Friday, August 1, 2008

Sermons and Their Delivery #4: Plagiarizing Sermons (continued)

Having discussed plagiarized sermons with some who have done such plagiarizing, I know what one of the follow up issues will be: “What’s wrong with preaching someone else’s message if that individual has given us the permission to do so?”

My last post concluded that plagiarizing a sermon is stealing. Plagiarizing is stealing the structure, thoughts, and words from the individual who did the original work. But what if that author has told others they could preach his message with his blessing? Doesn’t that eliminate the “theft” aspect of plagiarizing?

It amazes me that any preacher would encourage another servant of God to preach his message. Maybe that’s because I don’t consider any of my messages worthy of repetition! Yet, some preachers have done just that. For example, Dr. James Merritt, a popular Southern Baptist pastor and past President of the convention, has a web site in which he sells sermons. Furthermore, at the Pastor’s Conference of the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention, he encouraged fellow pastors to obtain his Father’s Day message and preach it to their churches, noting it was not plagiarism since he gave them permission to use it. Oh, really?

I will admit a sermon is not plagiarized if (1) the author has given permission for its use and (2) the user informs his audience that the message is not his. Receiving the author’s permission does eliminate the “stealing” aspect of plagiarism. But what about the deceit of the speaker when he preaches this message to a congregation who believes the message is his? The violation of the 9th commandment is still there. If you intend to preach a message that is not yours, my fellow minister of Christ, then tell your congregation at the outset what you are doing.

Even if a man of God had the permission of the sermon’s author to preach it and informed his congregation what he was doing, there are several reasons for not using such a sermon. Allow me briefly to return to my earlier definition of a sermon:

… an exposition and application of God’s Word which has been internalized by God’s messenger and then delivered by that messenger to the people for whom it was intended.
First, is such a message really intended for the audience to whom it is to be given? Has God truly convicted His messenger to preach another’s message on that day to his flock? Certainly He could do this. In fact, maybe there are times when He does do this. But I am sure such a situation would be the exception, not the norm.

Second, has such a message truly been internalized by the messenger? He hasn’t done any work in preparing it (other than, perhaps, changing some illustrations, etc.) so how can it be a part of him? When he delivers it will the passion of the message be evident or will it be a fake passion he must add in order to get a response from his audience?

Third, how much praying has the messenger done over the message? Since the message is not a “part of him”, it would seem any prayers offered to God over it would be of the form “Help me to deliver this message in a convincing way” or “Help me to read this message clearly”. Is that how we pray over messages? I hope we go beyond praying just for the delivery and include praying for the message, its content, and its structure. Of course, with a “borrowed” message, who needs to pray for those things?

Could there ever be a situation where a pastor is forced to borrow a sermon and deliver it? I suspect there are times like that in the lives of some. If the preacher MUST proclaim another’s message then he should be certain he has permission and make it clear to his congregation what he is doing. But, as I said above, such situations should be few and far between.

For preachers who plagiarize sermons on a regular basis, I can see only two reasons why they do so. First, they have no idea how to construct an expository sermon. If that is the case then they should seek the necessary training. All of our seminaries have courses on this subject. Some local Baptist schools offer such training as well. And I’m sure there are area pastors who have this skill and would gladly guide another servant of God who asked them for help. Preachers, if you can’t put together your own message then seek training or get out of the pulpit!

The second reason for plagiarizing sermons is laziness. If you know how to build an expository message but simply don’t do so then you are lazy. Be honest. You will find time for everything else in life except the time (and labor) necessary to prepare the meal for your sheep. Maybe you stay in bed most mornings. Maybe you spend most of your time in the office involved in counseling sessions. Maybe you spend your Fridays on the golf course. If you are willing to put your energies into these aspects of your life but not into your sermon then get out of the pulpit!

I close this post once again appealing to those pastors who plagiarize sermons. Stop it, men! You are to be examples of integrity to your flock and the overwhelming majority of that flock understands that plagiarism is wrong. That’s why you try to hide what you do in the pulpit each week. It’s time to repent to God and to your people. Then you can return to the Lord’s Word with a pure heart and prepare the spiritual bread your flock needs for spiritual nourishment.

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