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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Hey... Give Me Back My Sermon!

ExclamationI think we've touched on this once or twice before... but it keeps coming up in the news.  The subject:  Sermons and Plagiarism.

This is part of an article featured at STLToday.com:

The morning after classes began at the end of August, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, president of St. Louis University, gave a homily at the school's Mass of the Holy Spirit, a Jesuit tradition that kicks off the academic year at Jesuit universities around the world.

"Most Catholic colleges and universities in the United States begin their academic year the same way that SLU does," said Biondi at the beginning of his homily. But as he continued, it was clear he could have started by saying SLU was beginning its academic year the same way the University of San Francisco did last year.

An audio copy of Biondi's August homily shows that about one third was taken directly from a homily given last year by the USF president, the Rev. Stephen A. Privett, at his school's 2004 Mass of the Holy Spirit - published on the university's Web site. The similarities were first reported last month by SLU's campus newspaper, The University News. At no point during the homily did Biondi give credit to Privett as the source for large chunks of text.

Biondi refused to comment on the homily last week, but in September he told the News that he and Privett have an agreement in which they use each other's homilies, and that doing so is common practice among priests.

In an interview, Privett confirmed that the two university presidents have exchanged homilies for five years. He said he has similar exchanges with other priests. But Privett said this was the first time he could remember that Biondi had actually used his material as his own. Privett said he has never used parts of Biondi's homilies as his.

"We are both university presidents, we both have Masses of the Holy Spirit, and neither one of us has an unending source of wisdom and knowledge," said Privett. "Unlike in academic writing, the idea in a homily is to touch people ... so for Larry to take some part of my homily to use - I just don't see that as unethical at all ... I don't think it's a big deal."

Most scholars and clergy interviewed said that as long as someone else's work is cited as such, no problem exists - even if that attribution is vague. Problems, they said, arise when a homilist uses someone else's words without any attribution, passing off another's work as one's own.

"If you actually use the words of another and plug them into a homily as your own without (attribution) ... that's plagiarism," said the Rev. David M. Greenhaw, president of Eden Theological Seminary and a professor of preaching. "It has to do with being lazy and putting yourself out there in a fraudulent way. It's wrong."

FOR DISCUSSION:  Here's the paradox that I find interesting.  Many mainline and more liberal churches see a huge problem with this practice... to the point of firing pastors that are found to have used other's sermons.  Modern evangelical churches almost seem to promote the practice (I've heard a couple of famous pastors say, I have no original thoughts... All my great ideas are stolen... take any of my stuff and use it as your own.  Other pastors sell their transcripts to be used as other's sermons.  I would think it might be the other way around.

In any other setting, (including this blog), using other's words without citing your source is considered plagiarism.  Even when we sing other writer's songs on Sundays, we are legally bound to give the author credit for copyright reasons.  It just seems odd to me that in all other areas of our culture that this practice is called plagiarism; but in pastoral circles it's called 'resourcing' or 'making the best use of my time'.  (I'm not talking about borrowing an illustration; title; or even topic or outline... I'm talking about taking sermons word-for-word here).  What do you think?  If your congregation thinks you spend tons of time coming up with original sermon content, is it legitimate to serve them a message you didn't write without giving some credit to the source?

What think ye?

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While I would never endorse plagiarism, I must remember something I heard a pastor say more than 20 years ago:

Only God is original.

Great website, by the way.

Posted by: Phil Hoover-Chicago | Oct 20, 2005 12:34:21 PM

I think you can borrow illustrations and ideas. However word for word, man I don't know. I think that is a no. I know I never have, and would never borrow a sermon word for word. Were is the effort? What did you do that week?

Posted by: Jade | Oct 20, 2005 12:40:21 PM

In this case, there was already a usage agreement. However, a brief aside of "A friend of mine..." is due. Even "adapted" from deserves a nod of acknowlegement. I would categorize this as a lack of protocol and not so much a BLATENT lie of ommission.

I think the more important aspect is the character displayed when confronted with such allegations. A simple "Yeah, Steve's okay with it but I guess I should have mentioned his contributions." would suffice. It goes back to transparency. The refusal to comment? Seems more indignant than embarrassed.

