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Friday, October 21, 2005

FOLLOWUP: Hey! Give Me Back My Sermon!

Plagiarism In followup to our Hey!  Give Me Back My Sermon! post earlier this week, someone sent me this article by Mark Mittelberg of WCA.  I think Mark gives a balanced approach on this subject of sermons and plagiarism.  Mark writes:

It's a problem we all struggle with -- knowing how to gain insights from teachers we respect, but presenting those insights in ways that are true to who we are and that give appropriate credit to the source of the information.

And the need for guidelines only increases with the advent of WillowNet, with its easy-to-access message transcripts. How can we maximize this incredible resource while remaining authentic and honest in our communications? Here are a few thoughts I hope will be helpful:

  • Understand that there are very few really new ideas, and that it's okay to pick up thoughts from other teachers -- even while they're still living! -- and pass them along. In fact, that's the motivation behind making message transcripts available -- to offer examples of relevant biblical teaching, especially to seekers, that will help others do the same with ever-increasing effectiveness.
  • Before reading a message or listening to a tape for ideas, do your own Scripture study, prayer, and soul-searching. Do a "mind-dump" of your own thoughts -- on paper or laptop computer -- so you don't lose your own insights or any unique angles the Holy Spirit might be prompting you to take.
  • Make the transcript or tape you access just one of multiple sources. This will help you broaden your perspective and help ensure that you've thought through the topic in light of the range of viewpoints within the Christian community. You'll also likely find bits and pieces from each of the sources that will help you.
  • Wherever possible, replace stories and illustrations with accounts out of your own experience. This will add life and passion to your presentation, and help you make the ideas your own. When you do use someone else's story, tell it as theirs, and say where it comes from. Obviously, you should never tell another person's story as if it is your own.
  • When you use more-or-less complete outlines, acknowledge that's the case, whether verbally or in the bulletin. You don't need to make a big deal about it or sound apologetic. Being open about this will alleviate any guilt, and it will take away the fear that your listeners will someday hear the original tape and "find you out." When in doubt, it's always better to err to the side of acknowledgment, avoiding any hint of plagiarism or deception.
  • Practice your message out loud ahead of time, or get feedback afterwards, and ask a couple of trusted confidantes, "Does this sound like me? Am I speaking authentically, with words, phrases, stories, and verbal tones that are in keeping with who I am and the way I talk all the rest of the week? Or does it sound like I'm trying to be someone else?" Listen to their feedback carefully, and try to make content and stylistic adjustments along the way.
  • Make sure that whatever ideas you end up using are ones you can say with personal passion. As I once heard Keith Green say, "If it's not burning in your heart, it won't burn in their hearts, either."

You can read all of Mark's thoughts on this subject here at the WCA website.

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October 21, 2005 in Senior Pastors | Permalink

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how about this idea: including an 'additional resources' section to every sermon--whether that's a follow up email, a section at the bottom of a notepage, the last slide on a powerpoint presentation, or a handout at the back of the sanctuary.

this could serve as sort of a bibliography a) that people can take a look at if they're motivated to dig deeper, b) that can expose people to a broader range of resources, thoughts, etc., and c) that can serve as an acknowledgement that god does not drop a weekly sermon into your mind on thursday mornings.

it could even come with a disclaimer to the effect of 'hey, here are some resources that helped me in preparing today's talk. you may find them helpful as well.'

stay awake,


Posted by: jay kelly | Oct 24, 2005 10:14:50 AM

I do agree with Mark's response. indeed there are every few original Idea but you are preaching to a different group of persons from the person who may have originally structures the sermon. As such your dependence upon the HOly Spirit is critical and this is why the other persons sermon should be one of the resources you use in preparing yours. You know your congregation much better than the person who did the sermon originally, and your sermon should be for your congregation not one several years ago, or hundreds of miles away facing diffrent realities. While ideas and phrases can be borrowed please remember to cite your sources. As christians we should be individuals of integrity and as Pastors/ Evangelist we are supposed to be at the front showing others that we are living examples of what living lives of intgritry is all about hence let us do the right thing even if there is no risk of us being found out.

Posted by: Herbert | Oct 24, 2005 12:34:44 PM

Thanks for that article!

