Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who steal my words from one another.
-- Jeremiah 23:29-30, ESV
One of the most widespread and secret scandals in the church today is the sin of plagiarism. Many pastors, tasked with the awesome challenge of studying and preparing sermons to feed the flock each week, cower out and resort to the low level of stealing another pastor's sermons. This I know from personal observation and experience. I've even had my own sermons stolen!
By observation, a recent president of our denomination was exposed as a plagiarizer shortly after his election to office. He was not removed, he was not fired by his church, he simply gave a lame excuse for his thievery and continued on leading his typical megachurch at no doubt a mega-salary. My hometown harbored a well-known pastor who, in spite of no education and limited intelligence, preached fairly eloquent sermons on Sundays. That is until a Google search of some of his verbiage revealed he'd been stealing the sermons of a better-known California pastor for years. He still serves that church.
In my experience, two of my predecessors in churches I've served (not including the present) had the unmitigated gall to step into the pulpit each Sunday with a book. It was not the good book, the Holy Bible, but another book containing sermons written by other preachers. Week by week they read these sermons to an unwitting (or witless) congregation and took credit for them as their own. No one seemed to notice except the church staff, who shared the information with me after I arrived.
Once in a while, I get an email or phone call from a pastor somewhere in the USA. They've found my sermons, which have been published in newspapers and websites for over 20 years. They ask for permission to use all or part of the sermon in their churches, which I gladly give. For everyone who asks permission, I suspect multiplied others do not. They just steal them instead.
Recently I received a phone call in my office from a man in Ohio. He had heard a sermon on the radio that contained a poem he really liked. He Googled the words of the poem, and the search led him to our church's website. It was a poem I wrote for a sermon I preached, and some pastor had ripped it off and preached it as if it was his work.
To make this matter worse, a Methodist pastor in Texas is now boasting that he is using AI, artificial intelligence, to produce his sermon each Sunday. I've read of colleges clamping down on students who cheat on term papers and tests using AI, but apparently it is all the rage in the contemporary church.
Perhaps the biggest scandal is not that pastors steal other pastors' sermon, but that the church lets it happen with little or no repercussion. It shows what little regard the modern church has for the careful exposition of Scripture and the personal integrity of the pastor. If someone ran in and stole the offering, people would cry, "Stop, thief!" Yet when their pastor is clearly plagiarizing someone else's sermon, they simply say, "Good sermon, Pastor."
If you are in a church where the pastor is plagiarizing his sermons, demand that this thieving pastor be terminated immediately. If the church will not fire him, or her, find another church. If your pastor is not spending half the week in fervent prayer, Bible study, and sermon preparation, challenge him, or her, to repent. If your church burdens the pastor with work deacons or members should be doing so that there is little time to study, the church needs to repent.
The legendary pastor and professor Phillips Brooks said preaching is "truth expressed through personality." My advice to pastors and churches looking for them is strive for authenticity. Pastors, be yourself, embrace the person God made you to be, warts and all. Study your tail off and preach your heart out. Let it be God's word expressed through your own words to your own people. It will enrich your life, strengthen their lives, and give life and growth to the church.
Thou shalt not steal someone else's sermon.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].