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I stood, called my text and began to preach. There was a weird response by the congregation. Something strange was happening, but I didn’t know what.

I couldn’t catch the vibe. The congregation, to whom I had preached several times before, was tentative throughout the entire message. But I couldn’t figure out why.

After I sat down, it all became clear. Someone leaned over to me and told me the speaker who had opened the meeting several nights before preached the same text and/or message.

For some reason, this news made me nervous. At the same time, I was at peace. I had preached what I believed the Lord wanted me to say. And my message was the product of my Bible study and sermon preparation.

They gave me a copy of the other pastor’s message. When I got to my room, I crawled into bed with my computer and watched the message.

Indeed, it was the same text. And it was essentially the same message.

We both preached the same doctrinal theme from the text. We organized the messages differently. We labeled the messages differently. I worked through the message with three main points in my outline. He had four. The homiletical approach was different. And the way we argued the message was different.

It really was the same message preached from two different perspectives.

This got me to thinking about the ethical matter of pulpit plagiarism.

The late evangelist, Vance Havner, said when he began preaching he was determined to be original or nothing. He ended up being both, Havner said.

This is true of every preacher. All faithful preachers deliver an unoriginal, “stolen” message — the word of God.

Biblical preaching simply explains what the word of God means by what it says. And if we read the text right, what we see will be pretty close to the conclusions drawn by other faithful Bible expositors.

In fact, if you come up with a reading of the text that no one else has ever seen, you’re wrong! Likewise, most Bible expositors use many of the same exegetical resources. So it should be no surprise for you to hear two messages that “overlap,” for lack of a better term.

But let’s be clear. Stealing other people’s material and preaching it as if it is your own work is wrong.

After the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, a certain pastor preached a message he claimed the Lord had given him. Later that week, his local newspaper outed him, revealing that the message was actually from a website that sells sermons. This “inspired” message had, in fact, been preached and posted by several other pastors across the country that same day!

I repeat. This is wrong. The eighth commandment should apply to our pulpit work: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).

This is not to say that we shouldn’t use sources. To the contrary, it is arrogant for you to study a text and preach a sermon on it without consulting the wisdom of those who have, in some instances, spent a lifetime studying those passages, books or themes.

Milk a lot of cows. But churn your own butter.

When you do the hard work of personal study and sermon preparation, something wonderful can happen. For instance, you can stand and preach a text that was just preached in that same pulpit three days earlier. And you can make the point the previous sermon made. Yet, God can use your preaching — YOUR PREACHING — to declare the unchanging truth of God’s word in a fresh, new and life-changing way.



H.B. Charles, Jr. is the Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, where he has served since the fall of 2008. He is primarily responsible for preaching-teaching, vision casting, and leadership development – along with all the other tasks that are a part of pastoral ministry.

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Talk about it...

David Buffaloe

commented on Mar 21, 2013

"In fact, if you come up with a reading of the text that no one else has ever seen, you?re wrong! Likewise, most Bible expositors use many of the same exegetical resources." I disagree with this. The Lord has given me messages for my people that I had never read before in other sermon repositories. Likewise, I've listened to Rogers or Stanley or another of the great preachers and disagreed with their point of view based on the text. I'm sure some will charge me with arrogance, but that's not what this is. God speaks to me and to His people through His Word. To say that you never hear a new perspective - and if you do it's wrong - is wrong.

Jeffrey Burrell

commented on Mar 21, 2013

I do not comment on articles, but after 45 years of ministry this kind of thing is getting ridiculous! David Buffaloe is correct in his comment. I do commend the author on a good piece of composition; however, if we are so caught up in 'protecting our words so we will get the proper credit' instead of preaching the gospel and being free to use what the Holy Spirit has impressed on men and women's heart to speak to the body or lost and dying world we need to get into another line of work! john's first message was repent! Jesus preached the same message. At Pentecost, Peter preached the same message! Jesus has instructed us 'when you go say this'! No, we do not need to 'steal from one writer and print another book' as if those are our original thoughts; however, messages inspired by the Holy Spirit belong to the body of Christ NOT the person - it wasn't my thought to begin with it came from the Throne Room!!! To the author I ask: Where did the work of 'confirmation' by the Holy Spirit go? I hope you hear my heart. Just a thought. Blessings.