I have had the wonderful position of being able to teach up-coming preachers.

Things I insisted on:

1) Do not read any commentaries on the text you are preparing to preach on (prior to your preparation).
2) Read the Text (in context) at least five times before beginning to collect your thoughts.
3) Make notes on what the Lord is saying to you as you read the text the final time.
4) Use Scripture to verify Scripture -- (The Word always proves itself)
5) Ask yourself, where do I want the hearer to be when I am finished with this text and write the answer down.

NOW you can read your favorite commentary and do the outside study to see if you line up with the commentary. If not take what is usefull to you as you check your sourses for accuracy in thinking. I often glean things from commentaries, but have on occassion found a difference in what I think about the text. "Study to show yourself approved"!!!!

6) Verify that your destination is the same destination the Text leads people to by going over the text main points again.
7) Create a flow chart as to how you will get the hearer to that destination in a point one, point two format.
8) Adjust your flow chart to your presentation time and deliverance style.
9) Never have a POINT being made without supporting text or subpoints. (if there is an A) there must be a B) If there is a 1) there must be a 2)
10) Try never to give more than a three point sermon for the hearers sake, unless you are in a strict teaching setting with accountability as in a class room.

11) Do NOT be stuck on your NOTES! KNOW what you are preaching on. If you get stuck you can always highlight your notes for direction.

Ilustrate as much as possible - It is remembered much more.

Always review before moving on to the next point!

Re-word your points at least two times when reviewing to make sure the point is understood.

Practice what you will preach before a mirror and if you can, try it out on someone.

In a sermon - with Biblical points, and with Jesus and salvation as the major reason for speaking, GIVE PEOPLE A CHANCE TO RESPOND TO THE WORD, BY ASKING FOR A DECISION OR COMMITTMENT. If you do not get any response, the hearer leaves knowing that he was asked to respond to God's Word.

Relax and be blessed.

Thank you for allowing me to put this info on paper.

If you want to revise it without acknowledgement that is OK with me.

By the way, When I hear a sermon preached that I respond to and then use that as a catalist, I never give credit unless I quote them as to what they said. The Biblical preacher hardly ever has a thought that has not been preached on prior and the foundation of the preaching is always the WORD.

With that said, I do give Book/ Author quotes their proper acknowledgement. I never take something from a book that does not line up with scripture unless I preach on it's error (if any) and then I quote it.


Pastor Bill

Posted by: Bill | Oct 24, 2005 12:51:10 PM

I am a bi-vocational pastor (full-time hours at the church, two part-time jobs...oh yeah - I have a family as well) and I "write" my "own" sermons every week. I'd like to address a couple things here:

1. What about borrowing when you don't have time to prepare your "own" sermon?

As I just mentioned, I do my own messages every week. Do I spend 20 hours per week preparing my messages? HA! I barely have 20 hours to BREATHE, much less prepare a message to that extent. But I do put in whatever it takes to formulate the message, all the while begging God to not only open MY heart and mind to what he wants to communicate, but also preparing the hearts and minds of those who will be there on Sunday.

I visit places like SermonCentral.com as I prepare (and usually after I've done the "mind-dump" thing of my own thinking.) Many times it's to see if I'm grasping the passage as other men of God have, or if I'm out in left field.

But here's my question here: what do you do for the poor slob who doesn't even have the time I've got for sermon prep, because they've got a full-time job outside the church?

Can you fault them for "borrowing" on occasion, or even frequently? I certainly can't. As long as the person's not just using the resources as a way to be lazy, then I say, "Go for it!"

2. The issue is communicating truth, not proving that you are so spiritual that you don't need to "borrow" from someone else.

There are times when as I'm preparing something and browsing through sermons, that I just have to admit that this person says it so much better than I can. And when I preach that sermon, I mention it from the pulpit.

Was I being lazy? Nope. Just understanding my limitations and allowing God to use my lips with someone else's message for the purpose of helping my people become Christlike.

And to that end, I post all my sermons on SermonCentral.com, because I WANT other pastors to have a resource they can use either because of time limitations or because God spoke to them through my message and they wanted to use it in their context.

