointed leaders have no warrant for leadership other than the opportunity to spurn pointless gossip and old wives tales (something staunchly prohibited in the NT at numerous points.)
If you are going to preach from originality and turn that into the crucible for acceptable and authentic proclamation I hope you don’t use anything but the Canon of Scripture and your own life. For anything else would be unoriginal.
Perhaps soon we will move beyond these petty pursuits and have our free time occupied with productive Kingdom work and not so much sweat over perceived pastoral problems.
I agree with those above who pointed out that this conversation should have taken place in private following biblical guidelines before being aired in public.
Bunch of you sound like you never quoted anyone in your sermons as an illustration. I am sure you know when you write a research paper, we often quote other books as long as we give the credit to them. Dr. Merritt is saying that people can take his message and make it work for your situation. Telling the congregation what you are doing will not be compromising your character or your integrity.
I personally Thank God for people like Dr. Merritt and other wonderful preachers who share their sermons with others. I read them (or hear them) and I get inspired and challenged to be Holy (Dr. Merritt’s message).
I am not going to preach Dr. Merritt’s message tomorrow, but may use it next year. Thank you Dr. Merritt and keep up the good work.
While I think a conversation about expository preaching is a good idea…I’d be interested in seeing those who have charged Dr. Merritt in this post on the world wide web answer for the questions posed against them.
I’ll be one of the first to change the conversation once the mudslingers have answered for their games.
Jared, Robert, Young, & Bill, I have posted a couple of earlier comments on this issue. I am in no way impugning the integrity of Dr. Merritt. I admire him as a man of God and an excellent preacher. I have listened to him on CD and read some of his sermons. I have even quoted him in a sermon or two of my own (with proper credit given). I find him extremely gifted, passionate, and theologically sound.
I do not have a problem with Dr. Merritt making the fruit of his labors available to others. Many pastors and scholars publish (formally or informally) their material for the edification of others. This is a good thing and blessing to the body of Christ.
I have no illusions of pure originality in my preaching. In my opinion, not to read and utilize the material of great scholars and preachers, both past and present, is a sign of shortsightedness and perhaps arrogance. I would venture to say that all of the preachers who commented on this thread use all sorts of reference material in their sermon preparation. This is as it should be.
I am reacting to the idea that it is helpful to shortcut the personal preparation for preaching by utilizing the sermon of another preacher in its entirety. I think this is quite unhelpful. Preparation for preaching involves not just the message but the preacher himself. In my view, the process of exegesis, crafting a sermon outline, making appropriate application, writing an introduction and conclusion, etc. is an essential step in being prepared to preach.
This is not about plagiarism. It is about preparation of the message and the man. If one wishes to preach like Dr. Merritt, then perhaps one should do the work which Dr. Merritt does to prepare such fine messages. This is my contention. For me personally, to lift one of Dr. Merritt’s sermons and preach it as my own would seem very plastic. The fires of spiritual passion are stoked in the crucible of preparation.
I agree wholeheartedly with you, but more importantly, I think Dr. Merritt would agree with you.
The measure of a man is not what he says, but what he does. This is true for peers, politicians, and pulpiteers. The old saying rings with abundant truth: ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. Let me repeat myself: Dr. Merritt leads by example here. I say on good faith that he would instruct pastors to utilize his material as they would any material, never neglecting diligence in preparation.
Perhaps Mr. McDowell will ask Dr. Merritt if that is true and report back his answer to us on this forum, but I will bet you a stack of commentaries that we don’t hear back from him anytime soon.
THIS WHOLE IDEA OF “PREACHER PLAGIARISM” IS ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!
I USED DR. JAMES MERRITT’S SERMON IN MY PREPARATION FOR MY FATHER’S DAY MESSAGE!
I am certainly not ashamed to admit that. I was there at the SBC and I thank God that Dr. Merritt is willing to share His incredible wisdom with all of us. I wrestled with the text of the sermon myself, and made the message Paul is conveying in Ephesians 6 a part of my life. I saturated myself in this text and I utilized Merritt’s creativity, alliteration, illustrations, and powerful one-liners to make the message more communicable. I also used numerous other preachers sermons as commentary.
Rick Warren once said that other pastors sermons are the commentaries of the 21st century. Whether or not you agree with that statement, no one can dispute the tremendous benefit pastors can have in listening to and using other preachers messages to communicate more compellingly and creatively.
I once heard a pastor preach one of my sermons giving me absolutely no attribution. Was I offended? Did I feel as if I had become a victim of preacher plagiarism? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! God gave me the idea to begin with. I do not hoard it–I give it away freely! I wouldn’t want him to give me attribution! For crying out loud, the man is preaching a sermon–not citing a term paper! What right to I have (or any other preacher for that matter) to become territorial over the sermons I have preached. We are all in this together folks. May God have mercy on these pseudo-intellectual preachers who think they ought to have a copyright license on everything they say behind the pulpit.