Jim Huddleston

commented on Mar 21, 2013

I believe an original message could be repeated by another and the Holy Spirit involved. Luke took what he received from others and wrote the 3rd Gospel. I have pastor friends that are very sensitive to the material they have received, they call original. They would be offended if another used their material...Their Material? That's my take on it. I have been in the pulpit for the past 36 years and if I am inspired by God through someone else's word, I use it without it piercing my conscience.

Billy Woodard

commented on Mar 21, 2013

If its a business - by all means - copyright it and make money!! If its a ministry then preach what God puts on your heart. I sure am glad Paul and the rest weren't worried about someone stealing their message. When it get to the point that you sell salvation (and many do) then its truly a sad day. Jesus was public domain and the rest of us should be as well.

Glenn Hawkins

commented on Mar 21, 2013

brothers, Did you actually read the article or just wanted to expound on your own ideas of plagiarism? I can't imagine that you don't get what he's saying! His opening illustration tells the story! When the people in the pews even suspect that the one in pulpit is preaching someone else's material, the pastor's integrity is suspect, and we know that when a pastor's integrity is gone, he has nothing left--he might as well find another line of work. Obviously, the word of God never changes. And it is imperative on us as preachers to preach it clearly, plainly and put it in such a way that's understandable to the people God has called us to serve. But on the organizational and professional level, taking an uninspired text and proclaiming the words of that text and claiming that uninspired text as one's own is stealing intellectual property. What would it be like in any other area of endeavor where ideas are communicated in a public forum, where one person would give someone else's speech and claim it was his own? I think you know the answer. Again, the words of Scripture, and the bottom line explanation of its inspiration and inerrancy cannot and must not waver. But if the pastor uses someone else's uninspired explanation and will not give the credit, then it's a no brainer to say that is stealing intellectual property.

Keith B

commented on Mar 21, 2013

lol....I had to chuckle when a website that sells sermons and all the visual aids to go with them now prints an article telling us how to avoid plagiarism.

Derrence Smaage

commented on Mar 21, 2013

Having been a homiletics professor and a preacher for 50 years, I think I could write a book about this subject. I have preached other men's sermons that God gave to me. I have even preached sermons that my students have written. I have preached hundreds of sermons that were original...no, I don't think any of them were original. They came from many different sources. The good ones all came from God, the poor ones came from me. I am preaching this Lord's Day on John 14:6. The three main points are 1. Jesus is the way, 2. the truth and 3. the life. You all have my permission to use this outline. Or maybe you should ask Jesus if it's ok to use his words or John who recorded them.

Steven Leapley

commented on Mar 21, 2013

"milk a lot of cows but churn your own butter" - brilliant....I stole it...quoted and gave props for it! What a great word picture!

James Zimmerman

commented on Mar 21, 2013

"the message was actually from a website that sells sermons... You shall not steal." I'm confused. If the sermon came from a website that sells sermons, presumably the speaker in question paid for it. How can you be accused of stealing something that you paid for?

Jeff Glenn

commented on Mar 21, 2013

Interesting...

Brad Coates

commented on Mar 21, 2013

Normally I don't comment on threads, and especially ones that (in my opinion) give off a confusing message. While I do embrace the principle of what our brother was sharing in the first part of his article, it just gets lost in the the BOLD statement Stealing other people?s material and preaching it as if it is your own work is wrong." So what constitutes "stealing others material". Is it stealing to use some else's quote but say it is your own inspiration? Or is it stealing when you use a great catch phrase, but then neglect to mention who you believe said it? Truth is, the bulk of things we experience in revelation is the result of pursuing more knowledge and understanding wherever we can get it... books, articles, even sermons. If what you are saying is people who just read a sermon, print it out and just regurgitate without allowing the Holy Spirit to internalize it and inspire you from it, then we are on the same page. But if what you are saying is you simply cannot use another person's sermon because they preached it first, then I am not onboard. For example, I encourage everyone to google "milk a lot of cows, but churn your own butter". Great saying, but it would seem that the author of this article may not be the originator of that saying... and he did not give credit to anyone else that he got it from. But can I just say, I have no problem with that... it was a great staying, it inspired me to think about its intended point and the Holy Spirit used it to teach me... I don't think you are a thief, I think you let God use another's revelation to inspire and you have inspired us, and isn't what we are all striving to do?

