Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pastoral Plagiarism

A few days ago a pastor friend sent me a link for an article entitled “Don’t be original – be effective!”, by Steve Sjogren, a Cincinnati pastor and author. The article had been posted at Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox at Pastors.Com. After reading the article I simply sat there dumbfounded, stupefied. I felt like imitating Ezra when he said, “When I heard about this matter I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled” (Ezra 9:3).

What produced this reaction? This article is a brazen argument for pastors to quit trying to produce their own sermons and instead simply preach the material of others- even word for word! Sjogren argues that laboring to prepare a sermon yourself is silly, stating: “stop all of this nonsense of spending 25 or 30 hours a week preparing to speak on the weekend.” As a positive example he cites Paul Cho, pastor of supposedly the largest church in the world in Korea, who said:
"Honestly, I have never given an original message in all my years of ministry here at Yoido Church. Each week, I preach word-for-word messages from either Billy Graham or W.A. Criswell from Dallas First Baptist Church. I can't afford to not have a home run each weekend when we gather. I don't trust my own ability to give completely original messages."

Sjogren argues that the desire to prepare your own sermons is the result of pride that we need to get over. In fact he ridicules those who think they are preparing good sermons themselves by asking them if they are preaching such good sermons why are their churches still small. The obvious point is to simply copy the sermons of big church pastors- they’re simply plagiarizing others, Sjogren says.

Frankly, this is utterly disgusting. I remember hearing Adrian Rogers about 15 years ago at a Pastor’s Conference firmly condemn this practice. Sure, it is fitting to listen and learn from people. But skipping the hard work of study and preaching other men’s labors is abominable. Then to label the effort to prepare for oneself as the result of pride!! Oh, how blind! I suppose there is no arrogance in saying, “My service is so important I can’t afford not to hit a homerun each weekend”! How man-centered, performance driven is that? This is the real problem. The assumption behind the writing is that the big issue is a great performance in the preaching. So, if you can’t give a great performance borrow someone else’s. But, this is not what our people need. Performance is available in abundance. The word of God is not so available.

This all reminds me of a favorite passage of mine, Jeremiah 23. Here God sternly rebukes prophets who claim to come to God’s people with God’s message, but in actuality come with their own imaginations (v16). God contrasts their vain talk to the power of His Word (vv 25-32). God even says:

Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who steal My words from each other.” (v30)

Even with differences in context, I think this is clear. Our people do not need a performance. They need to gather with their brothers and sisters to hear their own overseer, who knows and loves them, and to hear the overflow of his heart resulting from his own wrestling with the text that week. We are not to be talking heads with fine points, but messengers who, having set in the counsel of God, can come with His Word. Again God speaks through Jeremiah:

"But who has stood in the council of the LORD, That he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? …"I did not send these prophets, But they ran. I did not speak to them, But they prophesied. "But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have announced My words to My people, And would have turned them back from their evil way And from the evil of their deeds. (v18, 21-22)

Let us give up on the sham allure of performance, stop up our ears from the siren calls even from fellow pastors, resist the enticements of Vanity Fair and simply give God’s Word to God’s people. Then we will have the pleasure of seeing people turned from their sin (one of the true goals rather than crowd gathering).

So, I encourage you to read Sjogren’s article and be appalled. Then renew yourself once more to the God-ordained task at hand. For in the end we will give account to the One who said:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD. (Jer 23:1)

32 comments:

slmayes said...

I met with another pastor a few months ago from this area (Jackson, MS). He told me about a weekly or bi-weekly meeting of pastors in the area, the sole purpose of the meeting being to share messages with one another. Most of those messages are printed from Rick Warren's website.

Some of these pastors are serving in some of the largest and fastest growing churches in our area. I am sure that their churches' members think that they are spending hours each week in preparation time for the Sunday services. Instead they are doing exactly what the article you reference suggests. Two of these pastors are father and son, both of which broadcast services on the radio, and both of which have been heard to preach the same message, practically word for word, on different Sundays

I too think that this is an outrageous practice that is abhorred by a righteous and holy God who communicates to us through His Word and expects His servants to spend time with Him in His Word to discern the message to be proclaimed to His people. I know of pastors who have gotten into hot water for falsifying information on their resume. But this is dishonesty on a weekly level. What a tragedy for the church.

