Church Issues

Preaching Epidemic

I just finished a preaching workshop with Simeon Trust. The workshop was on the book of Revelation. Each participant has two passages assigned beforehand to present in their small group. Each presentation worksheet is critiqued, fine tuned, and argued. It is an incredibly helpful and humbling experience. It is also exhausting. 

I try to plan my preaching schedule so that someone else preaches the Sunday after one of these workshops because preaching takes work. It requires a lot of mental and physical energy but it is a worthy and noble task. There is a huge difference between explaining a passage like a verbal commentary and preaching a passage. The ‘sermonizing’ aspect of a passage is very hard work. 

Contrast this noble and hard task with what I recently saw of another pastor. I heard a pastor I know was retiring so I went online to see his last sermon and sermon series. What do you say in your last sermon? What do you say in your last sermon series? I was shocked to see what I saw. This church has much to commend. Its ministry seems to be quite effective. The church is growing. But the preaching? Stolen! 

Shocked and dismayed are the only ways to describe how I felt. I looked at the sermon graphics and was impressed with them. I did a simple search to see where they bought them. There are many sites that will give media files for sermon/book series. Immediately, the website came up. It happened to be a large church that offers graphics and sermon manuscripts online. As I listened to the sermon, I pulled up the manuscript from the website and it all became clear. This pastor was using someone else’s sermon. I do not think it helps but the website does not charge for the usage of their material but it is still theft. 

Plagiarism in the pulpit is a real thing. It always shocks me to hear of it but it exists. Sometimes pastors get busy and do not have as much time to study. Sometimes the pressure to perform and preach well causes them to use a service or borrow a manuscript. Sometimes large church pastors encourage the practice and share about their use of services that provide sermons for them. But each time, it is wrong. 

It is better to preach a bad sermon of your own work than the stolen work of someone else. It is better to go through the growth process of preparing and preaching than to use the sermon of another. The nature of preaching is not just the delivery. Much of preaching is what happens in the hours of study and prayer. What God does in your own heart in preparation exceeds what response you get when you finish the sermon. I am thankful for a church that will let me continue to grow in preaching. It is a testament that the church can survive bad preaching but by God’s grace and more workshops, I believe I will improve! 

To conclude, I think there are more reasons guys may choose to plagiarize sermons: 

  • They are lazy. Preaching is hard work! I sat with an elder who is preaching this Sunday. He had done his main study and knew the passage. We agonized for a couple of hours just over several words. We went back and forth with the outline and main idea until we felt it ‘fit’ the passage. None of that is easy work. 
  • They think little of the Bible. They may claim to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, that is they believe it is true in all it says. But they do not believe in the sufficiency of the Bible. They believe the church will grow and people will be saved through a type of mechanism, experience, or gimmick. They reproduce the work of others hoping it reproduces similar results. 
  • They think little of God. The most important part of preaching is God’s own molding of the preacher. Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) The approved worker is one who handles the word rightly by studying it, wrestling with it, and proclaiming it, not the one who downloads the newest message. 

What should someone do if they are plagiarizing sermons? Stop. Confess the sin to the Lord and the church. You might be ‘borrowing’ or ‘using’ but know this it is stealing. It is dishonest. You need to look back at 2 Tim 2:15. You may be using someone else’s work so that you do not feel the shame of preaching a bad sermon. There is something about pouring your head, heart, and soul into a sermon and then thinking, “Well, that wasn’t any good.” It’s even worse when your wife agrees with you! There is a deep sense of pain and agony for pastors on Sunday nights and Monday mornings. Be encouraged, if you handled the word rightly, you have no shame! God approves of the one who handles the word rightly. You may need to work on your delivery but if you handled the word well, trust the Lord. 

There is an epidemic in the pulpit but it is not every pulpit. Sunday after Sunday, pastors walk up to the pulpit, Bible in hand, with a full heart, and full of trepidation to preach the word. They may lose their place in their notes. Their sermon may not have a dynamite illustration but it is faithful to the text. They have no need to be ashamed, they have rightly handled the word. Encourage your pastors out there, preaching is hard work! 

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