More on Plagiarism

Posted: February 5, 2007 in Plagiarism

The topic of sermonic plagiarism keeps coming up – a product of the internet and podcasting age, no doubt. Here’s yet another article on the subject. I guess when The Wall Street Journal gets involved, it’s news!

Most public speakers and preachers “borrow” material at some point. We’ve all done it – even if only when we were new to speaking and more influenced by the thoughts of others more than our own interpretations. For some of us, something that we’ve read or heard is meaningful to us and seeps into our mind and heart becoming expressed in a sermon or talk – this is mostly good. For others, preaching unattributed material is a way of life and work.

It is surprising to me that there is not more uniformity regarding the ethics of sermon plagiarism. I find myself agreeing with Thom Long that, “Every minister owes his congregation a fresh act of interpretation,”and “To play easy with the truth, to be deceptive about where the ideas come from, is a lie.”

  1. John Mark says:

    Excellent article. I think the key is trust and expertise. If someone presents themselves as an “expert” on a subject by delivering words they haven’t put together AS IF they had put them together, then trust is threatened and a false sense of “expert” is created. It seems that people understand a sermon to be the mostly original work of the pastor unless told otherwise.

    But I do sympathize with those who don’t have 20+ hours per week to come up with original material. Maybe if one is bi-vo or really busy it’s okay to deliver these canned sermons as long as one consistently posts somewhere clearly what is going on. Say share at the beginning of the message that portions of the sermon come from a certain place or maybe put a note in the church bulletin.

  2. j brooks says:

    so did you hear that dubya dropped the “articulate” epithet on Obama as well? What’s more insulting to be called “articulate,” or to be called articulate by a man who can neither spell it or hear it if bit him in the ear. (I realize that’s a mixed metaphor but I’m rolling.) I can truly say that GW will never be mistaken for being articulate.

    Can we please elect a leader in ’08 that can string together a cogent, coherent, and eloquent sentence? I never thought I’d long for the days of Bubba.

    I have no blog so I must borrow yours.


  3. jch says:

    My brother-in-law is doing his doctorate work under Long at Emory. He (my brother-in-law) has actually proposed (to no one in particular, it’s just a thought at this moment) that a series of theologically sound sermons be made available for ministers to use in the pulpit. Why? His take is that ministers of typical churches wear several – and often, too many – hats and therefore, don’t have the appropriate time to give to sermon preparation. It’s a rare church where the preaching minister only preaches. So, says my brother-in-law, let’s comb through sermons of old that are theologically sound, ask the authors of those sermons if they can be reproduced and then make them available for ministers. Interesting idea. What’s your take?

  4. Sean says:


    I don’t have a problem with people using other people’s sermons in some cases. We all have weeks where a funeral or any number of other things – personal and professional – interrupt the flow of writing a sermon. And heck, sometimes the well is just dry and the words won’t come. The problem is the on-going use of unattributed material. I find that most churchgoers have no trouble with a pastor saying, “I heard this …” or “I was reading…” To me, it’s all about giving credit. I don’t think a sermon has to be overly annotated, but, at the end of the day, churches are supporting ministers to do the hard work of prayer, study and reflection. To get paid to regurgitate a book or other people’s sermons is less – I think – than ethical. Can you believe I’ve heard preachers preach through whole books before, passing it on to the congregation as original thought? That’s what I find distasteful.

    I recognize that a lot of great theological reflection has gone on in the past, and there are no truly original thoughts.

    At the same time, more churches – as mine does – should realize the weight of the hefty task of preaching and take more off the preacher’s plate. While the preacher should be dedicated to being original – listening to the text, the congregation and the work of the Spirit the preacher’s life.

    So, all that to say, I don’t disagree with your brother-in-law. By the way, both he and your sister would be greatly encouraged by some recent developments at our congregation.

  5. Anonymous says:


    Put the plagiarism discussion aside for now — post some pictures of your new addition. Your fans demand it!


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