Plagiarism or Research?

A lot has been written on social media recently about sermon plagiarizing – preaching someone else’s sermon, although one of my preaching professors told us if you preach another’s sermon it is called plagiarizing, but if you combine parts of several sermons, it is called research. My pastor-father used to say, “When better sermons are written, I’ll preach them.” Sometimes they were and sometimes he did. A friend began his Chapel sermon at Southwestern Seminary by saying, “If you like this sermon, you can get a copy afterwards in the library. Look under Spurgeon – Charles Haddon.” A faculty member preached a sermon in Chapel and a few months later preached the same sermon in a church pastored by a Seminary student. In the meantime, the student preached the professor’s sermon in his church. The church members were upset, thinking the professor stole their pastor’s sermon. All this to say, show me a preacher who doesn’t occasionally use someone else’s sermon material, and I’ll show you a preacher who may have another problem. I always told my Seminary want-to-be preachers how to use someone else’s material: (1) The first time you use it you say, “Dr. Crawford said . . .” (2) The second time you use it you say, “It has been said . . .” (3) The third time you use it, you say, “I’ve always thought . . .” By then it is yours. I also told them that if they were going to use my material, at least improve on it. One student tried to justify his plagiarism by quoting a verse out of context, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippines 2:4). Many years ago. my pastor preached a sermon that was familiar to me. Following the service, I went by my office and pulled off the shelf a book of sermons by Dr. R. G. Lee and found the sermon that I had just heard. I could have made copies and handed them out at the next church business meeting before making a motion to terminate the pastor, but I chose not to do so. I don’t mean to attempt to justify sermon plagiarism. After all, there is that biblical verse that says, “Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who steal My words every one from his neighbor” (Jeremiah 23:30). I just think it is not a big enough deal over which to terminate someone. Here’s another verse that applies – “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone . . .” (John 8:7). And another verse – “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Preach on!

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  • Good points Dr. Dan,

    It seems to me if every preacher followed your advice:

           (1) The first time you use it you say, “Dr. Crawford said…

    there would be no problem.

    It only takes 5-7 seconds to let the congregation know you are using someone’s material. We do that when quoting, why not with a whole sermon?

    Maybe the question should be, “what is the best choice as a disciple-maker when preaching someone else’s message?” Making disciples is more than content, it’s also building humble character.

    Your feedback is welcomed,


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