Plagiarizers in the Pulpit

Tim Brister —  March 28, 2006 — 4 Comments

Last week, Ray Van Neste posted an articled called “Pastoral Plagiarism” in which he expresses his disgust about a recent article by Steve Sjogren, a pastor and author, called “Don’t Be Original—Be Effective!” which is now located in the Rick Warren Ministry Toolbox at Pastors.com. In his article, Sjorgren makes a some blatant points: first, he argues that the purpose of preaching is not to be original but effective; hence, preaching is performance-based (“knocking it out of the park” to use his terms); second, to be original in your sermons is rooted in pride, given that you are unwilling to preach other people’s sermons and assumedly become more effective; subsequently, churches will inevitably not grow and experience decline due to pastoral stubbornness and ineffectiveness; and thirdly, “everybody’s doing it” (especially the mega-church pastors), so plagiarizing sermons is the norm and should be considered as an aid to being an effective “communicator.”

So, given these three factors, Sjogren offers some advice: one, get over the idea that you need to be original in your messages; two, stop the “nonsense” of spending 25-30 hours a week preparing your messages; three, “borrow” creatively from other preachers; four, forget about originality and focus on being effective; and five, “dare to step out of the box” and “hit a homerun this weekend with the help of a message master!”

To the over-worked pastor involved in multiple tasks, this article by Sjorgen sounds very appealing, especially as it gives them justification for neglecting God’s Word and provided pre-cooked, pre-packaged meals instead of unfolding the Bread of Life. There are many pastors today whose ministry schedules are being run by “the tyranny of the practical,” thus it would make sense to allow pragmatism to trump principle in the pulpit as well But rather than being appealing, for the pastor who realizes that his pre-eminent task it to deliver the Word of God as the first-fruits of their own study, this article and rationale is nothing shot of appalling. Indeed, it is one thing to be an “effective communicator” and quite another thing to be a faithful expositor of God’s Word.

Sjorgen is openly and unashamedly calling out fellow pastors to deny their people fresh manna from God’s Word and to steal the work of another pastor in its place. That way, I guess, pastors can, with good conscience, replace those 25-30 hours of study to refine that golf swing or attend that next side-item which fills their day-planner. Pastors are being judged be performance and success by numbers, not biblical fidelity or integrity in their work. The sacred desk is set aside for the administrative desk where the shepherd is now the CEO, and the church is the hierarchical organization in which he is on top, not the body of Christ of whom he is called to serve. And since “everybody’s doing it, especially those mega-church pastors with thousands of members and books on the front-shelves of your local Christian bookstore, then those who aren’t are simply too arrogant to stoop down to that level. This is a classic case of legislating sin and calling what is wrong right, and what is right, wrong.

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

The notion to call pastors who spend 25-30 hours in study for their messages “nonsense” is an indictment against the one making it. Tell me sir, how is one who is to speak, to speak “as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11)? How is one to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word (Acts 20:27)? How is one, through their preaching and teaching, going to be able to “present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28-29)? How is one to “preach the word and be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:4)? How is one to take great pains and be absorbed in paying close attention to oneself and their teaching, so as to ensure salvation for both oneself and those who hear them (1 Timothy 4:15-16)? How is one to have gravitas and blood-earnestness in their delivery?

Is this to take place through plagiarizing other people’s sermons? Is the Holy Spirit going to anoint and bless sermons which he did not work in your own heart? Have you any integrity to practice what you preach by living out the message God has given to you through His Word rather than being a profiteer and a second-hander?

Methinks no. To avoid the biblical call to study and prepare oneself to preach is to show contempt to the God who has called you, to dishonor your Savior who placed you as a steward of the mysteries of God and shepherd of His sheep, and to grieve the Holy Spirit who has authored God’s Word. There are no short-cuts to the task of diligently studying to show oneself approved, being a shepherd after God’s own heart. Give me an expositor who has tear stains on his Bible and sweat on his brow, not a communicator who has regurgitated rhetoric and a few refined points. Give me a pastor who does not stick his finger in the air to see what his next sermon should be, but one who unwaveringly settles down on the text of Scripture and unfolds the Bread of Life, having first been affected by it. Give me a preacher who binds himself to saying “Thus saith the Lord” and not one who says, “Thus saith Rick Warren.” Yes, give me such a minister whom the Holy Spirit has burned fire in his bones through the penetrating work of painful study, not a man flickering with levity and contempt to the holy call of God.

Sadly enough, there are pastors who glory in their shame and shame those who preach to the glory of God. When it comes down to it, I would rather have a pastor who strikes out swinging than to have a designated hitter any day.

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Let me encourage you to read the following articles about pastoral plagiarism. During the rest of the week, I will add four other posts about preaching, which I hope will be profitable to the discussion.

Steve Sjogren: Don’t Be Original – Be Effective!
Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism
Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism, Part 2
Justin Taylor: Pastoral Plagiarism
Justin Taylor: Plagiarizing in the Pulpit
Coty Pinckney: Plagiarism and Pastors (see page 4)
Ken Fields: Nuked Burritos from the Pulpit
Cavman: Plagiarism #1 – Lazy Pastors
Phil Steiger: Pervasive Pastoral Plagiarism?
Phil Steiger: Jeremiah on Pastoral Plagiarism
Christianity Today: When Pastors Plagiarize

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17406367 Pastor Kevin

    This is a good post. Thank you for sharing.

    Warren placing Sjogren in his tool box shouldn’t surprise us. Afterall, it is Warren with his “40-Days of Purpose” that calls on pastors who use this stuff to preach his [Warren’s] sermons. He provides it to the pastor leading his church in 40-Days, in, practically, manuscript form.

    You are on to something about the transfer from investing time to prepare to rightly divide the Word to investing time to strategize, chart, and graph, much like a CEO. I see that trend. I look forward to your other posts.

    Kevin

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8800153 kisanri

    Aren’t you confusing the mere copying someones sermon with plagiarizing, which aloso involves pretending that it, in fact, is your own?

    I too believes that expository preaching is essential, but I’m not sure about this issue of copying, maybe I can find somebody who actually makes the case against it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/7569056 Timmy

    Kisanri,

    Copying and using someone else’s sermon is stealing. It is quite different to say thus:

    “This morning I am going to preach John Doe’s sermon on Jesus.”

    It is a matter of given credit and citing your sources if you so choose to use them.

    I have no problem with using other sources (I happen to use many). Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with borrowing someone else’s illustrations or quotes, so long as you give credit where credit is due.

    The point is that there are preachers who are encouraged to plagiarize and do so without thinking twice about it. Prepackaged sermons are robbing the churches from pastors who are men of the book, and this grieves me to know this.

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