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Sermon Plagiarism

Something that has always upset me is the way that some preachers plagiarize sermon material.  It seems that some glory in the idea of using a preaching outline from one of the “big name” preachers.  I have also sat in auditoriums where preachers have used a sermon that was printed off the internet or out of a sermon book.  This always made me feel uneasy.  I guess I’m not the only one that feels uneasy about this.  Below is a quote by D.A. Caron and a link to a full article where he deals with this subject.

“Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.”

You can read the full link here.

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27 Comments

  1. This is a needed reminder.

    One easy way “around” this is to simply ask for permission of the original speaker/author should they still be living. If they have passed, still give them credit.

    I know we aren’t presenting a research paper, but it is still important to give proper credit.

    Just last night I preached a sermon based upon a list from a book by brother Aubrey Johnson. I sent him a quick email asking for his permission. It was granted, and I very briefly mentioned that exchange in my introduction. It wasn’t distracting, but it “covered me” in case someone wants to say that I didn’t come up with it.

    Keep up the great work on the blog!

  2. Carson is right on. I have seen it done to the extreme where a preacher prints off an outline from the internet, uses white out to cover up the web address and then pints off copies from the congregation.

    Good sermon research will often include gathering from other materials, but plagiarism should never be ok and it is alright to say some thing like “we will be looking at romans 5 this morning, the main points of this lesson have be gathered from materials on romans by wesley walker”.

    I get annoyed at how schools of preaching promote using other peoples materials and even large gatherings that have sermon swapping sessions. these lead to bad study habits.

  3. THANK YOU!!! This is a growing problem, and Carson’s explanation is on the money. To me, the most important part is that this practice has become a substitute for Bible study. If a preacher is not willing to study or does not know how to study, then he is not really a gospel preacher.

    My guess is that many Christians cannot tell when the preacher is doing this, but when visiting places, I have no doubt that I heard an “Internet Special” because of how generic the lesson was and how the wording did not fit the normal vocabulary and speech patterns of the preacher.

    I do not have a problem with others using my material, but I certainly expect to be given credit for the work I did that others did not do just as a matter of Christian courtesy. I called a brother on this matter several years ago for reprinting one of my articles but removing my name.

    Brethren, we want God to receive the glory, but failing to cite your sources doesn’t bring God glory at all!

  4. Wesley

    December 20, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Thanks all three for commenting. Kevin I’m in full agreement with you. If preachers are not studying and preaching messages, where they have labored in God’s word, then what are we here for.

  5. In a congregation in WI the preaching brother who preceded me in a work, had his bluff called one Sunday morning. The sermon subject was given him by the Elders of the congregation and when he had finished it they challenged him to present his notes. They had printed the same sermon, a Mark A. Copeland outline from http://www.exceutableoutlines.com, that the preacher had. The question was why he had represented himself as working on his sermon all week to the exclusion of all else that was expected of him. Whether everything expected of him was Biblical or schedule fodder, doesn’t hide the fact that it was a lie on his part. He was shadowed for a week and then allowed to accept another position, which we only wonder if he repeated or repented.

  6. This is something I struggle with. I glean “sermon seeds” from numerous sources, but my biggest challenge is finding a workable breakdown of the texxt I want to preach. Mr.Carson, in his link, nailed it by saying, “writing a really good outline is often the most creative and challenging part of sermon preparation.” Notice how I quoted him? 🙂 I often snoop around others’ sermon outlines trying to see how they chunked it up or approached it. Most times I don’t use their main points but it helps me a great deal to see how THEY broke it down. It gets my juices flowing and thinking about MY approach. I try to never use more than the main points, even though I usually add or alter at least one or more. I always try to even give credit for that by at least saying, “An article by so-and-so got me thinking about this passage in a certain way.” I think that’s being intellectually honest. I never preach someone else’s sermon, but looking at their approach often helps me get my mind in order. I only copy a truly pithy or apt quote and then always give a citiation for it. I don’t think it lessens my “aura” to quote, but I think it rather gives flavor and keeps me from becoming to stale and one-tracked.