There really is nothing new under the sun. Nobody is original. We all learn from and stand upon the shoulders of one another. If you’re preaching God’s Word, then we are all on the same team. Therefore we need to be doing whatever we can to make one another more effective. If you can communicate a certain Biblical truth better than I can, then wouldn’t you want to expand your ministry influence to those in my congregation?
Preaching other pastors sermons is not a new trend in Christendom. It is a part of our heritage and it’s part of handing off the baton. The Wesleyan church in America grew largely in part to the fact that Wesleyan preachers preached exclusively the sermons from John Wesley.
Let’s forget about originality – which is often a form of pride. Let’s begin to focus on effectiveness, and pray that we will be powerful at connecting with those to whom God has given us to preach.
“DON’T BE ORIGINAL–BE EFFECTIVE” Article by Steve Sjogren
Here’s a good point he made…
“…At a seminar, Dr. Cho, pastor of the world’s largest church in Korea, was asked during a question and answer time, “How do you put your weekly messages together? They are so powerful!” He said, “Honestly, I have never given an original message in all my years of ministry here at Yoido Church. Each week, I preach word-for-word messages from either Billy Graham or W.A. Criswell from Dallas First Baptist Church. I can’t afford to not have a home run each weekend when we gather. I don’t trust my own ability to give completely original messages.” Wow!
I regularly read the blogs of my favorite communicators from influential churches around the United States. Without mentioning their names in this article, they are guys who are well-known to everyone reading this piece. They are all authors. They all have very large churches.
Each of these pastors has recently come out on their blogging sites and admitted, curiously, the same thing. They get approximately 70 percent of their messages each week from other people – word for word according to them. They fill in their own personal illustrations and stories, of course. Two of the guys that I am thinking of as I write this have churches of more than 10,000 in attendance each weekend.
We need to get over the idea that we have to be completely original with our messages, each and every week. In my mind there is a tremendous amount of pride (let’s call it what it is) when we insist on being completely original as communicators. In our desire to give “killer messages” we are dishing out something far less. Think about it for a second: If you really were giving a killer message each week, would your church be the size that it is right now? Maybe you need to be open to doing things a different way.
After listening to tens of thousands of messages over the last 30-plus years as a leader, I have come to the conclusion that there are probably only a handful of truly unique communicators in a given generation. And those communicators are almost always the kinds of messengers who speak to already-believers, not the kind who can connect with not-yet believers.
A wise mentor of mine brought great liberty to me when he was coaching me in the area of how to put messages together. He said, “There once was a man who said, ‘I will be original or nothing;’ in the end he became both.” Dare to step out of the box.”
More than 10,000 in attendance? Yay them. Clap, clap clap. I’m real impressed. I have a church of 35 and you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger church than mine. Oh wait–we’re a Deaf church.
The real question is if these guys’ churches are healthy. I don’t give a flying fiddle dee dee what their numbers are. If the only measure of “health” you have, according to your two comments, is whether or not a church aspires to be “Six Flags Over Jesus,” I am scared to ask what kind of actual spiritual state the members are in.
Can we move on to something more constructive here?
Brandon, there is a massive difference between utilizing a sermon as a commentary and utilizing a sermon verbatim or virtually unchanged. I use lots of sermons as commentary (Piper and Spurgeon spring to mind as examples), but those sermons do not become my own sermon. If I preached one of Piper or Spurgeon’s sermons, even though I’ve wrestled with the Scriptures and message of it for a week, it is still not my sermon. I’ve basically told myself and God that the word God gives me to preach isn’t good enough. I don’t ever want to be guilty of such a sin. If His grace really is sufficient, then we must trust that we don’t need anyone else’s words but the ones given us by the Holy Spirit when we step into the pulpit.
Now, to attempt an answer at Tony’s question: a wise man told me once that expository preaching is nothing more than telling your congregation what the text says when allowed to speak for itself. We can apply it to ourselves, but only when we’ve unpacked what it actually said and meant back then.
Brandon, what you just posted on here, the Sjogren bit, is specifically touched upon by Drs. Mohler and York in this episode of the Albert Mohler Radio program. Of course, I’ve just re-linked what Tony linked above. Did you follow any of the links above? It helps in being able to participate meaningfully. I would truly be interested to hear your interactions with Dr. Mohler and Dr. Yorks ideas from that radio program. The discussion picks up at 11:05 on the mp3 file. What do you think of their ideas?
Expository Preaching is focused on being faithful to God’s revealed Word. The issue is not originality versus effectiveness.
Mark Dever has some helpful information on his website about Expository preaching. “Preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation.“ http://marks.9marks.org/Mark1
You have come here to post, but we have heard nothing of your conversation with Dr. Merritt. In your post, you said, “If you’ll kindly send Dr. Merritt’s office telephone number, I would be pleased to give him a telephone call next week.”
I know for a fact that he was in the office today, and when he returns from the Billy Graham teaching school in Washington, he will be there once again.
We are all awaiting your report from what I am sure will be a time of great correction and guidance for Dr. Merritt. If that conversation fails to take place, I move that we initiate a conversation about YOUR integrity.
