Preaching Articles

Recently, I reviewed a copy of Scott Gibson's book, Should We Use Someone Else's Sermon? published by Zondervan. Scott's the Director of the Center for Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and co-founder of the Evangelical Homiletics Society. His book squarely addresses the issue of plagiarism in the pulpit and has a lot of good insight into answering the question posed by the title of the book.  The book is extensively researched and articulately written, including vivid examples of pastors who have gotten into deep water with their sermon preparation practices. Just the book's style and intellectual treatment of the topic makes it worth reading.  It's a fairly brief book with just over a hundred pages and carefully prepared with 324 endnotes.  I recommend that preachers get a copy.

In my observation, the book is a fairly hard-hitting presentation, starting with words like "sermon-stealing" and ending by calling plagiarism "sin."  There is a whole lot in between that examines different angles on sermon sharing, including historical examples down through the centuries.  I'll share my reflections here, some in contrast to the book.

The book basically answers its own question with "We shouldn't use someone else's sermon," or at least we shouldn't plagiarize another's sermon. A better title to the book might be Should We Plagiarize Someone Else's Sermon? I think my article title leads to a bit more of a messy discussion and, perhaps, conclusion.

With a fascinating and extensive run up to defining the word "plagiarism," Scott cites two definitions of the term, one from Haddon Robinson:

"In a world of preaching, a pastor who takes sermons from other preachers – word-for-word – without giving credit is guilty of plagiarism. That is stealing what is not yours."

I think the "giving credit" element is critical but also problematic.  Dr. Robinson's definition raises other questions:  If we quote 50 words from another pastor – word-for-word – and don't cite them, is that stealing? What about 100 words?  500 words?  An entire sermon?  What if we quote anything or anyone in as little as a sentence?  Or two?  Is that stealing? The definition can get blurry.

In another instance, Dr. Robinson is quoted as saying:

"It's hard to footnote sermons. There's no way to make people in the pews understand all of the sources you are using, especially if they're highly academic sources. I don't think anyone expects preachers to stand up there and quote all of their reference books and commentaries by name."

Robinson's point is excellently made, though it seems to conflict with the earlier point.  If we preach a sermon like a professor writes a text book, the art of preaching will clearly be undone.  We're faced with this tension, and it's not going to go away.  Hopefully, pastors can develop a framework which can facilitate healthy decision making in their sermon preparation process.

The other definition of "plagiarism" in the book is from a journalist:

"Plagiarism is borrowing someone else's words and passing them off as one's own, whether in print, in speech or performance."

So here's another question:  If we borrow someone else's words and don't pass them off as our own, are we okay then?  For example, if I memorize and recite the Sermon on the Mount or the Declaration of Independence, is that plagiarism?  No. The world knows the content is not mine.  The same is true of a homily in Latin provided from the Vatican or Archdiocese. The audience understands from the context that the priest didn't write the sermon.

I could ask the same about Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.  By the time I got to "the content of his character," my audience would know I didn't invent the speech.  So, I wouldn't be violating their trust. But, I might be violating the law with a copyright infringement.

Another example: If I modify the language of a Charles Spurgeon sermon and preach it without citation, is that plagiarism? Maybe. My guess is Spurgeon would be thrilled—and disinterested in a royalty!  But it might cause a breach of trust with my audience.

Still another example: If I find a great sermon from another pastor on Matthew 24 filled with crisp, current illustrations, and I recite it verbatim without citation, is that plagiarism? It's pretty hard to argue that it's not, even if he's given me permission to use the sermon. Using someone else's content extensively requires permission from both the source and from your audience.

In an article in The Wall Street Journal, Steve Sjogren emphatically stated, "Don't be original. Be effective!" He urged pastors to quit spending time striving for originality; they should instead recite the words of better sermonizers. "We need to get over the idea that we have to be completely original with our messages each and every week. The guys I draw encouragement from...get 70 percent of their material from someone else." I think that Steve's on tenuous ground as we must ask the question, "Just how is the 70 percent handled?"  I do agree with his point that the expectation of originality can go too far.

Rick Warren is emphatic in the sermons he provides: "Use them!" He asks for no citation. However, a pastor using Rick's sermons must assess the expectation of his or her congregation. Most listeners expect a certain level of originality, and if it's not there, they probably expect a citation of some sort.

A couple of years ago, I asked Max Lucado about his sermon preparation. With no apology (but with great humility), he shared that he has preached someone else's sermons before. It was during a very dry time in his life due to multiple book projects and a heavy pastoral load in his church. He was just wiped out.  This is how he handled it: He called another pastor friend, told him he was in need, and asked if he could preach to his church the same series his friend had just preached at his church.  The friend readily agreed. Max openly told his church the source of his material, he preached the messages, and all was well. He clearly borrowed someone else's work and words, but he did not pass them off as his own; so I sensed no violation of conscience. I, too, would have liberty of conscience under the same circumstances, properly handled.

