Thomas Long, preaching professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, has an excellent article in Christian Century this week on the subject of sermon stealing. The Internet has put an enormous quantity of resources at pastors’ fingertips that can be genuinely helpful in the sermon writing process, but all too many preachers have taken to using thr shortcut of simply preaching someone else’s sermon as their own. The amazing thing about this phenomenon is that there are preachers out there who are actually encouraging this:
Rick Warren, of the Saddleback Church, who markets his sermons online, told the British journal Christianity, “If my bullet fits your gun, shoot it,” and Craig Brian Larson, writing about pulpit plagiarism at PreachingToday.com, cites a preacher who says, “When Chuck Swindoll starts preaching better sermons, so will I.”…
“Don’t be original—be effective!” urges Steve Sjogren of the Cincinnati Vineyard Community Church, in an essay at Pastors.com. “In my mind,” he continues, “there is a tremendous amount of pride (let’s call it what it is) when we insist on being completely original as communicators. . . . The guys I draw encouragement from—the best communicators in the United States . . . get 70 percent of their material from someone else. Remember, Solomon wrote that ‘there is nothing new under the sun.'”
Warren and Sjogren are two of the most prominent evangelical pastors in America, and what they are encouraging is 1) theft; 2) laziness; and 3) dishonesty. What they are suggesting is taking shortcuts for the sake of efficiency, or “getting results,” rather than exhorting preachers to be faithful to the task to which the Lord has called them, leaving the results in His hands. That’s par for the course for an awful lot of American evangelicalism, but it’s kind of shocking to hear it advocated with regard to what amounts to just plain immoral behavior.
In one sense, I have a hard time understanding how plagiarism can be a temptation for preachers. Preaching is the most public thing pastors do, and if they don’t sound like themselves, or if they sound like a different person from one week to the next, their whole congregation will know it in short order. But apparently some find it a preferable alternative to coming up with their own words or thoughts. I pity them when they finally get caught, because there are few sins done in the course of pastoral duties that the typical congregation find less forgivable.