Gentlemen, I have never responded to a blog before now. This is new to me. I would like to point out, however, that I am aghast that Christian ministers and educators who have time to shoot at a man (James Merritt) who preaches the gospel and lives a life of integrity. He also is a good friend to Southern Seminary and has said positive things about Union University. Dr. Merritt, to my knowledge, takes the same approach to “borrowing sermons” as Adrian Rogers and W. A. Criswell did. You do not use personal illustrations as your own, but you can “grind exceeding well” and make a sermon your “own.” I believe this is what Merritt meant, even though he did not communicate it this way. We all need ideas and sometimes we, who are not in the ivory tower, must borrow heavily during a week filled with pastoral duty. If you critical folks have weekly preaching responsibilities, you might want to get busy on your next sermon. I challenge you to think about your sermon prep time vs. your blog time. In all kindness, let us all spend our energies on preaching the gospel and soul-winning instead of blogging JM as if he had said a cuss word or preached heresy at the Pastor’s Conference.
The difference in Merritt and the preachers you mentioned are obvious! They never created a website (or store) that would sale sermons! To stand on the shoulders of scholars or other ministers who have put in hard work in the books is different than selling sermons online . . . .
This is a very big problem . . . . something needs to be said!
Josh Buice, I don’t know about W.A. Criswell but I know for a fact that Adrian Rogers sold his sermons to pastors and made royalties off of them. Almost every sermon he has ever preached is made available in full manuscripts to pastors for $3.50 each at www.sermonsearch.com. Adrian Rogers advocated doing the same thing that James Merritt is doing. As for Criswell, I have heard of many missionaries and pastors in other countries who have been and still are preaching his sermons. Not sure where they get them but they are out there.
If you look at what Rogers was doing compared to what Merritt is doing now — you cannot compare the two! Rogers never got up at the Convention and asked for pastors to preach his sermon while advertising his sermon store . . . . The pulpit should be used for the faithful proclamation of God’s Word – not self promotion.
I know that some gray areas seem to be present since many commentaries (like MacArthur’s Commentaries) are full manuscripts of sermons – but we need to rightly consider the motive of each. As we buy the book – is it for the glory of God or the glory of man? Is it for self promotion or for the edification of the Church? Most of the time – those things will remain hidden until we stand before the throne of the King of Kings Himself – but if the intent is known to perceived to be man centered – we should leave it alone . . . .
NOTE: This is not a rant – nor a digg against Dr. Merritt. I grew up watching him as a young boy in the Atlanta Georgia area before we left home for Sunday School. He was the pastor of FBC Snellville. I think we must evaluate the condition of our religious broadcasting and internet ministries today – much is done in the name of man rather than the name of God.
I don’t think you have had much exposure to Adrian Rogers. At one of his last Pastor Training Institutes in Gatlinburg, he went through his LWF catalog with us and recommended those sermon series of his that he thought we needed to buy and preach. Then he held up his new book What Every Christian Ought to Know and said, “You need to get this book and preach through it to your people—every chapter is a sermon.” If you don’t believe me, you can buy the CD yourself—it’s all on there.
You claim that your comments are “not a rant—nor a dig against Dr. Merritt” yet I can’t help but think that that is precisely what your comments as well as this entire blog really is. Many of the individuals here are calling into question Merritt’s character and credibility. You yourself are calling into question the motives of Merritt by inferring that what he did at the convention was for “self-promotion.” I do not see it as such. I know Dr. Merritt and his heart and passion in life is to edify the body of Christ and be a ministry to pastors. When I heard about what he was doing, the Scripture that came to my mind was 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul said, “The things which you have heard from me…entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” God has given to godly men such as Rogers and Merritt tremendous talent, wisdom, and ability. If a pastor is the kind of person who—when he gets something good—if his first initial instinct is to hold on to it (i.e. “this is my sermon and no one else should preach it unless they give me credit”) then that pastor is shortchanging his future and will never compound his effectiveness. Everything in my life that has compounded my effectiveness in ministry is because I made a decision not to keep it to myself. I have freely and openly allowed pastors to use my sermons, tools, and ideas in order to edify and build up the people of God to whom they serve. God will only give to you what He knows will flow through you. The more you pass on and help others, the more God will entrust you with to pass on and help others.
Allow me to establish some areas of commonality when it comes to this whole idea of “preacher plagiarism”:
1.) Obviously it is wrong to take a personal experience that one pastor has said in his sermon and say that it happened to you when in fact it didn’t. That is not only lying—it is just plain stupid.
2.) No pastor should preach another pastor’s sermon that is beyond his spiritual experience. Adrian taught this repeatedly. He said that whenever he preached another man’s sermon—he always made sure that it went through his own heart and was lived out in his own experience first. To not do so is to be “driving by another man’s light” as he put it. To print a sermon off the internet 30 minutes before a message and reading it from the pulpit is shortchanging yourself and a disservice to your people. You have not allowed that message to become a part of you.