I believe that conscience is one of three major issues here.  "Am I guarding my own conscience in my sermon preparation and delivery?"  I must add that my conscience has to guide me, and your conscience has to guide you. If the conscience of others dictates my own, then my conscience will incessantly be conflicted. We aren't wired to be driven by the conscience of another; each person's conscience must stand or fall on its own. The conscience of some preachers compels them to cite meticulously; others aren't so compelled. We must have faith before God that our sermon preparation is approved by him.

 "Why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?" (1 Corinthians 10:29 NIV)

The second major issue is diligence. "Am I faithfully studying the Word that I am preaching?"  If using the work of another is simply an excuse or temptation to neglect my solemn duty, I've strayed from my calling. Chuck Swindoll emphasized this to me over and over in an interview: "Sermon preparation is hard work." We are workers.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15; NIV)

The third major issue is that of trust. Frankly, I think this issue brings the most clarity to Scott Gibson's question. If our mode of sermon preparation breaks trust with those to whom we preach, then the answer to the question posed by the book's title is a clear "No." How can a relationship proceed with broken trust? It cannot unless it is restored. And restoring trust is far more difficult than guarding trust in the first place. There are pastors who have paid with their jobs to demonstrate this.

So, in answer to the question, "Should we use someone else's sermon?" I would say that in many, many cases, the answer can legitimately be "Yes." We can use the sermons of Jesus, Paul, Peter, Stephen, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, Moody, Finney, Sunday, Graham, and many, many others. Anthologies of sermons have been valuable tools for preachers for hundreds of years. Now (as on, we have more than a hundred thousand sermons available online, including some of the great sermons of history as well as contemporary sermons of pastoral peers. I believe these, properly used, are a tremendous resource. 

Should we deliver them verbatim while secretly concealing the source? Certainly not. But compare them, study them, glean from them, treat the online collection as a half-million-page commentary on virtually every verse in the Bible? I think so.

Think of the precious time and money that pastors have saved by learning directly from each other online. Pastors are among the busiest people on the planet. They must balance the demands of studying the Word and accomplishing much, much more with their congregations and communities (admittedly, often too much more). SermonCentral is about assisting pastors in more efficient, biblical sermon preparation, a highly time-and energy-consuming activity.

(Note: To guide what we consider to be the proper and improper use of the resources on our site, we recommend that users join more than 6,500 other preachers and teachers in affirming The Preacher's Pledge.)

I'd like to delineate between the three terms I've used in regards to the use of others' work. I'll also give some examples of how they play out in preaching (these are my own definitions):

  • Plagiarism: Taking the work of another and representing it as your own. (Actually, that one might be stolen! I honestly can't remember.)
  • Quotation: Taking a limited portion of the work of another and representing it as such.
  • Citation: Identifying the source of a quotation.

Are we required to always cite? Haddon Robinson has expressed that complete citation of all sources is very problematic. If I preach the sentence, "Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty," do I have to reference John Donne? I think not. I may, but I don't have to. Everyone either knows that Donne wrote the sentence, or if not, they know that I didn't write it! Either way, it's obvious that it's not my original thought. Similarly, if I say, "We're not trying to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. We're just trying to share Jesus with someone by the end of the week," must I necessarily cite John F. Kennedy? No.

Does this mean quotes need not be cited? Often they should, especially when a quickly mentioned name can get the job done. A preacher will constantly be faced with a stream of decisions about how to present materials and when or if to cite a source. Through intellect and conscience, each of us is equipped to regularly make those decisions. (Romans 14:22-23)

In terms of operating guidelines, the longer the quote, the more likely a citation is needed. Also, the less a quote is known, the more likely a citation is appropriate. JFK might not need a reference, but a little-known pithy summary of the Bible by Henry Johnson probably merits a citation.

In summary, if we are guarding our conscience, working hard to study a passage, and maintaining trust with our hearers, we should enjoy full freedom to utilize the sermons of others. I agree with Scott Gibson that we should not plagiarize someone else's sermon. In the framework I've presented here, I think he'll probably agree that there can be real value in using someone's sermon, so long as it does not violate conscience, diligence, and trust. I'll email him a copy of this article with an opportunity to share further in our article forum.

It's remarkable that we have the privilege of holding in our hands the very words of God, to preach those words, and with them to shepherd God's people. Thankfully we have a community of peers to learn from, to challenge us, and to encourage us along the way.