  7. I would like to make a frank comment and I hope I don’t offend anyone. I have been preaching for a number of years and over that period of time I’ve sure I have seen some of my sermons used or at least major parts of my lesson used by others without credit, or have I since it’s quite possible that someone else’s exegesis of the passage might be the same or similar as mine. Is there anything new under the Sun? Personally I could care less as long as the gospel is being preached. I think of the Lord’s comment in Mark 9:38-40 says a lot about this area for me. John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. My only concern would be that the brother thoroughly went over the material to be sure that he’s confident that the lesson is biblical through and through. I’m not worried about whether they give me credit or not, why would I?

  8. Wesley

    December 20, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    The root problem in my mind Daniel is dishonesty and possibly laziness. I do not think any of else preach and write and teach in order to glorify ourselves, at least I hope we do not. So it is not so much that the person who originally had the material wants to get credit, but rather it is dishonest to give to your congregation a sermon that leads them to believe that you did the original research, when in fact you just took it from someone else.

    Also the common practice of using someone else’s material breeds laziness in mind and action. If we are not going ourselves to God’s Word and digging deep through good exegesis then we are not being faithful to our mission as preachers.

  9. Dear Wesley,
    I think I made it clear that I would hope that the brother went though the material himself so that he can be sure everything is scriptural. If a brother is lazy in mind and action as you describe then we can be sure that his sin will find him out. But if he’s working material that belongs to me and is working hard to be sure that it’s sound and an appropriate message for that particular congregation I don’t see that as lazy or necessarily dishonest.

  10. I just thought of something. I remember when I used to use Jule Miller filmstrips and I was embarrassed by the scathing disclaimer warning the brethren about not giving credit or the like and I would always be sure and get past that spot so that those I would be teaching wouldn’t be offended. What is it all going to get to?

  11. This may not be popular, but I have to adamantly disagree with most of what is written here. I DO think that preachers need to study deeply what they aim to talk about. I DO think they need to be presenting thoughts that they have tried against the word and believe to be accurate.
    However, there is nothing wrong with a person preaching a lesson that was written by someone else if they have studied it, believe it to be true, and teach it.
    I once preached a sermon and someone told me after that they had heard a nearly identical sermon the week before at another church. What’s interesting is that I “created” that sermon with nothing more than my Bible and Microsoft Word. Was that sin? Of course not. Now what if I had read that other guys sermon outline, and my lesson was nearly identical to his. Is that sin? If so, why? Is it because he said it first.
    I am trying to be as loving as possible as I say this, but I think this whole “plagiarism” issue is a matter of pride. I’m speaking from my own experience. I used to feel that if someone used my material without acknowledging me that they were breaking some unwritten (and it’s definitely UNwritten) code. Or worse, that they were dishonest. What I came to realize is that what I really wanted was the credit. I said; “to God be the glory” but I was a hypocrite. If all I want is God to be glorified then why did I need the credit? Claiming that I am looking out for “their honesty” or “work ethic” is just an excuse.
    Are there lazy or dishonest preachers? Experience says yes. But they are not my servants and they don’t answer to me.
    So if a person wants to use someone else’s material, they have to examine their own heart and see if they are really putting forth the effort to know and present the material. Because WE ALL are teaching from much of what we have learned from others. But I for one am more than willing to admit like one preacher I know that; “I milk a lot of cows, but I churn my own butter.”
    Jim