I heard a message by Tony Evans recently. God used him to open my eyes to an issue I was facing and it was truly one of those life-changing messages. I took notes off of Tony’s message, I saturated my heart in that Scripture, and I changed the outline (I didn’t like how he had divided the text), I gave my own personal experiences/illustrations and I preached that message that Sunday—and God moved powerfully! Why? Because that message had so changed my life that it became “a fire shut up in my bones”! Did I give Tony Evans credit? No—because if that were my sermon, I would not want someone to give me credit. I gave the Holy Spirit the credit. He simply used Tony Evans as the conduit to speak to me.
When it comes to this whole idea of attribution, I see it as a pride thing. Paul said, “We do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” Therefore, why should any of us get any credit for anything that we say? We are all co-laborers together in the work of the ministry.
I think it is an interesting observation to note that almost all of the people who are speaking out regarding this whole “plagiarism” thing are people from the academic realm (i.e. Al Mohler in his podcast). There, plagiarism and attribution is an important issue since a person is proving their own competency in earning a degree. Now I am educated (I’ve earned 2 Masters and a Doctorate)—but I would be the first to admit that the realm of academia is far different than the realm of being on the front lines of the battle field for the souls of men. I perceive my fellow pastors as fellow team members. We are not in competition. We are not here to give credit to one another for good ideas. We’re here to uplift and give credit to the cause of Christ and His Word.
I have not ever personally heard Rogers ask people to preach his book – but if he did that – he was in error. We should only preach the Word of God. I am not saying that illustrations are not permitted – but we must give credit where credit is due! If you preach a sermon that someone else wrote – that is simply plagiarism! Anything outside of the Word in our sermon should be cited properly.
You said, ” If a pastor is the kind of person who—when he gets something good—if his first initial instinct is to hold on to it (i.e. “this is my sermon and no one else should preach it unless they give me credit”) then that pastor is shortchanging his future and will never compound his effectiveness.”
I ask – Why create a blog site – and simply upload word docs. and allow everyone to download them for FREE? If it is about writing sermons each week and then putting a $30 or even $52 price tag on them for pastors – I think that somewhere we have missed the point of a true preacher of the Word. You don’t see Paul telling Timothy to preach his sermons – you see Paul pointing to the Word – saying – “Preach the Word” – and that is what gospel preachers are called to do in our day as well.
Furthermore – another large problem with these types of messages is the lack of expository teaching styles. I am not going to say that all topical messages are out of line – but I will say that the trend of denying expository preaching will be the downfall of many churches in the days to come. Look at church history – as the Word of God is diminished – so is sound doctrine – and people will become spiritually shallow.
Quite frankly – I must admit – this whole situation makes me want to puke! Where is the true man of God in our day? Where is the Jeremiah or Malachi in our day?
I’d just like to throw in something I’m sure those attacking the ones who are “against” plagiarism are failing to notice: many of us who are/were in “academia” have regular preaching responsibilities. And we still don’t think it’s a good idea to preach another person’s sermon.
Take me as an example — for four years (three of that as a busy associate pastor, which I currently am) I had near-weekly preaching duties in addition to taking a tough 12 hour load at Southern. And I still felt (as noted in my comment in #29) that preaching another person’s sermon, no matter how much of my own work on it I did beforehand, was not a very good idea. In fact, the one time I gave in to temptation and used a sermon I did not personally put together, it was a failure.
It is also interesting that those “against” plagiarism are being attacked for “not knowing” such personalities as Merritt or Rogers, when ironically the attackers are just as guilty concerning those of us “in academia.” Dr. Mohler was a preaching and teaching pastor while serving as president of Southern. Many of our students are in pastorates around the metro Louisville and Kentucky/Indiana area. Others are involved in ministries that afford them regular opportunities to preach. So it would appear, then, that our “attackers” have a log in their own eye.
The day that you who are not seminarians (yet or any longer) think that those who are students “are not on the front lines” is the day when you have truly lost touch with what it means to be the Body of Christ. There are no “front lines” where the Gospel is concerned. Those battles are fought in the town square, the bars and grocery stores, the homes and churches, and in the halls of the seminaries. It is a truly sad commentary when one willingly discounts the valuable work being done by those laboring for the Gospel in academia as “second-tier warfare.”
Those who have attacked in such manner (and you know who you are) owe this thread and every seminarian you know a sincere, God-honoring apology. Shame on you for devaluing their call.
Now, let’s move on to something more constructive.
I do not owe you an apology because I am one of you. I’m 26 and I’ve just finished my last course in the Doctor of Ministry program. I too have been involved in full-time ministry in addition to my academic studies. I’ve been a full-time pastor since the age of 19 and I have earned all my degrees while maintaining my responsibilities as a pastor of a growing church and preaching 3-4 times a week. When I made my reference to the academic field I was talking about how it seems as if it is mainly seminary professors and presidents who are the ones that are outspoken against this whole idea of “preacher plagiarism.” All of the great men of God that I know and have talked to—famous pastors, past Southern Baptist presidents, and men in positions of leadership within the SBC whom we all respect—believe and practice the same thing as I do.