Ron Forseth is Editor-at-Large for,, and He studied for two years with Wycliffe Bible Translators and has a passion to share Christ and see all people groups of the world reached with the Gospel. He served for several years as a college pastor in Colorado and in Christian service for most of the 1990s in China and Mongolia. He is General Manager of Outreach Media Group and Vice President of Outreach, Inc., an organization dedicated to inviting and connecting every person in America to a Bible-believing church so that they might have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Ron lives with his wife, Carol, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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Talk about it...

Chris Appleby

commented on Jun 8, 2009

This is a complex issue. Personally I put my sermons on the web for two reasons: One is to bless more than the 120 people in my congregation. The second is so other preachers can benefit from the small insights God may have given me. I know from feedback that there are preachers out there who have either little time or little theological training for preaching who appreciate what I can give them. In terms of plagiarism it seems to me that every good expository preacher regularly uses the work of others who have written commentaries, both using their scholarship and often their outlines. Where would we be without John Stott's three or four point chapter outlines!? One of my great hates is preachers who present sermons that sound more like essays with every quote referenced. The skill of the preacher is to take all the inputs you've managed to glean and reshape them in your own words. My guess is that congregations can always tell when a preacher is simply quoting someone else's work because no two preachers speak the same way. The skill (art?) of preaching is to express in your own fresh way timeless truths from God's word and my guess is that anyone whose sermons you may use in preparation was probably using someone else's ideas in the first place.

Chris Appleby

commented on Jun 8, 2009

By the way, Thanks Ron for your excellent summary and comments.

Jeff Strite

commented on Jun 8, 2009

Plagerism can lead to sad results. A friend of mine lost his pulpit because he preached other men's sermons (off sermoncentral). And there is a famous writer and preacher who has lost the respect of many of my acquaintances because he is known for using other people's experiences and saying they were his. Frankly, anyone is welcome to use any or all of my sermons and it wouldn't bother me (I don't view them as mine anyway) but the damage such actions can bring to your ministry can be tragic and long lasting.

Frank Coleman

commented on Jun 8, 2009

The passing off of someone else's sermons & experiences is a direct violation of trust. Isn't all preaching a form of plagerism? We are given the Word of God through the Bible, then He inspires us to deliver a paraphrase, of sorts, for local clarity. Then we have the nerve to take ownership of God's inspiration. I think "credit" is just another way of making sure book sales are protected. Sharing God's Word is what's important, not who said it, especially since God is the source.

Al Brodbent

commented on Jun 8, 2009

I agree this is a touchy subject and not easily defined. In my earlier years I was a manuscript preacher. The process I used was this: 1) write the author and get thier permission to use it in a manuscript form ( I have 5 great preachers letters on file) 2) Type the message exactly as it is on the tape (CD). 3) Go through and validate the Greek or Hebrew interpretations as well as the context of hte Scripture. You would be amazed at some of the inaccuracies of some of the greatest preachers. 4) Replace any personal illustrations with my own as possible. If I can't then I give credit, ie. "Dr. Rodgers tells about....". 5) Do a final review and see if the Spirit makes me comfortable with what I have. Sometimes you would not recognize where it came from and others there were little changes. My view was Bible quoting and interpretation of these sermons came from bibles or Commentaries and the preacher was not the originator of htese and has no specific rights to them. One great preacher, when discussing this issue, stated there is very little that are original, in this day and age, that preachers say.

David Henderson

commented on Jun 8, 2009

I heard Dr. Adrian Rogers say over 25 years ago that "if the bullet fits the gun, shoot it. Every message that is a good one comes from the same source anyway." I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. The OT reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. None of us have much to say that hasn't already been said. It is one things to share someone's else's experience and say it is ours. Clearly that is deception. But shariong someone's words ia another matter. If anyone wanted to use one of my sermons i would feel honored. :) Thew few comments people have made on my messages i offer on the website are very affirming for me. Plagiarism is "presenting the ideas of words of another as one's own." If you preach a message and then tell everyone that you came up with the entire message without reading any other books, commentaires, etc. then you have deceived your congregation. Most people in the pew realize that pastors today go to as many sources as possible to feed the flock 2-3 times every week.

Terry Kemp

commented on Jun 8, 2009

Here's my thought. I served as a vocational preacher for 20+ years. The last 18 I have been bi-vocational. I had a lot more time for sermon preparation the first 20+ years. My "rule of thumb" is measured by by the extent of my revision. If I'm quoting almost "word for word" I give credit ... If I've extensively rewritten into my own words [which can take 8-10 hours]I feel that while the idea may belong to another, the sermon is mine. Feedback appreciated!

David Lord

commented on Jun 8, 2009

Often I will use materials from someone else and at the bottom of the sermon outline in the worship folder will put something to the effect that "This sermon is drawn from the writings of xxxxxx." Several years ago, an old friend called and wanted to know if I would send him manuscripts from a sermon series I had preached. I did. Months later, he sent me the manuscripts of his sermons on that series. In one of my sermons, I shared an incident that had happened in a church I pastored--guess what--in his sermon, HE had pastored that church, and that lady was HIS member--that's going beyond credibility...