  12. I think this “scholar” stole this from someone, there is no way he came up with that all by himself. Somewhere along the line he forgot where he got these ideas from someone. If we study enough we will find out where he got his idea for this article. He did no cite his source. You all are smart you know we can find something very similar to this. Good comments Daniel, you hit it right on the head. What about a preacher who is not good at coming up with his own sermons but can preachers others like no other? He is gifted in preaching and not writing. What if he is not as smart and relies on others. Are we gonna fire him and send him packing calling him sinful? Are we becoming to formalized in our education? I am not saying he should act or portray it is his work. I really have never seen this in my 44 years save a guy who told a story and acted like it happened to him and it didn’t. I still learned many lesson from the lesson. Preaching is really very easy if WE STUDY AND MUCH OF IT IS BY DOING THE WORD. Loving folks and spending time with them teaching them to pray and study. Crying with them in hospitals. Watching them die and praying with them as they die. Helping families in the middle of night in the midst of crisis. This is what makes a preacher and not all the fancy interpretations. When we love the Lord, the Church and we preach our heart out and sometimes using a good brothers outline or points which become mine because no one preaches the same. We are all different and made that way by God. Yes we are sure to state it is not ours and that is okay.
    Love you brothers and will preach till He calls me home and not always with three pretty points but with love and like it is my last sermon because one day it will be. I want wear out not rust out! : )

  13. I’m with Daniel, Jim and Marty, but I dont want to plagiaris so I’ll just say I concur =P

  14. Wesley

    December 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks everyone for chiming in. I think Carson wrote the original article in a way to be provocative. I’m glad that it has gotten people thinking.

    I also like the fact that you are willing to disagree. I wanted this site to be a place where people could discuss, which means it is a place where people can disagree.

    I do want to comment on Jim and Marty’s post real fast:

    First Jim. Jim I’m going to start at the end of your post and work my way forward. I’m glad that you were able to recognize the pride that you had that was the source of you being upset with others using your material. I have to strongly disagree (and I think you jumped to a conclusion that you shouldn’t have) that the source of my frustration is pride. Not that I do not struggle with pride and have to submit my ego to God, but in this case that is not the reason I wrote this post.

    In fact the post was written not to speak of the person being plagiarized, but rather the person doing the plagiarizing. Many times the sources people go to get sermons are Sermon Outline Books, Sermon Swaps, or websites, which are there to provide Sermon Outlines. Obviously, these people expect their work to be used. In fact I have people who use my website for sermon prep and Bible Study prep. Some people tell me they used it and say the credited the Site, some I’m sure use it without telling me, and some just tell me they use it. I have the same feeling toward all, I’m glad I can help others. My point is with the person who uses these sources without doing the work themselves. Or on rare occasions where they are put on the spot.

    If someone has taken the time to study the text or a topic and has a working outline, but then goes to other places to help refine the outline, I have no problem with this. Even if they go to a resource and believe the person just did a better job of presenting the text and so they use the persons main points. I can also envision a time where you just happen to come across an outline or hear a sermon and so you use it.

    Here is what I’m pushing back against and why I am. I’m pushing back against the person who is consistently using these as a means to preach. They use them as a crutch, instead of doing the hard work. Or in cases that I have witnessed they print them out Saturday Night before bed or Sunday morning and then preach them, then I think you are being dishonest. We might disagree but in my mind the brethren are paying you to do the work of a preacher (which includes paying attention to your teaching i.e. studying).

    Also a huge fear I have is that it removes us one step from God’s Word. I have always loved the reformers cry of “to the source.” I believe they made mistakes in interpretation, but that should be the call of any preacher. We should all want to go to the source. Starting (and let me emphasize starting) with a Sermon Outline book (except on rare occasions) is not giving the Word the supremacy it deserves. After a while we no longer are saying thus says the Lord, but rather says thus says my favorite preacher!

    Marty-If you are the Marty that I think I know (and if not this will make no sense at all), but I admire your work ethic. I have a special place for Tent-making preachers. They serve the church with a great zeal and do a great work. However, I think what you wrote is not something I think you would defend normally.

    Also Marty the writer makes a distinction between becoming so familiar with a topic or being well read that you use others works, but they are such a part of you that you no longer can tell where your thoughts end and theirs begin. The problem is when we simply using these sources to take the place of the hard work of studying the text.

    I understand your push against academic snobbery, but at the same time we shouldn’t downplay scholarship. Without scholarship we would not have the Bible in our language and thus we would not have access to God’s word (unless we learned the originally language, which would be in itself scholarship).