Adam Winters said...

Unbelieveable.
Thanks again for your asuteness to point out the folly of our generation. Why not just show a movie and then tell the people to figure it out for themselves? Ugh.

But to quote that ol' Erasmus fellow:
"If elephants can be trained to dance, lions to play, and leopards to hunt, surely preachers can be taught to preach."
Not bad words from the slippery ol' eel. hehe And, of course, that was one of the reasons he always encouraged his students to labor in the study of the original languages.

Anonymous said...

You brought up showing a movie:

Two things came to mind which one has been discussed on this site.
1)Video Churches and
2)IMB missionaries who only share Jesus through the Jesus Movie and I have found that this is one if not only the way that many share Jesus.

What has happen to study and personal presentation of the Word of God?

I do believe we are "purposefully emerging" to the extreme....

Ray Van Neste said...

Justin Taylor over at http://theologica.blogspot.com/ has linked this conversation and provided links to to two things he has written on the topic. They are well worth checking.

Also the Pastors.com site appears to be down. When it comes back up we'll see if the article is still there. slmayes has posted the content of the article in a comment at Justin's blog.

Barry J. Maxwell said...

First, an illustration/allegory or two: "Plagiarism" is too kind a description. Perhaps pastoral 'adultery' is more fitting. As barren Sarah gave Abraham to fertile Hagar, 'barren' pastors give their flocks to 'fertile' Warren for satisfaction. Or, it would be like me soliciting the neighbor's wife to cook our family's meal each night.

Now, a quote: "American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, there 'calling.' They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn't the remotest connection with what the church's pastors have done for most of twenty centuries" (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, p1).

Ray Van Neste said...

Wow!
Well put Barry- and Eugene. :)

Eric Thomas said...

slmayes, you're information is completely false. The meeting of these pastors is to encourage creativity and discuss various passages. These godly pastors do not print out a sermon brief and then memorize it together. I'm sorry that you have sought to promote such a poor picture of a positive activity.

slmayes said...

Eric,

I'm sorry that you think my information is false. But my information comes from a pastor who attended one of these meetings and withdrew because of what was taking place. These pastors were sharing printed copies of messages, many of which were purchased from pastors.com.

The radio broadcasts of the father and son preaching the same message has been confirmed to me independently by two different sources, neither of whom knows the other. I stand by the information I have posted here.

Have you read the article that Dr. Van Neste linked? The author of that article (which was posted on pastors.com) advocates doing just what these pastors have done.

Lazlo said...

Great post. I like your point about the pride of believing your church needs a "homerun" every week.

Anonymous said...

Great insights, Ray - thanks. Two concerns came to my mind as I was reading your post: 1)this practice seems to rest on an assumption that "preaching" is its own separate entity - separate from the disciplines of immersing oneself in the word that it might "teach, rebuke, and correct" us. I need to prepare my own sermon in order that the Scriptures might pierce my own heart before I come to the pulpit. How can I preach a message to the body of Christ that I have not preached to myself? How can I preach the counsel of God with passion if the counsel of God has not passionately gripped my own heart first? Second, what if one of these sermons by "the big guys" contains something that is wrong? I do understand that many men are worthy of great respect - but they are still men. The only infallible source from which we can draw our messages is the Word of God. Thanks again, Ray.

Chad Davis

J. A. Gillmartin said...

Ray -

Excellent post, seriously ... but I strongly diagree.

I wonder if you would be kind enough to read my two-part post on this subject at and and give me your thoughts. Perhaps I'm wrong, I'd like to know that.

If email would be better you can contact me at kettlefrog AT msn DOT com.

Again, good post.

J. A. Gillmartin said...

Ray, sorry, for some reason the two links did not come through.

Part one here; and part two here.

Broadstone said...