Sheldon Boyd

commented on Jun 8, 2009

A very good article. I occasionally use ideas I get from other sermons. As a contributer to sermon central I am honored when someone finds a sermon of mine worth using. I have never used a sermon word for word, it is just not something that fits my conscience or style. I try to use other sermons as I do the commentaries and other sources I use for preparing a sermon. It still ends up taking 8-12 hours to get a sermon prepared.

Ralf Bergmann

commented on Jun 8, 2009

Personally, I might use some idea from someone else's sermon - but I would have a problem doing any more then that. I even struggle with re-using a sermon that I had written for a previous congregation. The reason is this, my preparation spans at least a week in the crafting - and because of that I live with the message for an extended period of time - making the actual preaching more natural - and I think more effective. The best guide is probably found on our knees in prayer throughout the week.

John Chiara

commented on Jun 8, 2009

Somebody said, "I gather the cream from a lot of places but I make my own butter." My motto is, "If it speaks to's mine"

Ricky Kennedy

commented on Jun 8, 2009

With the introduction of the internet, how do we know who said what first. Its impossible. Words are just that , Words. If they glorify God, use them. Let the Spirit of God guide your heart.

Charles Wallis

commented on Jun 8, 2009

May I quote you? "It's remarkable that we have the privilege of holding in our hands the very words of God, to preach those words, and with them to shepherd God's people." That says alot!

Ron Forseth

commented on Jun 8, 2009

Hi Charles, You may certainly quote me. And I'm comfortable letting you decide whether or not to cite me!

William Kenna

commented on Jun 8, 2009

Jeremiah 1:9 says, "Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, Behold, I have put My words in your mouth." When one of my sermons, from the Lord, returned to me six months later, this time from another church and pastor, without even a comma changed in it, I had to wonder if Jeremiah 1:9 was still in effect in this instance. Perhaps the Lord had that message for the other church as well and simply used me as only "the first composer."

Jack Wright

commented on Jun 8, 2009

I started peaching when I was 15 years old. I knew nothing of sermon prep but I knew how to read. I had a book of sermons by Gordon Bayless, a Baptist evangelist. I memorized a sermon entitled "Broadcasting from Calvary". I went all over West Texas preaching that sermon and many came to Christ as a result. Did I cite Bro. Bayless? No...but he would not have cared. If I find a sermon on SC that blesses me, I have no problem reworking it in my words and presenting it as my own. What would we do without resources like Sermon Central? I like what John Maxwell said...photocopy, use my material and present it as your own. If you have a problem, then the first time you use some of my material you can say... John Maxwell says", the second time you can say... "It's been said", and the third time simply say... "you know, I have been thinking."

Steven Spence

commented on Jun 8, 2009

I'm new at this sermon writing business. I've only been pastoring for about four months. I need all the help I can get. I don't think I have the ability to memorize someone elses sermon, but I often look at several sermons on Sermon Central and pick and choose illustrations and examples, as well as insights that other pastors have discovered. If it seems appropriate to give credit where credit is due, I'm happy to do that. My main objective is to get The Word to my people in a clear and as easily understood way. Thrth is, that's what I thought Sermon Central was all about. Helping each other bring quality sermons to the people we serve. Going a little deeper, I really try to get my insight from the Holy Spirit first. And I lean heavily on Him to lead me in the putting together the two sermons and one bible study I have to write every week. By the way, until last week I've been bi-vocational and my time has been extreemly limited. Well That's my views, right or wrong. If I feel the check of the Holy Spirit, then I don't do it.

Joel Rutherford

commented on Jun 8, 2009

Good article/great insights! As a third generation pastor, I was asked by a church member who grew up in my grandfather's church to preach a message he had preached, and my dad, called "Come Before Winter". My dad could not locate this manuscript, so I went looking online. I eventually found this message was originally preached by Clarence McCartney (1st Presbyterian Pittsburgh - a great soulwinning church)in the 30's. He preached it EVERY year. What I also found online was that a number of ministers (known well-enough and from large enough churches to have some of their sermons online decades later)had also preached this message - some almost word for word. Although I made a number of changes, I did refer to Dr McCartney's origination of this message. My point is that those who have gone before us - some of the best - used others' sermons. I think those who suggest we only use 'original' material sometimes think of themselves a little more highly than they ought (that's a quote from Romans 12:3, don't want to steal!) I'd also like to remind everyone that it seems God used plagiarism in his divine inspiration of the gospels. Perhaps Matthew, Mark, and/or Luke should be properly chastised from borrowing others' material. Perhaps those church leaders who fired pastors for utilizing websites (I realize there may be more to those stories than I know) could remove these men from their status as apostles/early church leaders. Better yet, they could take it upon themselves to pare down the gospels to 'original material only'.

