Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pastor in a Box

H/T to SelahV for pointing us to this story about one young lady's personal experience with pulpit plagiarism.

While my oldest daughter and I were browsing through the lists of sermons available for purchase, she suddenly pointed at the computer screen and said, “Wait! I remember hearing that sermon series!”

It turns out that almost every sermon we’d ever heard that particular pastor preach was something he’d purchased from Willow Creek.
Selah described the story as unbelievable. I find it tragic and shameful.


Streak said...

This is a rather sad commentary, I agree. What causes this, do you think?

I have observed and discussed some of this with people on the left and we have remarked on the trend in seminaries (liberal and conservative) to have degrees in communication rather than theology. One of the most popular liberal ministers in the OKC area has a Ph.d, in communications and that bugs me. Nothing against communication majors, but that only teaches people how to communicate, well, whatever. Could be the weather, the news, PR spin, or now preaching? When you add that to the seeming gap in dominant Christian thinkers, you have a lack of intellectual rigor that is filtering down to the pulpit--or that is my reading.

What is your experience with this?

Tony said...

Education--or the lack thereof--has become the bane of the church, at least IMO.

Let me make a few observations.

The seminaries are becoming mills, making M.Div's a dime a dozen. There are very little prerequisites for enrolling in the M.Div. program. This does counter the once "uneducated, country, good ole' boy" Baptist persona that once characterized many Baptist preachers, which in my neck of the woods (technical phrase) there are still a few of those.

Almost anyone can apply to a SB seminary and be accepted, despite Bible college background, so many come to seminary with preconceived notions about what ministry should or should not be; intellectual usually is not it. I do not want to discount calling at all, because I take mine seriously, but it seems God sure is "calling" some irresponsible people to ministry.

Secondly, churches are looking for more education in their pulpits (though not much). An M.Div. is almost a requirement in most SB churches and many are looking for doctorates. Granted, in ministry, a man can earn a D. Min., much less rigorous than a Ph.D.

Many mid-size to larger SB churches are looking for D.Min.'s to fill their pulpits and may overlook a man without that qualification who may fill the pulpit just as readily or may even be a better pastor/preacher than the man with the D.Min.; comes back to calling. Even ministers now have to be "marketable" and search committees will gloss over calling. If he has the credentials, then he must be God's man.

Third, in SB seminaries, education is subsidized by the cooperative program. I thank God for it, because it cut the cost of my education by about 2/3. However, the majority goes to the M.Div. mill. Few go on to doctoral level
work simply because they cannot afford it (my case). The leap from $125 to $600 per hour is significant in terms of expense.

From my experience it cultivated not an ownership of the degree but rather an attitude of entitlement.

Finally, in my local experience, almost all of my pastor friends have at least the M.Div. I don't know of any that have no theological education, but a couple come really close. Interestingly, the two churches in our area that would be characterized as the most liberal have men with D. Min.'s pastoring them.

I think the lack of intellectualism is ingrained, simply because it isn't emphasized at the seminary level. Seminary is a lot of basics and the core curriculum is thoroughgoing, but becuase of the sheer volume of foundationals that have to be taken, it leaves little room for the more rigorous classes.
And my experience is that intellectually lazy preachers cultivate intellectually lazy people in the pews as well, at least theologically.

I wish I knew ultimately what would drive a pastor to preach another man's sermons (though Rick Warren encourages it), though for my own accountability and integrity's sake, I prepare my own.

Streak said...

Interesting. I remember someone describing this situation in the early 80s. He saw the conservative purge of the seminaries as a move toward transforming them into "preacher mills." He was a seminary graduate himself, and noted that people often find (or found) seminary confronting. They went there on fire and then found their beliefs and understandings of the Bible and God challenged. For many, that was not what they wanted, and it appears that others didn't want that either. They wanted a place where people went to get their previous beliefs and assumptions simply reinforced.

that makes for bad education regardless of the political or theological leanings of the institution.

And it can't help but filter down to the pulpit. Add to that the American tradition of conservative protestants really distrusting intellectual approaches to theology and you have a problem on your hands.

Tony said...

I am not that comfortable painting with that broad a brush, though there are few true conservative intellectuals engaging culture coherently or really trying to seek areas of common ground from which to talk, that is without maligning others for their theology. There are certain intellectuals in the conservative camp, not to mention some really good though lesser known pastors.

What happens is that the man can either engage culture or retreat to the enclave of the particular church he serves and be content serving his group of folks, which most do, IMO, but with no voice beyond the folks he serves.

His reach may be farther than that though extended families, etc. but not much. A wide audience is difficult to achieve, whether conservative or liberal. Nevertheless, it does not help conservative anti-intellectualism, but that is not to say that there are few conservative intellectuals out there.

Steve Sensenig said...

First of all, when you keep referring to some pastors as "men with D.Mins", I can't help but hear that in my mind's ear as "men with demons", which sounds really funny when talking about these educated pastors! ;)

Seminary was an interesting experience for me. I'll just leave it at that! ;)

To the actual point of the post, however, I experienced a strange occurrence in a church one time. I was visiting because the church was interested in me coming on to help with their music.

I sat there listening to the sermon which started to sound really, really familiar. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but I knew it sounded really familiar.

All of a sudden, it hit me that what I was hearing was stuff I had read in a daily email message from a very well-known preacher.

I came home and started looking back through my emails and found several of those daily emails that were verbatim (literally!) what I had just heard that evening.

Stories that were told by the author of the email were told by the preacher I had heard as his own experiences. He just substituted his name.

I called him on it in a phone conversation, and he completely denied the plagiarism. At that point, I told him that I would be unable to work with his ministry if he was not willing to operate with integrity.