As a ministry couple (an aspiring author with a songwriter husband) we perfer acknowlegement of "intellectual property" (a term I use lightly) and the right to decline usage if we suspect the work will somehow be misused. We have yet to come across such an instance. Of course no one is beating down the door to for our work...yet!

As for Jade's "Where's the effort?" - Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal!

Another funny thing: A friend of mine got repremanded in college for not citing a specific section in a paper. The instructor expected my friend to credit his own previous original work!

Posted by: Beggers | Oct 20, 2005 1:00:09 PM

Absolutely, you must credit your own work, particularly if it were written elsewhere.

You are citing "another source"--even if it's your own.

Great thinking on the part of that professor. And a good learning experience for your friend.

Posted by: Phil Hoover-Chicago | Oct 20, 2005 2:25:10 PM

I cannot personally imagine a situation where I would ever choose to preach a message that was literally taken "word for word" from what any person had written, including my own writing, let alone that of another.

Sermons that are written out before hand and then preached in a word for word well rehearsed and memorized fashion, regardless of their source, are destined to receive the praise or criticism from men they justly deserve. A work of the flesh will produce its own just reward.

The point I am trying to make here is that the criticism, accusation of plagerism, and judgment of somone who would take the sermon of another and preach it word for word as though it were his own work, is rooted in the very same spirit it is attacking.

This is all about man wanting honor and glory for his efforts. We can try to dodge this truth by sourcing it in culturally mandated legalities, pulling support from Scripture about giving honor where it is due or the worthiness of a workman, or better yet our responsibility to integrity and avoiding even the appearance of evil etc. But, at the end of the day, His light will shine on our darkness and the motivation of our heart will be revealed.

Woe unto me if I am found seeking recognition, credit, reward, honor or praise from men for anything I write, teach or preach!

When it comes forth into the air to be heard the only thing that will ever matter is whether or not it is coming forth in and by the Holy Spirit. If it is, then we all know (or at least should)who is the ONLY one to get ANY acknowledgement as its source!

Can or would the Holy Spirit anoint, empower and work through a message delivered that was produced by an act of plagerism, or written from a self consumed possessive heart wanting praise for its greatness?

I suppose He could, but I think I lean toward believing it is not likely that he would.

In any case, I personally prefer to go to Him in the first place, study His Word, let Him place in my Spirit the thought and concept of what He desires to speak through me, and then allow it to so work in my own life that it becomes meat to me and something I can justify giving to others as I rightly divide the Word of Truth.

I guess I am saying, we cannot give to others what we do not possess ourself. Now, that statement I just made was certainly not original with me. But it is truth worthy of repeating, and I could not care less who was the first man or woman to coin the phrase!

If it is truth, has value, speaks to our heart or in any way accomplishes a purpose of God when we receive it, then give Him Praise!

If it does not...then let it go for it isn't worth holding on to. But, if it is not truth, or in any way stands in opposition to the Spirit of Christ, then do not receive it, and if He leads you to do so, bring the necessary correction, admonishment or rebuke.

If it comes from the Lord it is good and it is free and we do not deserve ANY CREDIT even if we are the vessel it came through.
If it originates with us it is at best quite suspect concerning eternal or spiritual value and we'd probably be better off if noone knew where it came from.

So, that's my two cents on this deal! Or, did I get that from someone else? Gee, it's probably a mixture of both, and hopefully some of it from the Lord too!

Posted by: JCE | Oct 20, 2005 2:37:46 PM

I pray that I am in tune with the Lord and that He is using this broken vessel to do His will. I, too, try to stay out of the way of whatever He chooses to impart through me (written or otherwise) and give Him the Glory. Likewise, I should acknowlege permitted use of others' works, divinely imparted or not, so as not to bare false witness. To request that in kind, to me, is good stewardship.

I'm not trying to be snippy as the following may sound. I am just confused as to the previous posts' points.

Taking them to the extreme, we should never pay to attend a movie, concert, seminar, play a CD, etc.