    Also let me say that I’m glad you are in the life of the people with whom you work , preachers should be, or better put Christians should be. At the same time preachers have a distinctive role in paying attention (studying) to their teaching and preaching God’s Word. Preachers can always find things to do. Most have more to do then they have time to do it. And in your case I’m sure this is even more so. That being said we have to make the time to understand God’s Word. What we believe matters. What conclusions we reach from Scripture (interpretations) matter. Thus we have to take the time to know them. Like I said I think I’m misreading you, because I’m sure you know the importance of studying and correct teaching.

  15. Thanks for the reply Wesley. I want to push back a little. I hope you know that it is not done out of anger or rivalry – just a desire to dialogue.
    With much due respect, your recent response betrays the initial post. I agree with your response to me, completely. However, your quote of D.A. Carson says that; “Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong…” Carson is just simply wrong about this. Of course, he is probably just trying to be inflammatory to get people’s attention, but his statement, in my view, is just positively wrong.
    Concerning what I said about pride, that was meant for preachers in general, not just you. I have been preaching for over a decade and I will tell you without hesitation that I have seem more pride, rivalry, competitiveness, and jealousy among preachers than any other group of people I have ever met – even salespeople (and it’s encouraged among some of them).
    Everyone here agrees that people should not be lazy. And everyone agrees that people should learn the word for themselves. So shouldn’t that be the end of it? Who cares if I hear a sermon that I know the speaker didn’t write? Shouldn’t we give them the benefit of the doubt until there is concrete evidence that they are lazy, and not just moved by someone else’s work?

    I am not naive. I know there is laziness and dishonesty among all groups of people (even preachers). What I don’t understand is why some preachers care so much if there material is used (even without permission). If the glory is for God alone, then let it be.

    Soli Deo gloria!

  16. Love this comment by Jim! Let us love our brothers!

    Everyone here agrees that people should not be lazy. And everyone agrees that people should learn the word for themselves. So shouldn’t that be the end of it? Who cares if I hear a sermon that I know the speaker didn’t write? Shouldn’t we give them the benefit of the doubt until there is concrete evidence that they are lazy, and not just moved by someone else’s work?

    Wesley I must apologize because I read it and read stuff into it! The tenor of the way it was written kind of threw me. I guess it has come from twenty years of trying to preach and being critiqued constantly in loving and unloving ways almost every week. I had a long hard day of working on my “day off” and it just caught me in one of those moments. The guy had some very good points and I think in reading most of the comments that we all agree. Let us not be lazy in anything we do! Let us be an example and we as preachers have a special duty to STUDY DILIGENTLY EVERYDAY and live the study out in our lives. I always feel like I come short in so many ways. I appreciate your work and scholarship. Love you brother and all my preaching brothers. Now back to my study for Proverbs tonight!

    I am not naive. I know there is laziness and dishonesty among all groups of people (even preachers). What I don’t understand is why some preachers care so much if there material is used (even without permission). If the glory is for God alone, then let it be.

  17. Wesley

    December 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks. I don’t think we are too far apart. I think you are right that Carson is being provocative to get people to think, that is how I read him.

    As to rivalry once again I say, Amen. Sad but true.

    And also I agree that we should dismiss hearing of a sermon that we know someone else wrote or we have heard before. We can still learn and understand.

    My point is to warn against the use by preachers, because it is not without some serious problems.

  18. Wesley

    December 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Reply 17 was to Jim.

    Now to Marty. I am with you in not being concerned if I am receiving credit or not receiving credit when my material is used. The Glory is ultimately God’s. I personally make it a practice (and would say it is a good practice) to make it clear in my sermon (and especially in my writing) to give honor to whom honor is due.

    Marty I put less into delivery the most people do. To me it is not the delivery that matters (it does matter in that you need to be understandable), but the content. I pray that the brethren will keep growing toward this mindset as well (and I’m believe that they will because God’s people are good people who desire to please Him).