Ironically, I ended up becoming really good friends with this guy's stepson, and even recently attended his wedding. The preacher to whom I refer officiated the ceremony, and although his wife greeted me warmly by name, the preacher would not even meet my eyes and did not say a word to me.

It made me very, very sad.

Tony said...


"Men with demons"; it doesn't surprise me that that occurred to you! ;)

As far out of the box you tend to think I can imagine seminary was far more than interesting for you. I bet your profs hated to see your hand raised at the back of class! hehe

I wish stories like these were the exception but they are becoming more the norm. It is telling about that man's character that when confronted, he failed to address the problem and then allowed that to come in between a potentially valuable relationship with someone in the Body of Christ that may have been of great use to God.

I know it does not deter God's greater purposes, but imagine the blessings that fellow has missed.

It still surprises me that simple integrity issues such as these are such a blight on the church.

Steve Sensenig said...

Actually, there was a time when I was so firmly entrenched in the box that I never questioned anything, believe it or not :)

When I was in seminary, I wasn't questioning a whole lot. Rather, I was caught up in the whole atmosphere of the intellectual arrogance that so many of the students there seemed to have.

It almost destroyed me, and it played a subtle part in the destruction of my first marriage.

I never made it through, and dropped out halfway through my masters program.

That was the beginning of the end of my "in the box" life ;) hehe

Streak said...

tony, I guess you took issue with my statement about conservatives being anti-intellectual? Perhaps I should have said that Americans have historically been rather anti-intellectual and that has been featured prominently in the Christian church, and in the 20th century, the evangelical church (thinking again about Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind).

But that said, I am absolutely sure you are right that there are a good many thoughtful conservative pastors who write their own sermons and think deeply about their calling and the people they serve.

Steve, an amazing story about that pastor. Bad enough that he copied anothers sermons, but put himself in another's stories? And then refused to admit to it? Wow. Is this guy now working in the Bush admin? :)

I teach college students and hate it when I see such blank expressions on their faces, or worse, anger when they are confronted with a past they are convinced never happened. I had a student last fall come up to me and admit that she was really confused by everything at college. Everywhere she took classes, she was exposed to ideas, events, and themes that she had never thought of. I told her that was part of what a good college experience should be--to challenge what you think you know and make you really evaluate your world view.

Seems to me that seminary--or any good grad school experience--should do no less.

Tony said...


Its hard to believe there is a time when you didn't question things very much! No, rather I can believe it; it takes time being in the middle of a system to see how awful the system can be before you begin questioning it.

I hear you on the intellectual arrogance. I still remember guys bickering with profs after tests were handed back over a point; even though they had already made A's on the exams. Sigh...

Seminary was more of an exercise in managing our time and finances more than anything else. A good friend of mine dropped out in our third semester there. I'll never forget what he said when we said goodbye.

"If two semesters in seminary have taught me to be a better father and husband, then its been time well spent." That has always beleaguered my thoughts.

Beginning of the end, eh? I guess seminary was good for something, then. ;)


Nah, I didn't take issue, but we have talked about conservative anti-intellectualism before. Oh, and the guy Steve was talking about was Karl, just joking.

Yes--seminary should be no less; but my seminary experience was kind of, "Well, you're gonna hate me for making you read this book, but it will be a good mind-stretching exercise." One of my profs was talking about a book on the minor prophets written from a deconstructionist perspective. It was about as far from a literal interpretation as you can get. There were some merits to reading the book, I thought, but I remember classmates shaking their fists toward heaven because of how improper it was for conservative seminary students to have to read a book such as that.

Do conflicting or competing ideas threaten faith? Sometimes I think they should.

Brandon said...

Steve hit on something that I wanted to comment on. I know he was talking about seminary, but I've seen this in the church as well, intellectual arrogance in pastors. It's almost completely turned me off to the idea of becoming just another pastor with a "union card" (seminary degree). Actually, the pastors that I've enjoyed the most have been those with little or no formal Bible education...pastors like Jim Cymbala of The Brooklyn Tabernacle. Or a gentleman in our previous church named Kevin. Their messages are both extremely simple and yet incredibly profound. Anyway, enough of that.

I'm thinking that there's more to this issue of plagerism than simply education or the lack thereof. I'm wondering if these pastors are receiving any fresh mannah to share with their congregations? Perhaps the pressure to "perform" during a dry season would drive a man to utilize the sermons of another pastor. That would be a real tragedy as well. Anyway, that could be one possible explanation.


Tony said...


You are right, I was approaching this from too technical a standpoint. The fact that many pastors don't have anything to deliver on Sunday mornings is the fact that they are probably trying to drink from a dry well.

Burn out? Possibly. Laziness? Maybe. Spending very little,time with the Lord? Most likely.

My comment about education specifically addressed one of Streak's concerns upwards in the thread, so that may have been why it sounded like that was the only rationale I offered. I think the pastor ought to be living the most vital life he possibly can in the Lord. He then preaches from the overflow.

Thanks for dropping in. You're always welcome.

Brandon said...

Thanks Tony.

I agree that being unable to spend enough time with The Lord is the most likely culprit for the "well" running dry. How do we require so much of our pastors that they have no time for an intimate walk with The Lord? Is that just life in this century? I doubt that this man, or any man for that matter, sets out to simply plagiarize another man's sermons. (not that you were implying that)

I wasn't trying to pick your points apart. :-) But continuing along the lines of education for pastors. This has been an encouraging verse for me. (as an uneducated ordinary man) Acts 4:13 "Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and {began} to recognize them as having been with Jesus." Uneducated and untrained yet obviously they knew who Jesus was intimately.

Blessings to you...

Tony said...


Thanks for the reminder that "educated" is not everything a good pastor shuld be nor that he absolutely has to be (though for some it would really help!;) ) A vital walk with Christ is the most important thing.

Thanks for following up, bro.