We live in an age of unprecedented access to information. Cut and Paste was a hassle until a few years ago. Now there is endless resource online just sitting there ready to be plagiarized. At the same time, preachers face the pressure of busy lives. And then there’s the pressure to live up to the impressive and often carefully edited sermons of the superstar preachers that everyone can listen to all week. It’s a recipe for plagiarism.
There’s plenty on this subject online already, so I’ll just offer a few thoughts on recycling content that is not our own:
1. As ministers of God’s Word, we should have higher standards than academics and journalists (and they can lose their jobs over it). Sadly, some act as if everything is fair game for cutting, pasting and preaching as if it is personal work.
2. Oral communication doesn’t require, and cannot support, the tedious footnoting needed in academic work. But it does need integrity. If I’m quoting the words of someone else, I mustn’t give the sense that they are my own. Last Sunday, for several reasons, I quoted “a great figure from church history” (and was fully prepared for people to ask who that was after the message).
3. Appropriately using a well-turned phrase or a helpful illustration as part of a message that is unequivocally yours is not the same thing as lifting a whole outline or sermon and preaching it as if it were your own. The latter is stealing intellectual property, it is deceitful toward your listeners, and it is cheating both yourself and others due to your lack of time in prayerful biblical preparation.
4. First person illustrations from someone else should not be shared in the first person. If it didn’t happen to you, and you give the impression that it did, you are lying.
5. Inasmuch as I’ve tried to be clear here, we need wisdom since there is so much that is unclear in this issue. May our wisdom be thoroughly shaped by the good character of the God we represent as we preach!