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Pastoral Plagiarism: 10 Do’s and Don’ts

3. Do feel free to quote another person, tell their story, use their outline and repeat memorable phrases with attribution.

4. Do buy mp3s and manuscripts of speakers to grow as a communicator as you listen to their style and structure.

5. Do borrow ideas for series from other speakers and churches.


6. Don’t ever use another person’s creative outline without attribution.

7. Don’t ever use another person’s unique insights without attribution.

8. Don’t ever use another person’s stories without attribution, and never, ever go even farther and tell it is as if it happened to you.

9. Don’t justify plagiarism by trying to spiritualize it with “It’s all for the Kingdom” or “It’s not really theirs, because God gave it to them” kind of statements. That is true of everything, such as our property, yet God says, “Don’t steal.” That includes intellectual property, too.

10. Don’t let the abundance of online resources keep you from doing spadework on the Scriptures, exertion on the exegesis and prayer for the pulpit that makes for anointed talks.

In truth, there is little excuse for plagiarism. It’s so easy to give attribution in a flowing, natural way.

If you have listened to many of my talks, you know how common it is for me to start off a talk or series by saying, “My thinking has been informed on this by…” or “I’m indebted throughout today’s talk to…”

I’ve started many a sentence with, “Philip Yancey tells the story of…” “John Ortberg writes about this in a funny way…” “Andy Stanley talks about this in terms of…” or “C.S. Lewis once observed that…”

The point is that good communicators borrow material all the time.

But ethical ones let you know where they borrowed it.

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.