Rev Randall Mimbs

commented on Jun 8, 2009

I feel I can preach as good as the Lord needs me to on that day, but I always strive to be better at getting God's message across. If I come across another pastors thoughts and I feel like I can give God the glory and it blesses the church then I have no problem using some of the pastors thoughts. I do not feel that I can repeat him word for word because thats not what God intends for me to do. I believe that God wants me to do my home work and be the best I can at presenting His message. I am very thankful for each pastor that allows me and others to share in the work he has put together. I feel really blessed to be a pastor and share God's message with each of the other pastors. May God bless you all and keep you safe.

Charles Gibbs

commented on Jun 8, 2009

I could no more preach another man's sermon verbatim then i could drink up all the water in the ocean. However, if I can live with another man's message long enough for it to become my own, I have no problem preaching it. My question is, if I use another's outline (major points) verbatim, without giving credit, is that plagiarism?

Andrew Moffatt

commented on Jun 8, 2009

Thanks for the article. Clarification excellent.

Ron Milner

commented on Jun 8, 2009

This subject of plagiarism is very interesting. I am a bi-vocational pastor who has to balance the demands of a secular job with the ministry. I often use Sermon Central to find sermon ideas. I was and am of the understanding that these sermons were donated for this very purpose. To be freely used by other pastor's to share the good news gospel. I never use a sermon without putting it into my words and to be honest the finished product may have parts of two or three sermons that I find on line. Quotes I give credit if I feel it is needed but I do not tell my church each week that the message is actually taken from two or three sources. I feel when if is all said & done it is my sermon and I do not feel I have done anyone wrong. I am thankful for Sermon Central and I am thankful for the pastor's who share their messages instad of locking them away never to be seen again, that would be a sin, that would be sad.

James Scott

commented on Jun 8, 2009

I have always appreciated the comment made by Pastor Rick Warren..."God has called us to be effective, not to be original at everything we teach. So if my bullets fit your gun, shoot them!" Thank you Rick!

William Hernandez

commented on Jun 8, 2009

How can we draw a line between plagiarism and research, when most of the sermons that we as pastors or ministers preach usually come from a dictionary or commentary? Therefore, it will be very difficult to believe that someone is preaching without research. If someone posts a sermon on the internet, it is because that person is authorizing someone else to use it. I use sermon central as a research, but I can’t say that every Sunday whenever I preach in the pulpit, comes from my research. It’s usually once in a while. I have a problem with that book since the laws of communication have changed thanks to the internet. That’s just my opinion. (By the way Dr. Scott was my professor)

Edrich Fernandes

commented on Jun 9, 2009

Ron, and his author friend unfortunately swell the numbers of men who think that their sermon is original. There really is nothing new under the sun. Whenever a preacher puts something up on the web, he supposedly desires others with less oratory skills to be benefitted from his work. Most honest preachers would never take something verbatim from the site and use it. They would at least allow it to filter through their spirits a little. And to call copying a sermon 'sin' is downright goddish. Why bother recording messages if you don't want any one to use or preach the material. If Paul were alive today, he'd be screaming plagiarism and sin at all of us. I suspect that some of these plagiarism sensitive men really want their names publicised on every slide.

Mike Cleveland

commented on Jun 9, 2009

"Save us from sermons, give us a message!" This is the heart cry of our people. The first is something God gave someone else that we use, the second is what God gave us for our people. Thank you for this article, Ron, it was excellent!

Paul Zeron

commented on Jun 9, 2009

I am so glad to see such common sense remarks about this subject. I refuse to 'copyright' anything (of course, it's rare that anyone thinks that something I put out is even worth copyrighting!). I also use another consideration when determining how I present material in a sermon: how will the material be received? 1. People weak of conscience might be offended because of their misperceptions about what is proper, so I know that attribution of some sort is in order. 2. If I have reworked someone else's material extensively and passed it through the filter of my own experience so that it really is mine, I do not give attribution. 3. If it is not so extensive, I will remark that I am thankful for the work of the person who was a blessing to me in the preparation of the sermon. This is usually not necessary because I find it hard to use someone else's work without editing it all over the place. 4. If a quote is from someone who is well known, I attribute because part of the significance of the quote is the source. 5. If it is not from a well known source, I will say, "As one (preacher, politician, teacher, architect, etc.) said..." 6. If a quote is from a source that I would not otherwise approve of, I will do the same as in no. 5. 7. Always, I footnote the source in my sermon notes so that I don't go back years later to pull some material from them and think that it was original. Also, it helps me in my studies and to be able to point people to further information should they ask. It is terrible that people can be so sloppy, though, to use other's materials to the point that they claim someone else's experience to be their own. I hope that nothing I say is ever "original" but that it all comes from God through one source or another. "If it's new, it's not from God. If it's from God, it's not new." (Can't remember where I read that!)