I agree, we should preach the Word! That is our calling. But we do not just get behind the pulpit, read a passage and then close our Bibles and go home. I’m assuming you are attending an SBC seminary as I am and you’ve been taught that the traditional expository method is:
I. Make your point based on the text… A. Explanation – utilizing hermeneutics to discern the original authors meaning B. Illustration – how is this point illustrated in the human experience C. Application – how can one implement this Scriptural principle in their thinking or behavior.
Now, if you’re seminary trained, you don’t need that much help with the explanation. I know my Greek and Hebrew, I know the basic tenets of hermeneutical principle—I can rightly divide the truth adequately in a God-honoring way. What I, as well as any other seminary trained preacher struggles with if he is honest enough to admit it, is connecting that Scriptural principle with the audience. It is communicating it in a memorable way that will allow God’s Word to sink into their hearts and minds to facilitate life transformation. Truth poorly delivered is ignored. That is where conferring with other preachers proves to be extremely beneficial. They have mnemonic devices, powerful illustrations, one-liners, and points that if utilized can aide in the hearers understanding and receptivity of the Word.
You said, “anything outside of the Word should be cited properly.” My typical practice is to preach expository messages through a book in the Bible, work through the text, figure out what God wants to say to me and through me, make up my own outline, and then download 13-15 sermon manuscripts from some of the nations leading expositors and picking out the best material from each one to use in my own manuscript. I footnote it in my own manuscript but when I add up all of the footnotes from the last sermon I preached, it amounted to 24! (The reason why I footnote it is so that I can know where I got my information from in case I preach that same message in the future and also so that I can attribute the information if I ever publish that message in a book.) Now, where do you draw the line in “giving credit to whom credit is due” in the preaching event? If I were to attribute all of my sources in a single sermon, who knows how much of the people’s time I would waste in giving people credit. My people don’t care where I get my information from—they want to hear a word from God and know how to apply it to their daily lives. They don’t need the unnecessary distractions of me telling them, “Well, this point came from John MacArthur and this illustration I got from a sermon from Adrian Rogers, etc.” Citing your sources is great if you are communicating in print (via footnotes or endnotes)—but that is not always appropriate for oral communication.
Also, Adrian Rogers was not in the wrong for promoting his book and sermons. He is a preacher of the Word and his comments, points, and illustrations were meant to provide resources to preachers so that they can communicate more effectively.
So what about the comment of making Merritt’s messages FREE? Have you seen his website? Those things don’t get created and maintained for free. Nor is it free to pay all of the administrative assistants he has to make these resources available. I hope that after all those expenses are paid, that Touching Lives does profit from it so that they can utilize those funds to buy more airtime and expand their ministry influence. I would have no problem spending double what PastorsEdge is asking for because I would be honored to support him and his ministry.
Merritt as well as Rogers also preach nothing but expository messages. I agree with you on the importance of that form of preaching in our churches.
Allow me to wrap up my post with a great ole quote from Dr. Jerry Vines, “You can steal milk (sermon material) from as many cows as you want to but make sure that you churn your own butter.”
Yes, I am currently at SBTS – hoping to graduate in December. I currently pastor a church 40 miles SE of campus. I have been there for 3.5 years as pastor. Therefore, I do understand that it is difficult to spend time with a family, pastor a church, and excel in academic life. However, that is no excuse for stealing another man’s sermon – or even using it with his permission. Sealing is one thing – but using it so that you can spend less time in sermon prep. and more time on the Greek alphabet is another! We must learn our people and learn God’s Word – and God will put the correct application in our hearts through faithful study and meditation.
Should we cite the people in the preaching event? Yes! Danny Akin does on a regular basis when he preaches. You will hear him say — “So and so says, and I quote…” through is sermon. It separates what Akin has said from what others have said. It is the honest thing to do. If you are unwilling to cite people in the preaching event – why cite them in the printed papers you turn in at Southern? In both instances – you are claiming the words as your own when you do not give proper credit.
If this is personal and you feel that I am attacking Merritt – I do apologize. I am not seeking to attack Merritt. However, I do intend to attack the practice of sermon plagiarism!
Where will this end? Will future pastors have sermon writers as assistants?
I would never advocate borrowing sermon material from others as a way to “save time.” That’s nothing but complete laziness. Even in the midst of my studies, I still spend an average of 21 hours each week in sermon preparation. I am advocating borrowing sermon material solely on the basis of effectiveness. None of us is as smart as all of us. There is a time and place to quote your sources by saying, “So and so said…” However, if I did that for every single idea that I communicate that is not original to me it would totally disrupt the flow of the message. Occassionally, I’ll give someone credit if I think of it–but it’s not important to me in the oral nature of communication. Occassionally an individual will approach me after services and we’ll talk about a specific point I made. At that time, I’d tell him–”Yeah, I got that out of this book…you ought to read it sometime.” By no means am I ashamed of borrowing other preachers material. I am concerned with communicating God’s Word with the utmost effectiveness and my people have expressed their appreciation to me over the fact that I expose myself to some of the greatest preachers and sermons that are out there. They could care less who said what and what idea came from where–all they care about is that I bring home the bacon every Sunday with a fresh message God has burned into my heart. And He certainly does use others to speak to me.