Richard Baxter said it best,
"To preach a sermon, I think, is not the hardest part; and yet what skill is necessary to make the truth plain; to convince the hearers, to let irresistible light in to their consciences, and to keep it there, and drive all home; to screw the truth into their minds, and work Christ into their affections; to meet every objection, and clearly to resolve it; to drive sinners to a stand, and make them see that there is no hope, but that they must unavoidably either be converted or condemned – and to do all this, as regards language and manner, as beseems our work, and yet as is most suitable to the capacities of our hearers. This, and a great deal more that should be done in every sermon, must surely require a great deal of holy skill. So great a God, whose message we deliver, should be honored by our delivery of it. It is a lamentable case, that in a message from the God of heaven, of everlasting moment to the souls of men, we should behave ourselves so weakly, so unhandsomely, so imprudently, or so slightly, that the whole business should miscarry in our hands, and God should be dishonored, and his work disgraced, and sinners rather hardened than converted; and all this through our weakness or neglect! How often have carnal hearers gone home jeering at the palpable and dishonorable failings of the preacher! How many sleep under us, because our hearts and tongues are sleepy, and we bring not with us so much skill and zeal as to awake them!"---The Reformed Pastor, Ch.1 The Oversight Of Ourselves

deacon said...

Eric,
I am interested how a Virginia pastor knows so much about meetings that take place in Mississippi.

deacon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gordon Cloud said...

Ray, I wholeheartedly agree with you. This is appalling! Adrian Rogers said, "God will be with you in your presentation, as He is with you in your preparation".

How can we expect the sermon to be impactful if it is merely in our head and not our heart?

It seems that the writer of this article is using big numbers alone as the basis of justifying this practice.

And we wonder why the church is lukewarm?

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said...

"There are men who seem to me to be using the Puritans and their writings as a substitute for thought. Let me expound that. A man once came to me after listening to an attempt of mine to preach a sermon in which, as I am doing now, I had made a detailed analysis of a certain condition and had given the reply to it in a number of propositions. He was a preacher himself and he asked me, "Did you find that list of questions and answers in one of the Puritans?" He revealed to me thereby that that was what he did himself! I must confess that I was rather amazed and alarmed at the thing, but I can see the possibility. Now if you do that, you are using the Puritans as a substitute for thought. You are not working the thing out yourself and putting yourself through the process and discipline of though, but you are just taking ready-made divisions and thoughts. The moment you do that you are undoubtedly guilty of having this "false knowledge." It is something purely for the mind. God deliver us from this danger of "preaching the Puritans" or of using them as a substitute for honest thinking and travail of soul. This applies equally, of course, to the misuse of any other writers."

in Puritan Papers, vol. 2

Ray Van Neste said...

Great quote from Lloyd-Jones!

Adam Winters said...

Indeed, it was a great quote. But who would have thought that venerable D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones would have returned after all these years to comment on Dr. Van Neste's blog!

Ray Van Neste said...

You never know what might happen around here, Adam!
BTW, can you give me the source for your Erasmus quote?

Derek said...

I think that Chad Davis nailed it on the head. Studying to preach should not be something a pastor just does in order to preach. His study should first and foremost be for his own soul and then for his people. Jonathan Edwards is an excellent example:

"This brings us to what is most important of all in any understanding of Edwards' private hours. His view of his public work as a calling to speak to men in the name of God was inseperable from his conviction that the first demand in such a calling was that his own knowledge of God be personal and first hand. He knew the command of Christ that men should be evangelized could not be fulfilled without obedience to another command, 'When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.' For any effective ministry God himself must be immediately involved...Edwards' whole ministry...was based on the conviction that the usefulness of a preacher's work is invariably related to the nature of his inner life. Personal communion with God must come first...thought, prayer and writing were all woven together."--Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: a New Biography (142-143)

I would hope that these men would find time in study some of the most glorious times of the day as they meet with Christ in His Word. Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be the case!

Derek

Jason E. Robertson said...

I appreciate Adrian Rogers, but don't read John Phillip's commentaries. You will find that many times Adrian preached them word for word.

Eric M Schumacher said...

Did anyone else notice Sjogren's article ends with:

"©Copyright 2006. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Matt Sees said...

I'll heartily amen Dr. Lloyd-Jones, with one quasi-exception. Given the evident alternative, I'd love to see some of today's pastors plagiarize the puritans. Then at least they'd be letting someone else think for them, instead of letting someone else come up with their catchy-sounding positive moral platitudes. They'd also have to translate those thoughts, which would mean they'd have to figure out what they mean, which would mean they'd have to think through some pretty heady and spiritually weighty stuff, and then WHAM! They'll find themselves thinking like puritans, and they'll decide they may as well direct all that work to the study of Scripture.

