The Web and the increase of Recycled Sermons

sermonpic.jpgThe Internet is changing the landscape of preaching.  Congregants now have access to thousands of preachers and many preachers feel the pressure of comparison against the best and brightest.  How are some of these pastors responding?  By using the same material from the most popular of preachers.  There was an article (originally in the Wall Street Journal, but reprinted in the San Diego Union-Tribune) about the use of sermon resources, sermon manuscripts and other resources in the preparation of your sermon.  Here is the start:

The Rev. Brian Moon says he has come up with ideas for his sermons after water-skiing, while watching “My Name Is Earl” on TV and while working on his 1969 Buick muscle car. He also finds inspiration on the Internet, as he did in August when he preached about “God's math.”

“People are drowning, drowning in their marriages, drowning in their careers, drowning in hurtful habits,” Moon told his congregation at Church of the Suncoast, in Land o' Lakes, Fla. “They need someone to rescue them and bring them on the raft. They need people driven by God's addition.”

Those words, it turns out, were first uttered three years ago by the Rev. Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. His Web site, creativepastors.com, sells transcripts of this and others sermons for $10 each.

Moon says he delivered about 75 percent of Young's sermon, “just because it was really good.” That included a white-water rafting anecdote similar to Young's in the original. Moon, who has now been a pastor for seven months, didn't give credit to Young, and he makes no apologies for using a recycled sermon.

“Truth is truth, there's no sense reinventing the wheel,” Moon says. “If you got something that's a good product, why go out and beat your head against the wall and try to come up with it yourself?”

These days, a lot of preachers would agree. The sermon – an oration traditionally expressing the thoughts of the cleric doing the talking – has entered the age of reruns. Topics and transcripts are available on sites like sermoncentral.com, pastors.com, sermonspice.com, and desperatepreacher.com. In the old days, when a preacher wanted to pinch a sermon, he had to consult a book, a magazine or a sermon anthology.

Read entire article: Pulpit polemic: Recycled sermons are on the mount (Suzanne SatalineTHE WALL STREET JOURNAL)

Should pastors use other people's sermon manuscripts?  What resources should a pastor be able to use for preaching?  Are other sermons similar to commentaries?  This is pretty convicting for me as an occasional preacher (and this also applies to blog posts).  How often do I say something that is 'truly original'?  When I prepare a sermon, I study the Bible, read books, listen to sermons and often there is much I've gathered from others that influences what I preach.  When should I 'quote/give credit' to someone?  If someone gave you an idea for the 'direction' of the sermon but you write it on your own?  Lately, I try to credit those who influenced the sermon at the bottom of my text regardless of directly (word-for-word) or indirectly (influence).  But I'm sure there are times when I read something and use it later, forgetting who the idea came from.  

Some thougths:

A pastor who plagiarizes sermons is clearly not fulfilling his primary responsibility. He is not investing time and effort in studying the Word, in understanding the Word, and in helping others understand what God has taught him. Furthermore, he is being unethical in allowing his congregation to believe that the sermons he delivers are his own work. 

Plagiarism In The Pulpit Challies 

The essence of plagiarism is to give the impression that the ideas or words of another person are actually your own. This can be done intentionally (in which case it is outright theft) or unintentionally-but either way it is wrong.

What is plagiarism? Desiring God Ministries 

Other Resources:

How to Use Other Preachers' Material Without Compromising Your Integrity 

Integrity in the Pulpit 

3 Comments
  • Chris

    November 25, 2006, 3:03 pm

    Hey Drew,

    Long time readers…First time commenter 🙂

    Anyhow, I think this issue is more gray then white or black.

    If preachers are being lazy, lacking time in prayer and study then I think this can become a major issue in the future.

    As for me, (and most people) I have so much info coming in via podcasts, books, articles, websites etc, many times I simply forget who said what.

    So many times I give credit, other times I don’t…But, I do my best to communicate to the audience that my life has been influenced by many people, and much of who I am, is because those who I study.

    On the flip side, I do not think it’s right to preach 75% of someone else’s message. That seems a little off 🙂

    Peace
    Chris

  • D. Goodmanson

    November 25, 2006, 5:45 pm

    Chris – Glad you’ve moved from the ‘lurker’ to ‘poster’ role!

    I think you are right, it is more gray. I imagine it’s more about the ‘heart intent’. If you take word-for-word quotes, that’s one thing, but if you pour yourself into study, certainly many sources will influence the direction of your sermon. David, who is the main preaching elder at Kaleo, often will read 20 diff’t commentaries when it comes to examining some of the Biblical text on top of other study. Even the Pipers/Kellers (I read recently Piper is the most quoted Pastor in the US) sermons are influenced heavily by others. We know Piper’s love of Jonathan Edwards or Kellers’ and Clowney. Furthermore, if someone comes up with a truly original thought (other than contextualization) I’d say it’s more apt to be heresy.

  • Darren

    November 25, 2006, 9:27 pm

    The most important thing is when you know you are quoting a source that you give credit to that source. It is important that preacher’s of God’s written word be avid readers from many different sources to aid in not only a fuller understanding of the text being preached on but also the people being preached to. Nevertheless all the study in the world is moot if the preacher doesn’t spend significant time in praying through the text and as the message is being developed.

    Personally, I have preached other’s peoples messages when in my study and research I come across a particular message (and/or series) that “rings a bell” in terms of relevancy to what I believe God wishes to speak to His people. Even in those cases where I may use the majority of what someone has wrote I spend a significant amount of time studying the text’s used myself and adding more relevant illustrations etc. Then I include a credit to the person who originally wrote the message in our bulletin, any other publication of the message and sometimes in the midst of speaking it. One of the hard things I find though in preaching a message is you don’t want to be spending a lot of time mentioning your source for every illustration or quote because it detracts from the impact of what’s being spoken. However, I still credit those sources (as much as I remember) in any publications.

    So, yes – I agree in some ways this topic is a bit of a gray area – however, if someone deliberately uses another person’s message and assumes credit for what that person wrote then it’s black and white – what they are doing is wrong.