I would cite my sources in published materials because I would be making money off of someone else’s ideas if I did not. I would cite my sources on a term paper because the professor is gauging my competency for a degree and thus needs to know what I am capable of and how resourceful I am. HOWEVER…the dynamics dramatically change in the pulpit. It’s no longer about me or others–it’s about God, His Word, and getting into the hearts of people. On Mohler’s podcast, he mentions, “You would never hear tell of a comedian stealing another comedians routine.” We’re not comparing apples to apples here. This is an entirely different genre–and throughout history, borrowing from other preachers has been a common and acceptable practice. I believe it will become even more so in the future as God’s people finally realize that it’s not about me, it’s not about you–It’s about Him and it’s about them!
Remember – I am not saying that we should not read or listen to other people’s sermons. What I am saying is that to use them as OUR words when they are not is being a bit untruthful.
I think this argument centers upon the sufficiency of Scripture. Is it the Word that pierces the heart or someone’s cleverly constructed outline? If an effective illustrative point is borrowed from someone – that is fine. Depending on the nature of the illustration – a proper citation or quotation orally is most truthful. In some instances, it is not necessary. However, if an entire outline is used – it should be cited loud and clear! It would be best by saying – “I tried to divide this outline in different ways, but this outline has worked best for me. It was preached by so and so – and since it is very effective – I would like to use it this morning.”
Yes, the Word is sufficient. God does not need the cleverness of man to communicate His message nor does the Holy Spirit rely on man’s cleverness or turning of a phrase to convict and change hearts. Hebrews 4:12
I just want to point out that John Piper’s Desiring God Ministry provides all his sermon transcripts and MP3s for free. If the intent is to edify other pastors then offer the material for free or on a per donation basis. That way if you would pay more than $30.00 you can offer what you consider fair market value.
As a layman, I can tell you that there is rightfully an implied trust granted to pastors. Pastors should not violate that trust by bearing false witness from the pulpit while reaping rewards of ill gotten gain. As a congregant, I do not want spiritual leftovers from another person’s sermon. If I wanted to hear that pastor I would go and listen to him on my IPod. I expect my pastor to be in the Word and bring the message that God has for my local Body of believers. I am not interested in cleverness or eloquence. If my church wanted that we could hire the best speaker we could find and just supply him with downloaded material to preach from. It is prideful for a pastor to think that God needs him to somehow improve upon what is written in scripture through some illustration or turning of phrases. The Word is sufficient. Preach the Word. Is it the Pastor’s job to change hearts or preach the Gospel?
I am sorry but the ends dont justify the means. Hasnt pragmatism done enough damage in the church already?
We as pastors need to preach the Word – meditate on the Word – memorize the Word – and deliver the Word to the people. To feed the flock properly includes faithfully preaching the Word – not any other man’s sermon.
Plagiarism is a serious offense on a number of different levels. First, legally speaking, an author’s work his considered intellectual property. Therefore, to write or speak the words or ideas of another without properly giving them credit is considered literary theft. Further, it bleeds into other laws such as copyright, trademark, and “fair use” statutes, in addition to fraud. Statutorily, these laws have some wiggle room on specifics, but the fact remains that plagiarism is at the least theft, and quite possibly fraud.
Second, a deeper issue exists here as plagiarism not only violates man’s law, but also God’s law. Plagiarism is a violation of Commandments #8 (thou shalt not steal), #9 (thou shalt not bear false witness), and possible #10 (thou shalt not covet). God, it seems, could not be pleased with intellectual thievery.
Mr. Brandon Park brings an interesting issue to the table regarding sermonic plagiarism. He has expressed significant latitude in this area by using others’ material without always offering what he feels is cumbersome documentation which interrupts the flow of his message. He writes (post #91), “My typical practice is to preach expository messages through a book in the Bible, work through the text, figure out what God wants to say to me and through me, make up my own outline, and then download 13-15 sermon manuscripts from some of the nations leading expositors and picking out the best material from each one to use in my own manuscript.”
In a surprising twist, Mr. Park establishes different criteria regarding plagiarism for written communication as opposed to spoken communication. For instance, after establishing that he had over 21 footnoted citations in his sermon manuscript, he comments (post #91), “Citing your sources is great if you are communicating in print (via footnotes or endnotes)—but that is not always appropriate for oral communication.” He continues (post #91), “If I were to attribute all of my sources in a single sermon, who knows how much of the people’s time I would waste in giving people credit. My people don’t care where I get my information from—they want to hear a word from God and know how to apply it to their daily lives.” In a later post, he concludes (post #92), “Occassionally, I’ll give someone credit if I think of it–but it’s not important to me in the oral nature of communication.” Mr. Park notes that he does offer proper credit if someone approaches him after his message.