David Nuhfer

commented on Mar 21, 2013

How many times do we have to sit through this same endless, argumentative line of thoughts and responses before we just decide to let it go. This has become wearisome and the issue is never settled. How about if we let God settle the issue when we all get to heaven so we can all stop trying to "strain gnats" on what is and what isn't plagarism?

Zachary Bartels

commented on Mar 21, 2013

Haven't read all the comments before, but great message, especially considering the nature of this website and how it could either be used for plagiarism by the lazy or for resources to help faithful preachers!

Donald White

commented on Mar 21, 2013

This is a great article for me as I am not a preacher or pastor. I do fill in for my Pastor when he is unavailable so this site helps me with a message when I am unable to put one together by myself . I nam thankful to all the Pastor who put their sermons on here and I also give acknowlegements of these sermons not being my own. Thank you !!!

Peter Dunn

commented on Mar 21, 2013

No such thing as plagiarism in ministry. There is in business. My sermons are published every week and I don't care if someone else uses them in part or in full. Just glad I could pass on a batten of inspiration that might have been original or from someone else. Many eggs make an omelette!

Keith B

commented on Mar 21, 2013

@Peter......so if you tell a story about yourself....maybe your family....I'm allowed to take that and tell it as if it happened to me?

commented on Mar 21, 2013

plagiarism is the act of willfully stealing from another's words written down, or said, and calling your own. The Word of God is meant to be shared, discussed and transformed in to the words of others. A pastor can easily take the book, chapter or verse, and talk about the same thing, and in many ways that is good, because it establishes truth. If a congregation catches the fact the same subject matter is being discussed, that is another plus too, for many sitting in pews these days really aren't there to listen to what God says, but to display their lifestyles, standing and worth. Years ago, when my father was alive, he was the insurance salesman who insured our church we attended...and when it caught on fire, fully covered what it cost, to the point of going outside company policy and time-line, to make immediate payment. Years later, an insurance salesman my father knew, said it was him who had the policy and made it happen. My father, long passed away, had no way if setting this lie straight, and those I knew at the church, knew the real truth. I am not a pastor, though many said I should have become one. What I get out of this is, if I ever gave a sermon behind a pulpit, if I ever heard words I thought were useful and furthered the glory of God, I would use them. I wouldn't just 'cut and paste', and claim it to be mine, but I would include it. I also have a pastor uncle, who has written many books. My mom gave her pastor her copy of one of his books, and the response was that of envy and rudeness, from what she told me. Now, was he writing on the same subject? Maybe...but maybe thinking because he hasn't written a book he doesn't measure up. In opposition, my pastor should write, but is more excited about teaching the Bible, using the Bible, and not writing a book. The fact is God just works in so many ways, and word of mouth, either from me or a pastor has to be standing in scripture, word for word, in understanding, value, time-line and truth. How many times has the Bible been truly 'plagiarized'? God Bless

Joel Rutherford

commented on Mar 21, 2013

@ k b If you told Peter's story as your own, that would not, IMO, be plagiarism. It would be lying - the same as it would be if you told any story about yourself that was not factual. Whether in or out of the pulpit, it's a lie.

Tom Shepard

commented on Mar 21, 2013

What a sad world this is when I give something away - others think they are stealing from me.

Clarence Lawson

commented on Mar 21, 2013

Some feel as if it is important to be paid for "their original" material... Either it came from inspiration (God) or it didn't. Shouldn't God then get the credit? I think that some wish to "Merchandise" the Gospel! The consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be a "Product" to sell. Doesn't the Bible say something about that? The idea that something that should be designed to bring someone to Christ should be off limits to share is a little strange to me!

