When I prepare for a sermon I will often read several sermons from other preachers, scratching for ideas to illustrate the message. Sometimes, I strike gold and find an illustration so good that I repeat it here word for word. At such times, I am careful to indicate where the illustration came from. Even if I paraphrase someone else I try to make it clear that the thought did not originate with me. The point is; I try to give credit where credit is due.
Now, while the art of plagiarism is the genius of the preacher – by the way, I think it was Billy Graham that first said that – there are ethical limits. Beyond such limits the pastor is in danger of deceiving his congregation and offering to them something other than a careful, researched, Spirit-led sermon. He leaves his congregation to presume that he has done his work, when in fact he is simply co-opting the work of another.
Let me be clear, most pastors – including me – have no difficulty with someone else using one of his sermons. Copyrighting the proclaimed word is about like saying you have the Holy Spirit in a bottle. But from an ethical and moral standpoint – from an earning your wage perspective – it is disingenuous of any pastor to submit as his own work a sermon that borrows (or I should say steals) heavily from the work of another without giving proper credit. Such an offering is a black market sacrifice.
So you can imagine my chagrin when I read through 4 or 5 sermons and found out that I really only read two! Now, I am not going to name the offenders, but I am going to credit the two sources for the other three sermons. Of the sermons I read, two drew heavily – one being almost a direct quotation in its entirety – on the work of Tom Walker. His work can be found on the internet at www.preacherscorner.com. The other sermon that was heavily plagiarized was one written by Ray Stedman, found at www.pbc.org.
What an ugly little surprise! Five sermons – all of them named “Strange Fire”- and out of the five three of them in essence are “strange fire.” What is really sad about this is that the three guys who borrowed so freely from others had the gall to post their plagiarizing sermons on the internet as their own work! Unbelievable! Preachers, offering black market sacrifices.
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