I love getting e-mails from people across the U.S. and such countries as Japan, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia, and hearing them say that "my" message was a blessing to their people. To God be the glory! Just this week I got an e-mail from a pastor in India telling me that one of my recent messages was used by God in the lives of a bunch of over 1,000 recent converts. Talk about humbling! I'm amazed that God would allow my imperfect offerings to be used by him in such ways.

By the way, I don't mention that to brag - simply to illustrate what God can do in and through people who are willing to borrow and be borrowed from.

In summary, at times some people (including myself) need to borrow - and as long as it's credited somewhere along the line, I don't see a problem, especially for those involved in bi-vocational work. And if someone wants to use "my" sermons, go for it. And I don't give a rip whether or not you credit me for it. God will give me the credit I think I might "deserve" for it. All I ask is that you let me know how God used it so I can rejoice with you and pray for lasting fruit.

Sorry for the long-winded post. But I get a little tired of pat responses to something that isn't nearly as cut and dried as they feel it is.

Posted by: Brian La Croix | Oct 24, 2005 1:11:11 PM


That was EXCELLENT stuff.

Mind if I borrow it...? :)


(I really did enjoy it. I will probably print it out and put it with my sermon prep stuff, if that's okay. And you can be sure that you're name will be on it!)

Posted by: Brian La Croix | Oct 24, 2005 1:19:01 PM

Just a couple thoughts here...

Apart from passing it off as your own work, anyone have a problem with Music Ministers using "other people's" songs and not writing their own every week?

I pose this question as the wife of a lead worshiper who is also a gifted song writer. Some of the most "powerful" songs and "congregational favorites" have been his own. Yet he mostly uses the works of others, be it traditional hymns, contemporary choruses, or even other song writing friends on occasion.

I know it is a bit different as we expect the body to join in. It certainly helps if they are already familiar with the material. Plus the "purpose" of the music in the worship service is not the same as that of the message, but some similarities do exist.

How about for the guest/traveling speaker that preaches at many churches? Any problems with reusing a message?

I often find that what God is speaking to my church, He is also speaking to the churches of my friends and family. I love it when that happens!

I shouldn't be surprised but am constantly amazed. After all, we are one body in Christ Jesus sharing the same Good News with messages (and songs) based on God's Word.

Just wondering...

Posted by: Beggers | Oct 24, 2005 1:53:54 PM

A couple of quotes I just remembered:

"It's better to borrow and be good than to be original and be bad." From a former pastor of mine - I was the interim pastor of a church 100 miles from where I was living and working full-time (So I was travelling Sunday mornings after working 50 hours/week at my other job). That church needed to be fed, and if I was not yet up to the task of feeding them "myself," then I needed to get some food from the "store" - in this case, his sermon files, which he gave me complete access to. Thankfully, I didn't need to do that very often, but I was grateful for what he gave me. Also, I was just learning about how to preach, and was incredibly green about the whole business of sermon prep and delivery.

Rick Warren says, "I heard about a preacher who said that he'd be original or nothing. And he was both!"

Gotta admit, I like that!

By the way, let me say again that I strive to write my own sermons. And for those of you who can do so and be real communicators of truth that transforms life (and not just commentators on the passage with no effort at life-changing impact among the hearers), then I say, "God bless ya!" My guess is that some of the best messages I've found on sermon sites have come from such as you, and I thank God for you.

So please don't take my comments as being "anti-always-original," because that is certainly not my intent.


Posted by: Brian La Croix | Oct 26, 2005 1:39:50 PM

If 5 people get saved from me preaching your sermon would you get mad? Will you take me to court? Say all you want of my sermon I didnt write it GOD did and Get out of the I buisness,I wrote that and I wrote this. You know you guys are actually judging pastors! Whether or not the spirit will move???? what!! come on!!

Singing :
Just build me a cabin in the corner of glory land wait who wrote that????


Posted by: PastorD | Nov 1, 2005 1:17:31 AM

I am not a pastor, but I am the worship minister for our church. I have a drama ministry where I write all my own "stuff" and I teach as part of that. I also work full time in the medical profession. My husband, is an elder, and youth minister who prepares all his own "stuff" when he teaches and preaches to our youth each week as well as when he preaches to the congregation. He also works full time and owns businesses. We understand being bi-vocational and busy.