Daryl Drew

commented on Jun 9, 2009

I would like to respond to Jeff Strites'comments. While I personally do not believe it is plagerism to use someone else sermons. We live in a society,culture that does. I have been a Pastor for 15 months. After I preached my first sermon I was asked for a copy of my sermon. I was told later the request was made to see if I used someone elses sermon. Every word was "orginal." needless to say if I had used someone eles' sermon I would no longer be the Pastor. I belive we cannot own words or ideas. If we bring people to Christ then what is the problem? Solomon said it best'there is nothing new under the sun."

John Casto

commented on Jun 9, 2009

If you don't want someone to use your idea...just don't let it be a good one.

Myron Heckman

commented on Jun 9, 2009

Judging from the comments, there is a divergence of views on the ethics of using other's sermons. It might help to put the focus of the ethics of this on lying rather than stealing. An important issue is if I misrepresent some one else's unique sentences and paragraphs as my own (or someone else's experience as my own) I've broken trust. If it's a concept that I've digested and put in my own words, that is expected and does not misrepresent myself as some great original thinker.

David Pegarella

commented on Jun 9, 2009

Part of Plagiarism I blieve has in it the idea that you are trying to pass yourself off as someone else. As one who has been preaching for over thirty years I have found people will be able to tell if your preaching matches your life. I once heard that Mark Twain said, "There hasn't been an original thought since Adam." To a large extent I agree with that comment. Many great musicians and songwriters will tell you their inspiration for their great song came from a musical phrase or verse from another song. I have preached well over a thousand messages and would be lying if I said everything in everyone of them was completely original. However, each of them was well researched, well prepared, and well prayed over. If all you do is copy, you will be found out, and you won't last.

Philip Cochran

commented on Jun 9, 2009

Thanks for the article. I've now been in ministry for 27 years and have been dealing with this for all of those! I used to be connected to a pastor who copyrighted every word of every sermon. When I explained to him why I had a problem with that - he was greatly offended. I personally believe that if each word is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is used to glorify God - then - God be praised... As a side note, it's also disheartening to see that there just aren't that many things that are said that are worth repeating! (sorry - but true) I believe that the greatest power of each message is the moment of it's delivery... anything brought up after that - just doesn't seem to convey the power or that original moment.... imho

Scott Salo

commented on Jun 9, 2009

If I ever share a thought or word as a preacher that anyone else can use to spread the gospel, then any and all are welcome to use it...and you don't have to give me credit! Credit the Holy Spirit instead!

Sheldon Boyd

commented on Jun 9, 2009

Ralf (10): You might be surprised at the people who even like to hear the same sermon again. I do Favorite Sermon Month every July and allow my people to request sermons they want to hear a second or even third time. Once I even was asked to preach a Christmas Message again. How bout that, Christmas in July.

David Hodgin

commented on Jun 9, 2009

(Sheldon #34 cool idea.) Stealing is wrong. Problem with the discussion on plagiarism is rather than focusing just on the sin, we should focus on the solution. Here's my suggestion: I find the Bible passage God is calling me to share. I read a couple tried and true commentaries on the passage. I read a couple sermoncentral sermons on the passage. Lift it all in prayer, then I usually have so many ideas I can hardly fit it in a 30 minute message. I get tempted to steal a good sermon, a good paragraph or illustration once in a while. But calling it sin, confessing it as such and trying to live what we all preach is much of what we're called to do.

Scott Bayles

commented on Jun 9, 2009

I've contributed a number of sermons and if anyone wants to preach them word-for-word, I take it as a compliment. Let's remember that plagiarism is never spoken of in the Bible. In fact, most scholars agree that the Gospel of Mark was written well before Matthew and Luke who both quote extensively from it without ever citing their source. Luke mentions at the begining of his Gospel that he "carefully investigated everything from the beginning," (Luke 1:3) but he certianly never mentions Mark by name. Sure, I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but lets not be dogmatic about this sort of thing.

