Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pulpit Plagiarism: Still a Problem

I know a handful of preachers read this blog and I came across this article from the Christian Century which troubles me. I spend a great deal of time preparing messages and Bible studies. I set aside several hours of study time to ensure that the congregation I serve is fed the Word of God, as limited as I am.

It continues to surprise me that preachers are not above plagiarism and that a preacher would be guilty of such, but I guess I am a bit idyllic. I see no harm in reading other preachers' sermons, finding illustrations (as long as they are not shared as original), or to hone theology. However, preaching an entire sermon, or even parts, is still "homiletical petty larceny."
Pulpit plagiarism may not be new, but there is plenty of evidence that the practice is spreading and that the kerosene on the fire is the Internet. Not only are thousands of sermons available for the snatching on church Web pages, but scores of commercial sites hawk complete sermons, illustrations, outlines, images and PowerPoint accompaniments for a fee.
I know that there are seasons when time is scarce and valuable study time is at a minimum. It is easy to log on, easier to find a sermon posted, and woefully simple then to pass it off as your own. Many sermon websites are now carrying ridiculous disclaimers to soothe the conscience.
"We know you may be worried about plagiarism," they essentially warble, "but the authors of these sermons want you to use them. And besides, these sermons are designed to stimulate your imagination as you create your own sermons. You'll still be doing the work."
Rick Warren added his invaluable two cents worth: "If it fits in your gun, shoot it." His website states, "When I was planting Saddleback Church, other pastors’ sermons fed my soul – and eased my preparation!" So if Rick Warren offers you full access to his sermons, what is the harm in using them?

Plenty. Our folks come to church looking for a fresh word from God, not warmed-over table scraps. Moreover, how does this nourish the preacher's soul? I find my study time fresh engagements with God, opportunities not just to prepare to feed the congregation God has given me to serve, but soul nourishment of my own. Who do you think the congregation would rather hear, a pastor who spent eight to ten hours of study time alone with God or Rick Warren? What is the point of preaching if the preacher does not prepare to deliver God's message? It will be as Randy Cohen, publisher of The Ethicist, writes,
"Perhaps sermon writing should not be a job requirement." Being a pastor, Cohen said, requires many different gifts, and no one can possess them all in abundance. "If an otherwise excellent pastor is clumsy with his pen," he mused, "his parish would be better served by hearing him deliver the profound and stirring words of a more talented author."
I just recently began preaching without the aid of notes. Not only is this liberating and allows much more freedom for the Spirit to work, it also guards against passing another's material off as one's own. The primary issue is, I believe, one of truthfulness. It isn't about giving credit where credit is due, keeping one's ethical nose clean, or even about making best use of one's time. It is about honoring God in all that you do, giving Him the glory, and allowing Him to work through His inspired Word to do His business.

(H/T: Michael Duduit)

1 comment:

Gordon Cloud said...

Big Amen!