Dennis Cocks

commented on Mar 21, 2013

As David Nufer said, we have had this discussion countless times on this site. I have a few sermons on Sermon Central that anyone is free to use at any time without asking my permission. There is nothing new under the sun (where have I heard that?) and if God uses a sermon which was preached by me before and another preacher uses it to help someone along spiritually, who really cares!!!

Joshua Speights

commented on Mar 22, 2013

What sermon can be preached that is original? What words can we say that belong to us? We are a kingdom people who are tasked to spread the word. Who cares about sermon originality except those who believe the ideas are their's, which it is not. We all should feel blessed to plagarize Christ. I believe Christ wants that. I have found out that no sermon is original and no thought is original we are all persuaded by what we have learned and experienced through life. I pray that every sermon I write is preached until the letters fall off the page by someone other than myself. Plagarism is not preaching a sermon written by someone else because we are not in a classroom where we give our papers to a professor for grading. I pray that we all desire our grade to be pleasing to God and not self centered enough to believe that my words are my own. Everyone reads, understands, quotes, mimics, sees, feels, etc. based on what we have been taught. No one has an inside track to original knowledge, no one, but God.

Joshua Speights

commented on Mar 22, 2013

What sermon can be preached that is original? What words can we say that belong to us? We are a kingdom people who are tasked to spread the word. Who cares about sermon originality except those who believe the ideas are their's, which it is not. We all should feel blessed to plagarize Christ. I believe Christ wants that. I have found out that no sermon is original and no thought is original we are all persuaded by what we have learned and experienced through life. I pray that every sermon I write is preached until the letters fall off the page by someone other than myself. Plagarism is not preaching a sermon written by someone else because we are not in a classroom where we give our papers to a professor for grading. I pray that we all desire our grade to be pleasing to God and not self centered enough to believe that my words are my own. Everyone reads, understands, quotes, mimics, sees, feels, etc. based on what we have been taught. No one has an inside track to original knowledge, no one, but God.

commented on Mar 22, 2013

It's great that we can learn from one another and help each other, but that still doesn't give us the room to be lazy and just word for word preach another preachers sermon. Paul told Timothy to study to show thyself approved. Who knows what God has given to one Pastor that may be speaking to his Church about a certain issue that's not affecting another Church. If we do that then our calling can be suspect and any common Joe Blow can stand and read a sermon word for word off the paper and not be lead by God.

Wayne Howard

commented on Mar 22, 2013

I agree with those who say everything under the sun is the same or we would have to embrace evolution in some form, as far as plagerism goes all the apostles and discviples plagerized Christ because they were told Paul himself says imatate me as I imatate Crhist no matter how we try there is nothing new about our savior and master. I do say make it your own because if you do not you will get all tied up trying to teach another mans thought. Like the author of this article wrote milk the cows, but churn your own butter.

Bill Tewinkle

commented on Mar 22, 2013

I do my own research first. Then I will look at sermons here and elsewhere for illustrations, angles. etc. Sometimes I see sections of commentaries in sermons I have read in sermons, usually with, but sometimes without attribution. I assume the speaker is saying, "as one commentator puts it" or words to that effect rather than claiming the commentary quote as his or her own. I think our congregations assume we are doing reading to prepare a message and attribution during a message is not only ethical but, I think, expected and appreciated by the audience.

Marticia Banks-Booker

commented on Mar 22, 2013

"in fact, if you come up with a reading of the test that no one else has ever seen, you're wrong" is based upon 2 Peter 1:20 "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation"... Please don't take the concept out of context. The points by all are well made, but the "private interpretation" is the part that really matters... if its private and not public then its not of "scripture."--- Boasting is the fruit of the "Pride of Life." I like reading all the comments on this subject. I like the illustrations too. All of them... I might just have to steal some of it.