And if they did plagiarize the puritans, at least their works are in the public domain.

Ray Van Neste said...

Eric,

Thanks for pointing out that incredible irony!

Joel Maners said...

Ray,

Thanks for bringing this up. Personally, I don't have as big a problem with preachers borrowing other's material as I do their not struggling with scripture and how it applies to their communities. Borrowed material should be credited of course, but what is more disturbing to me is that these preachers don't seem to want to set aside time to wrestle with the scripture and bring the Word to bear on issues faced in their local communities. What do these men thing pastoring is? Is it simply a Sunday morning performance? Somewhere along the line, someone should have informed these men what the job of preaching entailed. Wrestling with scripture is a task that should engage the entire community of faith. Pastors and teachers are called to lead the community in that struggle.

Joel Maners said...

One humerous note. A few years ago Our Youth Minister, a good friend of mine, was out of town at a youth rally. While he was gone our pulpit minister preached on Philipians 2, the attitude of Christ. He then had to leave for a mission trip that evening. When my friend came back to town later that week, we had lunch. I asked him, "What are you planning on preaching about this Sunday?" He replied, "Philippians chapter 2." I then asked him what points he wanted to bring out. Sure enough, they were the exact same points that the pulpit minister spoke on that previous Sunday. When I told him about the similarity he just laughed and laughed. These 2 men had not been in contact with each other for over a week. He didn't steal the material from anyone. These guys had prepared the material separately. But it was amazing that they brought out the same points. (I wonder if they were listening to the same voice.) We still laugh about the whole incident to this day. What's scary is that he preached the sermon and no one noticed the similarity. It makes you wonder who is paying attention.

Anonymous said...

WHAT IF THE PLAGIARISED MATERIAL IS BEING SOLD AS ORIGIAL SERMON SERIES IN A CHURCH'S MEDIA MINISTRY?

Anonymous said...

My pastor has been using online sermons for a long time now. I found out a year ago. It would be hard to explain how I found out, except that I "just knew." On investigation, I was shocked to see how brazen he was. It was so easy to find his sermons, because the original messages had the same titles. I am talking the sermons are virtually verbatim.

Listening to pastors who use pre-prepared sermons is not unlike listening to a TV pastor. Of course my pastor thinks that is an abomination! But is there any difference? They both are second-hand messages. The Holy Spirit knows what a particular church body needs to hear and leads and guides a pastor through the Bible to prepare a CUSTOM-FIT message. When the local pastor cuts this process out, all that left is a sermon that is picked because of it potential to tickle the ears, build the church attendance or perhaps its potential to uplift the preacher instead of the message.

I now find the untruthfulness of this situation continues. My pastor said this week that God gives him a lot of message titles, of which he has a long list. Then, when the Lord is ready for him to preach that message, He gives him the rest of the sermon!

Pray for my pastor, and me!

NeverAlone said...

I could tell you a long story about how I discovered plagiarism to be the standard practice at our previous church...You could definitely see God's hand in my discovery, the way it happened! After many ironies and frustrations in addressing the issue, we were told that the complete elder board had come to know the issue and supported the pastor whole-heartedly.
I don't know how they can do so, or how anyone can listen to such stuff when they know that the pastor has sidelined the help of the Holy Spirit in their sermon. I was getting high blood pressure, headaches, and stomach aches listening to his sermons and knowing that they were not written with our church in mind.
Now we are in a great church with a diligent, conscientious, and shepherding pastor. One of the first things our pastor did was introduce me to the writings of Eugene Peterson, such as "Working the Angles," the introduction to which, in itself, was very helpful.
Thank you for your opposition to this sad practice which is so dishonoring to God and crippling to His Church.

Ray Van Neste said...

Thansk for stopping by 'Never Alone.' It is truly sad how common this is and how many people are willing to defend it. I am glad you have found a good church!

CheezeWhizChurch said...

These churches and pastors like to be culturally relevant and contemporary in outlook. Why not simply go to the next step? Use virtual pastors. You don't really have to pay a pastor. You just hire an administrator and pipe in videos of Osteen or Warren. Simple to cut out that increasingly irrelevant middleman, the pastor, when all he does is read other people's words anyway.