Problems with Plagiarism

I’m just reading an article by Dr David Lose.  He describes his experience of hearing a sermon preached that he had just read in a book by another author.  A good sermon…plagiarised.  What’s the problem? After all, nobody lost any royalties and God still uses His word.

It’s about integrity.  It’s about the lying to your congregation and misrepresentation of yourself.  The trust of the people in you as the pastor and in preaching in general, is eroded.  This is true of whole sermons, as well as illustrations and other sermon content.  Any time we pass something off in the first person as our own, we lie.

He goes on to offer counsel in response to defense statements that may be offered.  What if I’m not a good preacher?  What if I’m really bad?  He suggests getting training, working at it, attending his seminary (fair enough, he wrote the article).  And if you’re really bad, he suggests finding another line of work (or getting help – which would be my first suggestion since the pastoral office is never intended to be a one man for all roles concept).

Do we have to cite every source when we preach?  Not at all.  The issue is not naming every commentator we have read, but letting others know when a thought is not our own – “As one preacher put it…” or “One commentator writes…”

We need to be aware of this issue.  Some of us may not undermine our integrity as preachers at all in this way, but some preachers constantly do.  It wouldn’t do us any harm to do a quick self-check.  Do I adapt illustrations from others and make them sound like my own experience when they were not?  Do I import chunks of sermons from online or from books without telling listeners what I am doing?  Do I allow a pithy statement to appear as my own when I have read it somewhere?

It’s a useful article, if you want to read it, click here.

Say It Separate From the Sermon

I was just reading a list of rules for preaching by Rolf Jacobson of Luther Seminary.  I was intrigued by number 3, which I share here.  My own preaching tends to be in churches where the liturgical calendar is largely ignored, but I know that for many churches the opposite is true.  Either way, here’s Rolf’s thought:

3. You shall not proclaim the season of the church year. What does this mean? Do not use the text as a point of departure for talking about Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, All Saints, Mothers’ Day, Fishing Opener, or the Commemoration of St. NOBODY CARES! Easter and Christmas are okay to mention frequently, but do not trump the biblical text with the liturgical day. Let the rest of the liturgy be the place where the movements of the liturgical season shape the community of faith. I am not against the liturgical year. In fact I fully embrace it. But preach the text! If the preacher constantly refers to the liturgical season, the season becomes the de facto text for the sermon. That is not biblical preaching.

As well as the specific point about preaching the text rather than using it to get to the liturgical calendar, I like an implied point here.  There are other elements in a service that can be used for certain things.  The choice of songs, the introdauction to songs, prayers, other elements in the service.  Let’s not think that anything that could or should be said on Sunday has to be said in the sermon.  We can use the rest of the service for the rest of the agenda, but let’s keep the message time for the message of the text.