commented on Mar 23, 2013

In any discipline, plagiarism is the act of presenting someone else's work as your own, without citing the source. It can be stolen, used with permission or even paid for. Plagiarism is lying, deceitful, false, or whatever you choose to call it, but is not condoned by the Bible. There are tons of verses about lying, but I like Levitius 19:11 "You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.">>>>>> If a university student turns in a paper and even if only a small percent came from another source and the source isn't cited, regardless of whether the student had permission to use or even paid for the material, the student has plagiarized and risks expulsion if caught. >>>>>>The Bible isn't typically truly plagiarized. People usually say when a passage they use comes from the Bible and often cite the verse(s) as well. When a pastor preaches, it's understood he'll be using the Bible and it's generally assumed he's consulted God in preparation. Jesus wanted the Bible to be read publicly and for others to teach His teachings, that isn't the same as plagiarism. Plagiarism comes in when the preacher is using other sources such as teaching from non-Bible sources and throwing in other people's works/ideas and failing to make note to the listeners of the additional sources and allowing listeners to assume all that he's saying came solely from his own reading and study of the Bible and communications with God.

Steve Greer

commented on Mar 23, 2013

When I was ordained, my Pastor said, "Feel free to use anything I've preached as your own." As I was under him for so many years, his preaching and teaching already felt like "mine," but it was kind of him to say it. Now that I'm a Pastor, when I hear young people in my church share from the pulpit using quotes, phrases and teaching points I've made as if it were their own, I smile from ear to ear. The word "theft" never once came to mind.

Dutch Boer

commented on Mar 25, 2013

If your words are "directed by God, or God inspired" then who are you plagiarizing? God? As Mike Bickle says," My only copyright is your right to copy." Same is true of my music.... I would trust it is used for the glory of God not profit!

Dutch Boer

commented on Mar 25, 2013

If your words are "directed by God, or God inspired" then who are you plagiarizing? God? As Mike Bickle says," My only copyright is your right to copy." Same is true of my music.... I would trust it is used for the glory of God not profit!

George Franco

commented on Apr 5, 2013

In my first or second year as a pastor I preached a sermon I was very proud of. One of my points contained a line of thought that I was convinced was so original and unique, so powerful and insightful, so fresh from the throne of God that even he had only just thought of it. Then someone in church gave me a folder with several dozen sermons I he had printed off the internet. I was shocked when I picked one up and saw that our dear late brother David Wilkinson had stolen my point idea. In a way I kind of felt flattered that such a great father in the faith would think my idea so great that he would feel compelled to thieve it. My pride quickly dissipated when I saw the date of his sermon was some 20 years older than mine.

Sara Brown

commented on Nov 29, 2014

It sounds like to me God was really trying to get a point across to the church you wrote about at the beginning of this article. These are my thoughts on it: I think that if a pastor has studied it would be impossible for him site every source he used. I also dont think that the congregation would expect him to do that IF indeed he is studying. It is one thing to barrow or quote a trusted source. It is another thing when a church member can come to a website and read sermons word for word, including illustrations, as if they had been actual experiences their pastor had himself. That kind of "barrowing" would likely make those who found out about it question a lot of things. I still believe God would use something like this for those who want to learn. If the Holy Spirit gave the message to someone else then God is the Author and He will use it for the good of those that love Him; however, at the risk of someone finding out I don't think it should be done because of the damage it would cause. We are all sinners though and if we all knew everything God knows about those we love, self included along with those I love and am loved by, then we would be a lot more disappoint in some people than we ever thought we could be. We should be careful to remember our own faults and speak to each other, even our pastor if we need to, in love.

Lonnie Spencer

commented on Jul 10, 2017

Comparing the written word with the oral word is comparing apples to oranges. Comparing plagiarism of the written word with the oral word of preaching is not an accurate comparison because of the different contexts. The context of a book is on the written page. The communication of the word is written. The only way one could plagiarize that work is to write it on a different page and call it my own work. Preaching is not a written communication but an oral communication. Its context is a specific audience, a specific place and time, spoken by a specific person. For one to plagiarize a sermon, one would have to re-create the context of the preaching event. That is not possible. Plagiarism only remotely became an issue in the pulpit when we started making the unique context of an oral communication-preaching event- a written communication that has a limited context of the written word. We don't hand out sermons in church for people to read. Sermons are an oral communication that will always change because the context of oral communication is always changing.

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