Jim Ricker

commented on Jun 9, 2009

Mr. Forseth, As a pastoral min graduate who is serving the Lord in a non-vocational way presently, this article hits home. We are to be above board and honest and forget what MLA of APA would give us as loopholes. Thank you for bringing up this subject and by the comments thus far (22), it seems that many do not understand what plagiarism is. If I am going to use someone's ideas, words or even a whole sermon, I need to make reference to that person in a quick but open way. Haddon Robinson's comments are not contrary to each other, they compliment each other. Telling your congregation that "this quote is from Haddon Robinson" or "Ron Forseth" is enough to make it clear that one is not the author of that idea or words. If someone in the congregation desires more information, we should have it ready for them but need not make a MLA or APA notation in the sermon as it is presented. To act as though an idea is mine when I know it is not is obvious plagiarism and quite simply; a sin. Everyone makes mistakes and forgets to make a quick citation sometimes and that is technically plagiarism but as long as we work diligently to not make that mistake or catch the mistake and correct it during the next chance, it is certainly forgivable and most would be happy with the admission made in good faith. Thanks for the great article and I look forward to reading many more. Sorry I did not post my thanks online in the comments section, I cannot afford to be a member of sermon central at this point. I just wanted you to know your article was appreciated. Scott (36) Matthew never wrote the book as an original thought, he compiled Jesus' teaching, others information and grouped them according to how he wanted to make his point (guided by the Spirit of course!). He also most likely took oral stories and remembrances and put them to papyri but no one thought then or now that Matthew was coming up with original commentary on the subject he wrote about. The expectation of the listener to a sermon is that the preacher has discovered these things after studying the texts and then maybe consulting other sources. Writing a thematic, first century biography from oral traditions and eyewitness accounts is far different than a preacher coming up with a sermon. In the end, a preacher or teacher should attribute the thoughts and words of someone else because the expectation of the hearer is that the preacher has discovered and is making application and not that I have not either had the time or haven't taken the time to study His word and bring to His people the words, explanation and application that He has taught me. Besides, why would any preacher be against saying the truth, that he or she is speaking someone else's words and not his or her own? Grace and Peace, Jim

James Crawford

commented on Jun 9, 2009

Thank you for your common sense approach to this hot topic. I think that some preachers live in this "ivory tower" and have forgotten what it is like in the "real world". I am a bi-vocational preacher at a small church. My life is balanced between being a pastor, my secular job, being a husband and father. I do not have the luxury of having paid people of staff to help research my sermons or having countless hours to research my sermons. Through daily bible study and prayer, God leads me to the message He wants from the pulpit. I use various helps in preparing a sermon. One huge help that I am very thankful for is Sermon Central. I believe that God just doesn't give a preacher a message to be used only one time. If another pastor can use these points given to us originally by the Holy Spirit then let God use them in other churches. We are not working for man but for God! Instead of being boastful and worrying about who gets what citation, let's be worried about saving lost souls. Isn't that the bottom line?

Dennis Hammons

commented on Jun 9, 2009

I have been a pastor for 32 years, have preached over 5000 sermons, and have heard 1000's of others and I never cease to be amazed at those who believe they are "original" with their thoughts. If we are all being inspired by the same Holy Spirit to proclaim the same Word of God, I would hope and pray that it would be no surprise that our sermons would be similar. I have found that most of those pastors who claim originality have staffs who do much of their research and then they deliver their original message. Most of the time with no idea that their staff have borrowed some ideas from elsewhere. My sermons have been repeated over and over by others, and a couple times have been published by others. But I say as Rick Warren, "If my bullets fit your gun, shoot them!"

Ron Matthews

commented on Jun 10, 2009

I thank God for those of you who have shared your sermons for others to preach. Not only to preach but to feel and hear the words that we desired to express. If someone doesn't want their sermons repeated, don't send them to Sermon Central. The contributors of Sermon Central are happy to know that others who use a portion or all of their sermon are an extension of themselves. "Who cares if Biily goes to Hell?" God does and so do I. Whatever it takes to save a soul use it as long as God gets the glory. Remember Naaman, a commander of the Syrian army almost missed his blessing because he focused on who he was as opposed to whom he was.

Mark Clark

commented on Jun 11, 2009

Well said. As a young pastor I have learned a lot from reading the sermons of other preacher's. I agree with Robinson that citing all sources can become awkward and difficult as you preach, but, I've always seemed to find a way to give credit to people for their ideas...used in my sermons. Thanks.

Brian Miller

commented on Jun 11, 2009

I have only been a pastor for a year now. I am bi-vocational with a full time secular job as well as a large family. Spending hours upon hours for study is not a luxury I have when I teach Sunday School, sunday night and wednesday night in addition to preaching Sunday morning. On top of that, I am a man who comes to the point quickly. If I only preach my own "original" outline, it would be a 5-10 minute message. I believe pastors publish their sermons to benefit other pastors, such as myself, who are new, don't have years of sermons already in our pockets and don't have the ministering experience to draw on. Where did they get their words to publish? Hopefully they got them from the Holy Spirit. If so, and the Holy Spirit leads me to use their ideas to bring out and explain further what He wants me to preach, so be it. I would add further that any preacher who is concerned that someone else is plagiarizing his sermon needs to evaluate whether they were God's words he preached or his own (or ones he took from someone else's sermon). I occasionally use the majority of someone's sermon after sifting through and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me to find the right material. I then have to add other illustrations (calling some else's experience your own is lying) to make it "fit" my delivery style. We need to be more concerned that people are being presented the true Gospel rather than whether or not someone used the words we preached (that we either "stole" or were given by God). We have no original thoughts of our own. If they are original, you better not preach it. The Gospel hasn't changed. If our message has, due to "original" ideas, it is the wrong message.