  19. Wow, I spliced Jim comment with mine in the middle! Sorry Jim. Man I think I am tired! : )

  20. It may be worth mentioning that Paul does not name his sources in Acts 17:28, Titus 1:12, or 1 Cor. 15:33 (according to Barnes’ notes this last passage is a quote from Menander, a Greek comic poet). Also, it seems that Jude and Peter used some common material, not to mention the synoptics–none of which is attributed to my knowledge. These examples should give us pause when throwing around terms like “stealing” in this context because we might incriminate more than we intend to.

  21. Wesley

    December 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks Eric. To a degree there is a difference in how the ancients quoted and we quote. Today we expect citations. However, that is not the point of the post. The post was to get people thinking about the wholesale use of others material without putting in the work yourself. Carson I think was purposely being strong to make people think about the use.

  22. I think it is easy to become defensive about this issue because it is something that most preachers are guilty of to some extant. It is easy to fall into the trap of using someone else’s material often. There is good material out there, it should be used but one must be careful to not lead the audience to believe that all the ideas promoted in a lesson originate with the presenter. At the same time, to what extant do we give credit? I have sat in graduate courses where I have been taught different things in different passages, if I present what I was taught do i need to mention that I was taught this idea, or is it assumed that I had to have learned it somewhere and not citation is necessary. I see the need to be honest and give credit to whom credit is do and don’t pass off someone else’s hours of study as your own. I do think passing off someone else’s personal illustrations as your own is lying and I think verbatim recitation of an “outline” of someone else is clearly wrong. I think too many people uses “other” peoples material as a crutch and a cop-out from true deep study. (A sin that I myself have been guilty of).

    How does one reconcile the implementation of someone else’s arguments on a subject? Let say I am arguing the necessity of baptism. I have read several books and papers on the subject and the arguments I agree with are from book #1. If I repeat those arguments used in that material without citation is that dishonest, or since I agree with those arguments, do those arguments then become my own?

  23. I have read the comments and for what it is worth I have seen our preacher use sermons from a sermon swap and they are nowhere near the quality or conviction that you can hear in his own sermons.

  24. Seems like plenty of views noted already. As I am not a preacher, (although my kids would say they have heard plenty of sermons from me), I cannot begin to understand the intricities of coming up with new material when the bases has been around for thousands of years. Almost like coming up with a new way to teach a 1st grader basic addition.

    Common teaching, we were taught and we teach our children not to plagarize, and guess it is up to each to determine if they are abiding by that teaching, and what is allowable.

    But, what I have heard often, imitation is the highest form of flattery. So all of you who have had their material used, you have been paid a compliment. Copied my source below. 🙂

    IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY – “Usually said ironically when someone tries to gain attention by copying someone else’s original ideas. Coined by Charles Caleb Colton in 1820 in his ‘Lacon.’ First attested in the United States in ‘Malice’ by E. Cameron. The adage is found in varying forms.” From “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

  25. I wanted to say that as a preacher of the Lord’s church I do not have a problem with someone preaching any sermon that I have developed, without giving me credit, and will openly admit that I have used others work as there truly is no new sermon if it is biblical. In fact I’m glad if someone does use my sermons as I know they are scriptural. I will say however that I am most opposed to lazyness and expect diligent study from every Christian.

  26. I have read through several comments and it looks pretty divided on whether people think it is ok to use others sermons or not.
    Let’s look at it this way, I had my pastor preach a message a few weeks ago, and in his message he was talking about something I found to be interesting, so I googled it to see what he was talking about. Not only did I find what he was talking about, but I also found “his” complete sermon outline. I actually followed along, word for word as he preached. To me it made my heart sink. I have since been to church several times only to find later the exact outline online.
    I think it’s one thing to use an idea, quote, etc., but to use someone else’s sermon, word for word I feel is wrong.
    Maybe as a preacher you feel it is ok, but look at it from the congregations point if view. YOU are being trusted to lead YOUR flock.

  27. Wesley

    January 23, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Jaime,

    I agree. The people expect us to be preaching a message that is presented with much time and effort on our part. That is why I avoid using others sermons.

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