Thursday, September 26, 2013

Guaranteed to put fear in the pastor's heart

You are stopped by one of your church members in the hallway prior to the worship.

They say to you, "Pastor, I think I am going to Google all your sermons."

Your heart may skip a beat, several beats, while your brain churns in search of a response.

"Why would you do that?" you ask.

"To see if anyone is stealing your sermons, pastor."

Should you make some casual comment at this point that pastors sometimes borrow from each other and that anything of yours that another pastor thinks helpful he is welcome to borrow. You cannot think of anything to say other than that but you do have a lot of thoughts far beyond the old standard that preachers swap stories and outlines.

Deep down, you know that if you have someone doing Google searches for your sermon titles and outlines, or even for some sentences and phrases they are going to find out that you "borrow" heavily from others, sometimes sermon titles, complete sermon outlines, numerous sermon illustrations, and even much of a sermon body.

This could be a problem because you have to admit that you are (a) stealing someone else's material, (b) not giving even a hint of attribution, (c) using entire sermons that others have prepared, and (d) even taking another's illustration and telling it as if it is your own.

You've been warned against this.

Your seminary profs told you that you should read widely but study hard and prepare your own sermons. They explained that it was normal to take a sermon idea, even a title, and do your own prep work. They even understood that outlines in the public domain may be used, just give credit.

You started out in the pastoral ministry fully grasping that as a pastor, your most important work was to proclaim God's Word, that God called you and that He would use you to explain and apply His Word to the lives of those whom you touch.

Whatever happened to that?

You got lazy. You foolishly thought that if you preached like a megapastor you could be a megapastor. You started borrowing, then stealing.

Now you have sermon outlines printed every week in the bulletin. You have many sermons that are fully printed and available on your church website as text, podcasts or both. You have that sinking feeling that if this church member assiduously researches your sermons you will be found out.

You haven't been doing a lot of your own work for years. Most of what you preach you found elsewhere. You have justified this by presuming that folks would understand that there are so many demands on the pastor and that you are only responding to the expectations the congregation has placed on you for visiting, meetings, administration, counseling and other duties. Surely they will understand your using other folks' sermon material to save time.

At the level you are stealing from others, they probably will not understand. You get a paycheck every couple of weeks in part for filling the pulpit. If what comes from your mouth when you preach is not yours, what are you? Sort of an ecclesiastical reporter just reading off "your" notes instead of a teleprompter?

You are in serious trouble if this goes much farther. What if the deacons were presented with the facts here? You really don't want to think about that conversation.

You cannot undo the past but you can clean up your act for the present and future.

Stop with the silly rationalizations and do it.


Anonymous said...

I was in a meeting with Charles Stanley years ago and I told him I loved his books and had "re-preached" a lot of his sermons. He smiled and said, "Once you pray over it--its yours."

Sometimes I think there's much ado about nothing.

BTW, I preached for 45 years and the only sermons I ever re-preached were Stanley's and I had his permission.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Here's hoping your hit metrics reflect that many read it, even if almost no one comments.

I work in the secular academic world, and in that world, the activities you describe are not tolerated, at best, and get you fired or not tenured, at worst. Would that Christian ethics in this area exceed those of the secularists. Alas!

Once upon a time, I observed a 'preacher' deliver canned Rick Warren sermons as his own for over six months. Zero attribution. They were 90%+ word for word - even to the extent of repeating an obviously obsolete sermon illustration that worked in the original (ca. 1993) but didn't in the remix (ca. 2011). I could literally print out the sermon from Rick Warren in advance and read along.

Preachers that preach against an 'everybody's doing it' excuse need to be careful....

Tim in Oklahoma

Anonymous said...

I recently realized that my Pastor reworks a famous Pastor's sermons. They aren't word for word, but key points, illustrations, Greek terms, etc. are copied. I teach Bible studies and do my own work to put them together, it's troubling that I am preparing more than he is. I am praying that God convicts him and that he will do the necessary work of study and prayer.