I appreciate Mr. Park’s comments and his argument; he offers several valid points for consideration. However, I must disagree with his conclusions for the reason set forth below:
First, borrowing someone else’s ideas, words, thoughts, etc. is plagiarism according to man’s law and God’s law;
Second, using another author’s material without crediting him is a violation of the rights and privileges of that author, which is theft;
Third, using another author’s material as one’s own without offering proper credit can be classified as fraud;
Fourth, using another author’s material as one’s own without offering proper credit can be classified as lying.
Fifth, whether that theivery comes in the form of written communication, oral communication, or otherwise, the act of borrowing someone else’s ideas, words, thoughts, etc. without giving them credit is theft according to both man’s law and God’s law. No distinction exists.
In light of the above, I conclude that men of God ought to be above reproach as it relates to this issue. Take the high road. Err on the side of safety. Learn from others. Provide proper credit to your sources. Trust God with your own abilities so that your preaching might be properly done and Christ-honoring through your own personality, thoughts, words, deeds, and ideas. In the end, have confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture texts and your own calling, gifts, and talents for the accomplishing of God’s purposes in Christ.
Pardon me, I made a mistake in citing Mr. Park in my previous post.
I stated, “In a later post, he concludes (post #92), ‘Occassionally, I’ll give someone credit if I think of it–but it’s not important to me in the oral nature of communication.” Mr. Park notes that he does offer proper credit if someone approaches him after his message.’”
The actual post thread of Mr. Park to which I was referring is #93. I apologize to Mr. Park for my error–and to Elder Buice, who posted thread #92.
The excuse of not being able/willing to give credit during an oral presentation (sermon/speech) because giving credit interrupts “flow” doesn’t pass what we in the law biz call “the red face” test.
The red face test is calculating whether one’s face will turn red from the embarrassment and shame of hearing one’s self spew an outrageously preposterous load of manure in front of a judge.–If your face is gonna turn red, don’t say it!
One of the greatest speeches in American history, the “I Have A Dream” speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., cites a source (that most people would have known anyway) right before the closing line:
“And when this happens, When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
May we someday be free at last from sermon plagiarism and live in a day when sermons are judged by their biblical content and the preacher’s character!
Chipley, thank you for your comments. I appreciate your concern and questioning nature as to whether or not borrowing ideas from other preachers is “stealing” or “thievery.” I don’t exactly agree with you for the following reasons:
1. What right do we have to take credit for our own ideas and our own sermons? “We preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ.” If preacher ‘John Doe’ hits a homerun with his message—should he go and sign his own Bible and sit back and glory in himself. Who are we preaching for? Who should ultimately receive the credit? John Doe or Jesus Christ? When you think of it, we really have no right to take any credit for anything that we say behind the pulpit. To do so would be conducive to an attitude of pride. I think all of us would agree that preaching is a spiritual event in the impartation of truth to our people. I just finished giving a lecture to some of the doctoral students in my seminary this morning. After the message, several of the pastors in that room gave me their cards and asked me to e-mail them a copy of my manuscript and fill-in-the-blank notes. When I sent the e-mails out, I even deleted my name and put their name on the fill-in-the-blank notes—I don’t need the credit for this—they’re the ones who will be taking the time to process the truths in their heart and deliver that message to their people. I believe I received those insights from the Holy Spirit after spending time in His word—truth ultimately is derived from HIM, not us. He is the source of truth. When will pastors get off their pride ride? It’s not about us, folks. We don’t need credit for anything. If you are trying to make a name for yourself in this world—go ahead and insist that people quote you after every “original” idea you present. I want to make a difference for the kingdom of God and multiply my effectiveness. John 3:30 says, “He must increase and I must decrease.” I’m not the one who claims myself as the source for my sermon material—I’m just the Western Union boy delivering the message of Truth to God’s people. God gave me the idea to begin with—I don’t grasp it—I give it away freely! I want to get out of the way and allow God’s principles to speak for themselves—and I would like for others to do the same. There really is, as Solomon said, “nothing new under the sun.” If what you’re preaching is a “new Bible truth” then it’s not a Bible truth. There are however creative ways to impart that truth. If my idea which I have presented to you has resonated within your heart and made a small difference in your life—at that very moment, it becomes YOUR idea—it becomes a part of you. The person we are today is the culmination of all that we have seen and heard from others in our lifetime.
I recently got an e-mail from another young pastor who told me that he had preached one of my messages in his church and how God had moved in that service and the souls who were saved. Reading that made me drop to my knees and give Jesus all the praise, glory, and honor! I thanked him that He allowed my ministry to be an extension of this other pastor’s ministry.
When I first started preaching at the age of 13, I got a hold of any sermon I could from Adrian Rogers or James Merritt and preached it literally verbatim. I didn’t know anything about how to communicate effectively—but they sure did! Those men taught me how to preach. I learned from the best. I don’t know if I would be where I am today had it not been for that foundation I had. God blessed that! Many of my friends came to know Christ as a result.