Joel Rutherford

commented on Jun 11, 2009

responding to daryl drew (comment 28) As somebody who has been around the block a few times, I want to encourage you to be cautious in this situation about wolves in sheep's clothing. The person who asked for this copy to check up on you may be a Godly person, but this kind of strikes me as an action that would indicate he does not see you as his pastor; it seems he may be someone who sees himself as 'protecting the flock' from you. If he views using only 'original' material as a litmus test of your legitimacy, then you may have some real problems down the road. I would imagine that someone who sees borrowing from others' insightful thoughts and ideas as sinful enough to be worthy of dismissal will be able to find plenty of other faults as well.

Daniel Heaberlin

commented on Jun 12, 2009

I don't know how many times I have read and used as a basis a sermon on sermon central. But I also have to laugh at the many times I have started with a sermon that spoke to me, but by the time I got finished with it, the only thing that was recognizable was the sermon title (which by the way is often what draws me to the sermon in the first place.)

Gary Holt

commented on Jun 13, 2009

Several things. 1. Merely reading another persons sermon lacks the power they need. 2. Why post a sermon on the ol net if you object to it being reused? In addition, we are paying for this resource. 3. Who among us is original? Everything comes from somewhere 4. Some preachers have 1 task, to preach. I have no research no staff, no Phd., and limited experience(s). I am a minister and I preach. I cite as much as I can, and use the best stuff I can find. I put the sermon under the pulpit with all the citations, if someone is interested, so far no one has been. Finally, using other men's sermons is a very old, and useful tool. Every year I preach, I am honing my skills. My congregation has been blessed by the work and skill other men have put at my disposal. I assume every Sunday that my congregation wants the best I can give them, and if some or most of that comes from somewhere else, that's what they want.

Dennis Gleason

commented on Jun 13, 2009

The article by Ron Forsyth is quite interesting. I am reminded, however, that the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us quite clearly "there is nothing new under the sun..." and that surely speaks to originality in preaching. I have been preaching since I was 18 years old and that brings the total to about 45 years.During that time I have used the "work" and thoughts of others repeatedly without any pang of conscience. I believe it is a compliment to those who have been used by the Holy Spirit then and are being used now, when we use their material. I am also reminded that one of the great preachers in the history of the United States: Peter Marshall used the material of others freely without citation. I find that when I read your sermon, or have been attracted by the thought in your title, it gives me a fresh starting point. I will use some of what I read simply because you have said it so well. Improving upon it is usually quite difficult. Most often what I have read in the sermons of others is simply a catalyst and my study of the text leads me in a different direction and the usual result is quite different from what someone else has been preaching. I won't sell sermons containing your material without citation, but will simply thank you for being so led by the Spirit of God that you have been able to communicate the Word of God so succintly and clearly and with such power. Keep up the good work! There are times when I really need you!

Minister Angela Woodard

commented on Aug 18, 2010

The gospel is the gospel. It does not change. The word says anyone preaching anything but this gospel preaches a lie. To God be the glory to all of you!

Jimmy Montgomery

commented on Jan 3, 2011

Thanks so much for the excellent clarification and comments. I would love to add my own but honestly believe nothing original would come forth and thus I may be guilty of ...???....what's it called again? Seriously thanks much. God is good, preaching is the best part of being a minister in service to Him !

Hyacinth Martin

commented on Jan 1, 2024

Thanks Ron for the discussion and clarification. Thanks Chris for your comment: "My guess is that congregations can always tell when a preacher is simply quoting someone else's work because no two preachers speak the same way. The skill (art?) of preaching is to express in your own fresh way timeless truths from God's word." Amen. However, I will end with this small negative comment: "Integrity is lacking in all disciplines."

Javier Garza

commented on Jan 17, 2024

Awesome read! But I strongly disagree with using the word Plagiarism. Someone, somewhere, somehow, has used a sermon and rewrote in there way. Im okay with anyone using my sermons. I believe the word of the living God is being preached and by no means it's causing any harm to anyone. After all we are the universal church let's help each other out. Good read I love the positive criticism on the thread. Seems like most us don't really care if our sermons are used for His glory.

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