What about architectural and engineering blue prints? A gourmet meal? Does that only apply to artistic and intellectual gifts? Or only to Christians?

Acknowlegement (or payment) is not sinful. But we must be cautious to avoid the pitfalls of pride, greed, false witness, etc. Reminding ourselves that... "EVERY good and perfect gift..." James 1:17

My heart sings "To God be the glory!" Yet I long to hear Him acknowlege His pleasure in my redemption. That He is pleased with what He has allowed me to do in His name - seeking to be a good and faithful servant in ALL I do, including what the world would define as "intellectual property."

Posted by: Beggers | Oct 20, 2005 4:20:50 PM

I have preached many sermons from books or the internet or from tapes and CD's. I have had my staff split my church and trying to get through it with a mediator of this being two different values. You better whatch your staff and make sure what they say to others about you being the Pastor.

Posted by: JWE | Oct 20, 2005 4:34:49 PM

Interesting conversation. I think the key is authenticity and giving credit. We need to remember that originality is not the goal of preaching -- effectiveness is. But we need to always have integrity in that and giving credit seems like an easy fix to the problem.

I think Mark Mittelberg speaks well to this issue over on the Willow Creek Association website (one of the places you buy manuscripts and messages). You can read it here: www.willowcreek.com/willowmessages/TalkTalk.asp

Posted by: Ben Dubow | Oct 20, 2005 5:02:27 PM

Interesting conversation. I think the key is authenticity and giving credit. We need to remember that originality is not the goal of preaching -- effectiveness is. But we need to always have integrity in that and giving credit seems like an easy fix to the problem.

I think Mark Mittelberg speaks well to this issue over on the Willow Creek Association website (one of the places you buy manuscripts and messages). You can read it here: www.willowcreek.com/willowmessages/TalkTalk.asp

Posted by: Ben Dubow | Oct 20, 2005 5:16:10 PM

It seems hard to credit someone else because you naturally want to look smart and claim the wisdom as your own. However, I think when you credit the other sources, it actually makes you look smarter because you are disclosing your research and showing that you have been studying; taking the best that you found and sharing it.


Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Oct 20, 2005 6:40:30 PM


You did not sound snippy at all. You seem to have a pure heart. You did however take what i said and run to an extreme place with it.

I was not making an issue with anyone accepting gifts of love or even royalties from a book, tape or CD. My issue was with our heart concerning our attitude toward "ownership" of spiritual teaching and the exercise of our ministry gifts.

When I write a book for example; if I believe the Lord has given me something of value to contribute to His Kingdom via that writing, and I desire to make it available for reading by as many people as possible, I am fully aware that I am going to have to go through the process of publication and ultimately marketing (which will produce income)in order to accomplish that goal. My issue is to say, that when I do this, if my motivation is to protect my rights and or to make those profits, then I am invalidating the Kingdom value of what I have written by taking ownership of what belongs to the Lord and not me.

Yes, there is a great difference between archtectural or engineering blueprints etc. and the ministry of spiritual impartation through teaching, preaching etc.

How can I claim rights of ownership to what I have received directly from the Lord for the express purpose of giving it to His people? Can I suggest this is my intellectual property? I don't think so.

I agree that standing my ground here will cause me to have to embrace a certain ambiguity and perhaps even compromise but it will still prove to be a heart issue.

I may write a book, have it published, marketed and even receive income from it, but if you chose to take that material and copy it, write another book using it, publish, market etc. my posture is going to be one of praising God that the message went forth to more people. NEVER would I enter into accusing you or fighting you over RIGHTS to the content of that message.
This goes for preaching as well.

I actually have experienced producing a visionary portfolio for a particular ministry that I had carried in my heart for years. I believe the Lord gave me the vision for it. I sent the portfolio to a very well known man of God who was my professor in Seminary to get his input and suggestions as to how I might best walk it out. I did not get a response from him but less than a year later I found the entire vision in every detail being manifested and impacting a very large portion of the Church. Yes, this man of God, my former professor, was at the head of that whole ministry and remains so to this day.

