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Pulpit a place for integrity

For preachers, never before has so much ready-made material — thousands of sermons available at the click of a mouse — been so accessible.
As the Minneapolis Star Tribune put it recently, “Clergy who run short of time or inspiration can turn to a plethora of Web sites offering ideas, outlines and, if necessary, entire sermons that can be downloaded in a ready-to-read-Sunday-morning format.”
Unfortunately, we hear of too many ministers using such Internet crutches and shortcuts, ignoring the need for deeper biblical study and spiritual reflection.
We also hear of ministers, some of them big names in our fellowship, taking other preachers’ stories — gleaned from podcasts or brotherhood events — and delivering them as their own.
The pulpit is no place for plagiarism. God calls preachers — indeed, hecalls all Christians — to a higher standard. Some church leaderscontribute to the problem by just wanting a “good sermon,” no matterwhere it comes from.
In a recent blog post, Jim Martin, minister of the Crestview church inWaco, Texas, identified “10 Ways to Kill a Good Ministry.”
No. 3 on Martin’s list stood out to us: “Take plenty of shortcuts.Don’t study, read, think. Just preach someone else’s messages. Youmight rationalize that you don’t have time to prepare weekly messages.Over time, however, your messages will become thinner and thinner.”
As David Fleer, a Bible professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville,Tenn., noted in a January 2009 interview with The Christian Chronicle,churches assume the preacher to be the author of the sermon.
“To needy preachers, the addiction to borrowing is quick, long lastingand deadly,” Fleer said. “The minister’s creativity, discipline andintegrity are at risk.”
Are we suggesting that ministers ought to rely solely on their own experiences and ideas for sermons?
Not at all. The best preachers mine sermon gold everywhere — fromcoffee shops and commentaries to bulletin articles and books totelevision shows and today’s news headlines. We applaud ministers whoseek input and understanding from others. Our concern is routinelytaking whole sermons — or large portions of them — from others withoutproper credit.
There is no copyright, of course, on the best sermon illustrations, those straight from God’s Word.
We also know that some ministers give carte blanche permission forother preachers to take their material and reuse it. In fact, some takeit as a compliment when others find their sermons worthy of preachingagain.
Even then, however, the congregation deserves to know the source of thematerial — and not just the Scripture references prepared by theoriginal author. As Tim Archer, director of Spanish-speaking ministriesfor Abilene, Texas-based Herald of Truth, points out, it’s amazinglysimple to take a moment to give such credit.
“Nobody loses respect for you unless you do it every single sermon,”Archer said of such source citations. “But if they find out you wereusing someone else’s material and passing it off as your own, well,they will rightfully look down on you.”
In a few cases, ministers have been fired for sermon plagiarism. As sadas that is, it should send a warning signal to other preachers facedwith that temptation.
Lest we be misunderstood, we must stress that we realize: Preaching istough. Ministry is demanding. Sermon preparation is challenging.
To that end, congregations must take specific steps to ensure that ministers have time to study.
Paying the preacher’s way to sermon seminars and lectureships would beappropriate, as would giving him an annual time off to plan sermons,study and think. Giving him a paid sabbatical would be helpful.
To put it simply, preaching God’s word requires integrity and hard work.

  • Feedback
    After 2,000 years of preaching, there just isn’t that much original material around any more.
    West End Church
    Nashville, Tennessee
    January, 2 2010

    I suspect a preacher who now cheats by stealing sermons also cheated in undergraduate work by buying his research papers.
    Dave Spradlin
    University Park
    Hyattsville, MD
    September, 2 2009

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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