2. We are imposing a secular mindset of plagiarism upon the spiritual practice of preaching. One of the trends we are seeing in our culture is a move from a sense of individualism to collective team work and I’m grateful for that. I meet regularly with a group of pastors and we discuss what we’ve been preaching. We’ll share object lessons and points and creative ways to communicate the Word in a memorable way. We benefit and glean from one another and no we do not give each other credit. It’s not necessary. WE’RE ON THE SAME TEAM. Marty made an allusion on here to the law business. Now let me ask you. Suppose your firm had a major case and you were employing 5 of your best lawyers to handle this client. It comes down to the closing arguments. One man is going to deliver the closing arguments but it requires the collaborative efforts of all 5 of those lawyers to construct their best presentation. Now in the middle of that speech is the lawyer going to say, “Now my friend over here brought up this point and this lady from my firm had this idea, etc., etc.” I’ve never heard tell of that. Why is that? Why would these lawyers not give one another credit for each and every idea that they contributed to the case? It’s just not necessary. BECAUSE EACH OF THE LAWYERS ARE POOLING THEIR OWN RESOURCES TOWARDS ONE COMMON GOAL—WINNING THE CASE! Gentleman, we’ve got a world going to hell in a hand basket and we’re arguing over who should get credit for what in our sermons! I turn the same question back to you—would God be honored with that? I think not. Let’s strategize and allow our collaborative efforts to maximize our effectiveness. The issue is NOT “stealing” or “thievery” the issue as I see it is collective collaboration!
Guys, I agree…we need to “preach the Word” and God’s Word is sufficient to impact one’s heart. That’s been stressed over and over again on this blog. I don’t think anyone on here would disagree with that. The Word is sufficient but we’ve all seen how 2 men can preach the same text of Scripture and one will be more effective in communicating that text than the other. That’s a fact.
It’s kind of like the young pastor who set out with a desire to be “original or nothing” in his preaching. And in the end, he became both.
Mr. Park’s comments are thoughtful and passionate, however, no matter how he attempts to redirect the focus (i.e., from the sin of theft, lying, and possibly covetousness to self-glorification in demanding proper citation and a call for collaborative preaching), the issue with plagiarism is literary theft. Disappointingly, his position seems to be that literary theft is permissible so long as the ends justifies the means, namely, that souls are being saved by and through plagiarized sermons. For example, he seemingly condones theft in the name of evangelism when he states (post #100), “Gentleman, we’ve got a world going to hell in a hand basket and we’re arguing over who should get credit for what in our sermons!”
The attempt to frame the argument in terms of who gets credit for sermons is futile. Clearly, the argument remains fixed on the sin of literary theft in the pulpit. Quite simply, it is intellectually dishonest to steal words, ideas, thoughts, etc. from other men (or women) no matter what mode of communication and no matter how successful that theft appears in evangelistic measurements.
Furthermore, Mr. Park never addressed one of my gravest concerns. He surprisingly established different criteria regarding plagiarism for written communication as opposed to spoken communication. In the former he appears to agree that plagiarism is theft; in the latter he becomes more liberal in his practice. Again, he clearly states (post #91), “Citing your sources is great if you are communicating in print (via footnotes or endnotes)—but that is not always appropriate for oral communication.” And again (post #92), “Occassionally, I’ll give someone credit if I think of it–but it’s not important to me in the oral nature of communication.”
On what basis is literary theft recognized in the one instance while ignored in the other?
If the Bible is to be taken seriously, we must hold that plagiarism is a violation of two, and possibly three, of the 10 Commandments, and to retain any intellectual credibilty we must implore men of God to refrain from stealing for the sake of evangelism.
Good Tidings of Great Joy,
Chipley McQueen Thornton
For instance, after establishing that he had over 21 footnoted citations in his sermon manuscript, he comments (post #91), “Citing your sources is great if you are communicating in print (via footnotes or endnotes)—but that is not always appropriate for oral communication.” He continues (post #91), “If I were to attribute all of my sources in a single sermon, who knows how much of the people’s time I would waste in giving people credit. My people don’t care where I get my information from—they want to hear a word from God and know how to apply it to their daily lives.” In a later post, he concludes (post #92), “Occassionally, I’ll give someone credit if I think of it–but it’s not important to me in the oral nature of communication.” Mr. Park notes that he does offer proper credit if someone approaches him after his message.
For the record, I have been a pastor solidly since I was 19. I know those who are in seminary both as educators and students have preaching responsibilities. Some, however, probably do not preach between 1 and 3 new sermons a week. I also want to assure each of you that I almost always try to be as original as possible to a fault. Also, Rogers is famous for saying, “If my bullets fit your gun, shoot.” Praise God for this type attitude. Praise God for you all’s reaction to laziness in the pulpit and true plagarism. I simply don’t think Merritt’s advertisement warranted this entire discussion. May God bless you all! Shame on anyone who looks at brothers inorder to find fault in them.
Tony Kummer is a graduate of Southern Seminary and serves as Missions Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church of Madison, Indiana. He edits the popular Ministry-To-Children website and helps thousands learn English on his new blog 123Bien!