Did I experience pain? Yes! Did I feel ripped off? Yes! Should I have fought against this brother over what he did? Absolutely NOT! The reason I felt pain and ripped off was because of my own SIN! I had taken ownership...considered it MY VISION...thought I had the RIGHTS to all of the material from which that ministry was built.
When Father shined the light of His love upon the darkness of my heart and showed me that I was more concerned with my part in the vision than I was that it actually became manifest and accomplished much in
His Kingdom, it broke me and moved the process of my transformation a little closer to His image.

Anyway, others may fight for their rights to what He gives them in revelation or teaching or homily, but as for me, if I get blessed through sharing what He gives me, Halelujah, if not, Halelujah anyway!

Posted by: JCE | Oct 20, 2005 10:28:10 PM

Always give credit and honor, where credit and honor are due!

That includes citing another person's work and ideas.

Phil Hoover

Posted by: Phil Hoover-Chicago | Oct 21, 2005 9:54:50 AM


Just curious if you remember what Rick Warren said at the Leadership Summit about a guy he ran into in the deepest, darkest reaches of Africa. A guy who was a pastor for a church there who had absolutely no training, and no way to be further educated in preaching and teaching.

They hardly had electricity, and they certainly didn't have internet, but once a week, he would walk several miles to the closest post office, get on the internet there, and print off Rick Warren's sermons each week and use them in his church.

He told Rick that he was the only Bible professor he's ever had.

I realize that is an extreme example for an extreme circumstance, but if the Holy Spirit can use this man from the bush through Rick Warren's writings, how about the Holy Spirit using other people through such means.

I'm not saying that I'm in favor of plagarism or flat out lieing by saying that a sermon is your own, but if something is really good and your church needs to hear it, and you don't have anything better...

Which would be the worst crime? Using someone else's stuff, or giving them something that is not as good by forcing yourself to come up with something else.

Again, I do not endorse plagarism, lieing, or spiritual laziness on the part of a pastor

Posted by: Brian Burkett | Oct 21, 2005 10:14:31 AM

Quote "Can or would the Holy Spirit anoint, empower and work through a message delivered that was produced by an act of plagerism, or written from a self consumed possessive heart wanting praise for its greatness?

I suppose He could, but I think I lean toward believing it is not likely that he would."

God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick!! That is not to say I condone this practice - I do not but God can use a plagerized sermon to speak to people.

The main issue here is laziness, pure and simple. Instead of putting in 20+ hours of study and preperation we can just cut and paste a sermon in a few minutes and with good communication skills deliver it well.
That's laziness and ineffective and we answer to God for all that we do.

Posted by: Pastor Dan | Oct 21, 2005 10:31:35 AM

I think it's a great idea to find useful resources everywhere.
I think it's great if someone can find something useful in what I create.
I think it's horrible to preach someone else's sermon. Similar ideas - even same "points" may be no big deal. Personally my style is too idiosyncratic for me to have any desire to copy anyone else. It just doesn't fit my personality.

Posted by: Richard H | Oct 21, 2005 12:28:33 PM

Pastor Dan,

Yes, we know "God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick", He does that every time He uses you or me as His chosen instrument. I'm not convinced however that the main issue here is one of laziness. In fact, I would suggest that most who would go to man rather than the Lord to get their material will probably spend even more time laboring over the production of the performance they intend to bring with their well delivered communication skills, than will the pastor who is truly walking in intimacy with Father, a devoted student of the Word, living in intercession for those whom he is ministering to and simply allowing the Holy Spirit to empower the ministry gift he has been given.

Twenty hours preparing a sermon? Never! But twenty or more hours sucking carpet in prayer for the people and the God breathed content of that sermon...Absolutely!

Posted by: JCE | Oct 22, 2005 1:15:02 AM


I disagree with you on the laziness thing, most of the plagerism is done out of laziness.

I DO AGREE with you on the prayer issue - a vital and intimate connection with God is essential to be using by God to deliver His message to His people - great point!