I don't see any problem with study--study of the Scriptures, study of commentaries, even internet research of other peoples sermon's, but it should be just that--research and study.

Have you asked your sheep what they think about you giving them a wholesale, "other person's sermon" with changed illustrations? I can tell you how I felt when I found out our former pastor was "borrowing" without giving credit to those he borrowed from, even if it was just a "catchy title"--hurt, disappointed, and angry. Probably there will be many in full time ministry who preach every week who will cry foul that what I'm saying is not fair, that I don't understand how busy pastor's are, and you are correct that I don't teach and preach every week nor does my husband, but we both spend hours each week preparing for what we do on Sunday, plus attend church meetings, practices, as well as work full time.

This is a hot topic and I have read comments on several lists about this. Most of them sound defensive about the practice. Why? I would just ask each of you to prayerfully consider what you are doing and how much you are doing it and ask the Lord what He would have you do?

I taught this week at a conference and we have been doing a DVD series of David Jeremiah's for our Sunday School. He had a fabulous quote on my subject, so I used it, giving him credit, explaining where I got it. And the people were blessed by it.

If you are reluctant to tell your people or ask them about using other sources, outlines, etc, why is that? I think it is because the heart of the matter is that God is trying to speak to us and to our people and we are serving up canned bread, using the excuse that we're busy, their sermon is better than what I could do, why re-invent the wheel, etc.

When I teach in the medical field, if I quote or teach from someone else's source, I'd better give that information or I would be in big trouble for plagarism! We in the church should be above the world's ideals, shouldn't we?

But I'd ask the Lord, and your people...."what do you think about this practice?" and go from there.



Posted by: Kim | Nov 7, 2005 11:37:39 AM

WOW! Sounds like you hit another nerve. Over the years I have made handwritten notes in the margin of my Bible as speakers have said things about the text that interests me or thoughts that I have had from the passage. At this point after 25-35 years, I can't tell you who said what or if the thought is original or not. At one time I subscribed to a sermon outline guys who sent me hundreds of sermons, of which I only used less than a dozen in almost 15 years.

I like the exegesis outline given by "Bill" and the other thoughts about preparation, you see I was dual vocational for almost 10 years and found it hard to balance study, college, work, and family with preaching, but knew God's people always derserve a fresh word from God. How that happened is a mystery to me. God uses many methods to communicate His Word to us and I believe if it speaks to me it might speak to the needs of others, too. But, honestly, I only try to use other people's sermons for help in fleshing out a thought or impression I feel God is leading me in, not as my sole source. But aren't the commnetaries someone's else's work, too. Not because I can't, but because that how I want to do things. If that's not your bag and God is not working in your life to convict you it's wrong, "and to him who knows something is wrong to do and does it anyway it is sin," then who am I to say you can't use anything I've preached to help lead others to Christ. And oh, by the way, what a legacy to have something I've said make the rounds of Christiandom and live on through others for years after I'm gone. Not that any of you would use my stuff.
What would Spurgeon say?

Posted by: Bill Little | Nov 28, 2005 10:31:35 AM

In the area of borrowing or buying sermons, whether complete or just the outline, i think it can be a both useful and destructive practice. If you do not "own" what you preach, how can you stand with integrity and believe that God speaks along side of you? And if you buy or borrow material to circumvent the peace of God ruling in your heart, and the word of God dwelling in you richly, then you rob God and his people of the good leadership that happens when He works through you!

I like (but dont like) a sermon to be what i call a "boomerang" sermon. You do your study and prayer, your listening and waiting, and writing and rewriting. Then you let loose with the preaching...and somehow, as you speak, God speaks into you, along side you, and in spite of you. Everyone, including you, hears God speak into their heart, if they have ears to hear. While i never enjoyed school all that much growing up, i thrill on the opportunity to write a major paper or two a week as i prepare to preach. That is a miracle! So is any life changing sermon from a mere human being indwelt by the Holy Spirit! Be blessed...study to show yourself approved by God and man.

Posted by: Pastor Rusty | Nov 28, 2005 10:15:42 PM

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