I recently came across a post from a well-known conference preacher detailing how, during his research for sermon fodder, he noticed that there was a recurring outline that several of the sermons he was reading had in common. He then went on to decry the use of other preachers’ outlines and detailed the evils of “plagiarism.” Of course, I wondered how he could draw such a sharp distinction between a basic outline and the sermonic thoughts and ideas he was obviously mining for use in his sermon. I’ve since listened to this particular preacher’s sermons and read his books and have been blessed. However, I couldn’t help but notice the limited number of attributed quotes in his sermons and the complete absence of any footnotes in his books.
This kind of thinking is becoming a “big deal” primarily because of the increased availability of resources on the Internet, the promotion of professional academics and the movement away from the pastor-preacher who is responsible for feeding his congregation three plus “meals” a week. (Not to mention all of the weddings, funerals, meetings, classes, etc. the pastor has to oversee every week.)
This “problem” is somewhat of a novel issue in Baptist life. Charles Spurgeon published his sermons weekly in the London Newspapers, and not just for the benefit of lay people. He even published expositions with preaching points “for the Village preacher” in his Treasury of David. Warren Wiersbe’s commentaries are little more than his sermons put into print. John Phillips, the same.
Being a student of history and preaching, I’m very familiar with who some of our most influential preachers have read after and what resources were used in their sermonic process. It’s certainly eye-opening to know where the most effective preachers of today and yesterday pulled their sermon material.
I heard an old story about a young seminary student who walked out of preaching class and vowed to be “original or nothing”—he was both.
I so appreciate the practical wisdom of Dr. Adrian Rogers when he said, “If my bullet fits your gun shoot it, but use your own powder.” We don’t hear enough of that kind of practical, pastoral insight in today’s academically saturated church-world.
So, how should a pastor who has to preach multiple times every week to the same congregation handle the issue of preaching and plagiarism?
He’s my rule: Don’t be lazy and don’t be a liar.
What does that mean? What does that look like?
PRAY BEFORE YOU BEGIN.
The power in your preaching doesn’t come from your persuasive personality, but the power of God’s Word bathed in prayer. Before I even open the first book to research the text, I read the passage and pray. I ask the Lord to illumine my mind. I ask God to guide my preparation. I ask God to allow me to prepare the sermon in such a way that it will teach God’s people and confront sinners with their need to repent. So, slow down, pray and ask God to guide you as you prepare your message.
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.
If you can read and work out of the original languages, start there. If not, read your text from several good translations. Read your commentaries and make sure you understand the context and content of the passage. Only after you have read the passage and studied your commentaries do I recommend reading or listening to sermons on the passage, but I do certainly recommend feeding your soul and priming your preaching pump by reading after other preachers.