Posted by: Pastor Dan | Oct 22, 2005 11:57:25 AM

Pastor Dan,

I'm happy for you that you are able to know as much as you do. I simply said I am not convinced, and suggested another possibility, as opposed to saying I disagree with you. I am not in the heart of enough other pastors to be able to say for certain what causes them to do what they do. But I am persuaded the problem is probably more systemic, lacking passion and intimacy, and experience receiving from the Lord.

Posted by: JCE | Oct 22, 2005 2:36:15 PM


That's fine. Laziness isn't the only cause - but I have seen a lot of it. It is OK disagree on things, were all on the same team striving for the same goal. God bless!!!

Posted by: Pastor Dan | Oct 22, 2005 2:45:56 PM

I spent 3 days at Dr. Adrain Rogers pastor school. He said "I have no problem with anyone who ever wants to preach any of my sermons". He said "you may use any of the bullets I have", but "just be sure that you load them with your own gunpowder".

9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun
Eccl 1:9 (KJV)

Posted by: bws | Oct 22, 2005 6:00:56 PM

great website. As a bivo pastor there is always a temptation to do exactly this. Just last week a friend recommended me using a ready-made. I felt the Spirit impress upon me to respond to him by saying, "who wants day old bread when you can get fresh." Amen to the faithfulness of God.

Posted by: Trey Gambill | Oct 24, 2005 8:16:58 PM


I am also bi-vo, and I can assure you that while I don't prefer using "day old," as you call it, I am also not willing to limit the Spirit to using only what my feeble mind can grasp from Scripture every week.

What you're basically saying is that the words that the Spirit has given to others are only usable through that person at that time.

Read my post in the "follow-up" blog and you will get my perspective on sharing.

I think the faithfulness of God can also be displayed in his bringing to us help from other servants of God.

If I have completely missed the mark of your post, please accept my apologies!


Posted by: Brian La Croix | Oct 24, 2005 8:32:01 PM

If 5 people get saved from me preaching your sermon would you get mad? 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: Pastor D | Nov 1, 2005 12:54:52 AM

It not wrong to use another man's hammer, if it drives home the nail.

Posted by: Hugh Black | Nov 7, 2005 11:36:12 AM

Hello Pastor Leaders/Writers:

I have a huge problem with people stealing another man/woman's work and acting like it's their own.

This practice is so prevalent in the body of Christ and no one is really addressing it. It's a shame that no one is developing and cultivating a relationship with the Holy Spirit. Because it is the Holy Spirit that will sing through you, preach through you, pray and write through you. The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth but no one is asking the Holy Spirit for help or inspiration.

We would all rather wait to see what is going to flow out of brother so and so or sister so and so and take it and make it our own.

This shows a lack of not only creativity that comes from Wisdom herself but it shows a lack of study of the word and an unfruitful prayer life as well. Obviously you have not developed a personal satisfying relationship with God through the Holy Spirit and that's too sad.

Please allow me to remind you that it is the Holy Ghost working in and through us! Yes! we are co-labourers with God.

I have professors in my doctoral program who stole research ideas and published them as their own. I have even heard preachers take what I said and use them as their own ideas, thoughts, etc. God forbid they give me a womanist any credit. I have even been in the presence of my seminary professors who took what I said and said it a little bit differently and passed it off as their own ideas.

It is a doggy dog world where everyeone wants to shine and doesn't care who they hurt or steal from.

Obviously, God has not gifted you in this particual area so what is one to do? I am glad you asked. Find your sphere of influence where your annointing abides and stay there. My Grandma Jessie Mae would say it like this..... find your lane and stay in it.

For it is written Jeremeiah 23:30 " See, thereofre, I am against the prophets/preachers, says the Lord, who steal my words from one another."

This scripture was given to me by an old man who had properly discern that people especially in the body of Christ were stealing from me. He gave me this scripture and I stand on it.

Seek God for your own truth, ideas, witty inventions, etc. He is no respector of persons. If he gave Pastor ? an awesome message, book title, etc. He will do it for you - if you seek Him.

Much peace!

Posted by: Caffie | Nov 14, 2005 11:44:04 PM

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