Summary: Preachers who habitually plagiarize other men's sermons are in danger of preaching outside of the Will of God.
THE POTENTIAL PROBLEM
The Wall Street Journal printed an article entitled: That Sermon You Heard on Sunday May Be From the Web; November 15, 2006; Page A1. Although the article seemed to focus on the ethics of plagiarism, what I found most disturbing was the allegation that many preachers frequently look outside of a personal experience with God for their sermon material. I was so intrigued by the thought that I conducted a bit of my own research. I Googled the question: “where should a preacher get his sermons.” Low and behold, the first thing that popped up was the Wall Street Journal article on preacher plagiarism. I thought my Google search was going to really pay off. As I continued to search through the first two pages of findings, however, my hopes faded: everything else was about how to preach or how to get a free sermon. It would seem that there is a general consensus in Christendom that it is perfectly acceptable for a preacher to look, for a sermon, outside of his personal relationship with God.
Now I will admit that it seems understandable for a preacher to find sermon ideas in nature and in society; but only as such events transpire under the Lordship and gospel of Jesus Christ. It is also understandable that sermons shared for the purpose of edification and a broadening of our theological knowledge could be a source of inspiration for a sermon. What I find most disturbing, however, is the general acceptance of preachers using another person’s sermon, almost verbatim. In a Ministry Matters article entitled Plagiarism and Preaching, posted on March 12th, 2012, Richard C. Stern makes the statement: “Plagiarism is one of the most likely factors to be included on a list of ethical practices for preachers, and yet it is also the one most likely to be violated.” I ask you: How can this be? In every other medium or field of endeavor such action would be considered very unethical; even when credit was given to the original source. A preacher building from the theme of another’s sermon is one thing but outright preaching of the other man’s sermon is seriously questionable.
Let us set aside the question of plagiarism and ethics; so that we might look deeper into the issue of a preacher frequently obtaining sermon material outside of his personal relationship with God. According to scripture, a preacher is a herald and a messenger. As a herald, the preacher is under the authority of God to proclaim to the people the will of God and our need for obedience. As a messenger, the preacher is to take to the people a message that comes from his personal relationship with the Godhead. Thus, a preacher is supposed to be in communication with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If the man is truly called by God, he has been given Jesus’ authority to share with the people the message he has gleaned from scripture and from his Christian walk. Paul told Timothy that he needed to work hard and study so that he could stand before God as a servant who is approved; as a servant who rightly handles the word of truth and thus has no need to be ashamed. Paul told Timothy to avoid meaningless messages and worldly words that would bring confusion to the people. (2 Timothy 2:14-26) In other words, a preacher should simply share with the people a clear message that originated in his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Let me propose that the root of this problem originates in the fact that men are preaching from a head-knowledge about Jesus and not from a heart-relationship with Jesus. I believe this proposal is validated because of the preponderance of literature and internet traffic dedicated to instructions for writing and delivering a sermon. It is both amusing and frustrating when you take into consideration the level of academic advice given to organizing a sermon; using the right words; and speaking in a professional matter. It is almost as if these so-called bible scholars were of the opinion the Holy Spirit went into retirement when the last Apostle died. They also seem to forget that we are working on the foundation built by Jesus and the Apostles. The Apostle Paul, for example, did not preach to the Corinthians with lofty speech or wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Why? He preached so that the people’s faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) Paul knew that the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:20) And, power does not come from head knowledge about Jesus; power comes from a close disciple relationship with Jesus.