Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sermons for Sale!

Also from the most recent edition of my denomination’s journal, comes a small news piece concerning the proliferation of websites dedicated to producing sermons for pastors. (Unfortunately, this item is not on-line.) The basic concern of the piece is plagiarism among pastors. I have written about pastors and plagiarism before, and what caught my attention this time was the number of sites out there dedicated to this sort of thing, how creative and detailed they have become, and lucrative some of them are.

Among the sites listed are creativepastors.com, desperatepreacher.com, pastors.com, sermoncentral.com, and powerpointsermon.com. The article notes that creativepastors.com earned 1.7 million since its inception in 2004.

The author ponders whether copying a sermon off a website is plagiarism, and though he doesn’t come down hard in one direction, he notes that many do not feel plagiarism is committed if the pastor pays for the sermon.

Though that might be technically correct, I think there is more at stake with the integrity demanded between a pastor and congregation than whether they paid for the sermon or not. I believe the rightly implied and inferred subtext to a sermon given by a pastor is that it is the pastor’s work for this congregation at this time. I believe that copying a sermon or buying a sermon breaks this implicit relationship, and is thus unethical behavior.

One line in the journal article said that a “time-strapped” pastor might need resources like these websites to create their sermons for them. I think this comment betrays a fundamental problem in the pastoring world—pastors who are too busy being executives to pastor. The biblical role of shepherd/pastor is unfortunately only a subtext in the world of advice to pastors in the current evangelical world. One of the primary jobs of the pastor is to prayerfully and as expertly as possible handle Scripture. Something might have gone awry if a pastor is too “time-strapped” to do that from week to week.


Brian B said...

My thoughts exactly on the "time-strapped" complaint. Something seems deeply wrong if the pastor can't "get around to" preparing a sermon due to other obligations. If those other obligations really are that important, then churches should consider separately hiring a good, very part-time, public speaker (preferably one with basic reading skills) who can take over Sunday morning sermon duties (you know, that little part of the pastor's job description).

Think of the benefits of such a "reorganization" - seminaries wouldn't need to spend all that time training pastors how to "do sermons," and could really focus in on the important stuff instead!

Phil Steiger said...


I like your comment about seminaries. What exactly are they there for if the portfolio of a pastor does not contain something like, "the careful and prayerful handling of Scripture"? Should we convert our seminaries into marketing and business degree programs?

The Gyrovague said...

I just want to flip this a little. I am undecided on the issue, but:

If a pastor writes a good sermon on say 2 Cor, and wants to share it and uses the website, what is the issue? He gave it to the website to be shared among others, his peers and whomever else.

The content of the sermon when taught is still the responsibility of the pastor teaching. I doubt most will take them and go line by line, but it does provide another perspective on the text being exegeted (sp?)

"In a multitude of counselors there is victory". By having more then one pastor writing the material there is less chance of error.

I do agree the "busy pastor" scenario is a crock of crud...I can not buy into that. If the pastor is to busy then he needs relieved of some of his duties. But if he is theologically trained and well founded in his beliefs, buying a power point once in awhile is not really plegarism.

Phil Steiger said...


You raise an interesting issue. We in fact post our sermons on our website, and are therefore possibly contributing to this issue. I think every pastor who does their job will expose themselves to several sources, possibly including several other sermons. These will clearly play into what a pastor says on a weekend, and I think that is appropriate. I am not under the impression that everything I say in a Bible study will be original to me.

I do think, however, there is a difference between a sermon that has been influenced by real prep work and one that is copied from another. One involved the work needed to connect a passage to a congregation, the other just takes $9.99.

I believe the bottom line issue when it comes to sermons and plagiarism is no originality or maybe not even citation, but one of breaking the implied and inferred ethic of prayerful work for this congregation this weekend.

The Gyrovague said...

Certainly I agree. I do not know how much originality or inferred ethic goes into a congregations search for a pastor. I know some pastors who labor for at least 10 hours a week on a sermon, and others who spend 3. Both make it look like it was a breeze.

For some preaching is relational and easier, for others it is purely expository and line by line fact by fact. Who does a better job, that depends on the demographic and the integrity of the person at the pulpit.

Good Post Phil, I look forward to more.

Daria said...

hm. I can only agree with you, Phil, on all your arguments here. It's a breach of trust between pastor and congregation if the pastor is regularly preaching other people's sermons, and it is also a breach of trust if someone uses another's work and doesn't give credit where it's due--that is, in short, *lying* with one's behavior.
Unequivocally, it is plagiarism to present someone else's work as one's own. Whether money was paid has *nothing* to do with plagiarism, and I am shocked that some people have a question in their mind on this point. If a student hands in a paper lifted from the web (which, sadly, happens far too often), that is plagiarism--if they were to tell me they had purchased it, I'd kindly explain that they've just paid money to do something unethical--something dishonest and unacceptable, which in no way fulfills the job duty of "student."
Jesus asks us to give what's due to others. It isn't just "the right thing," it's also a matter of love, humility, and community. It is unloving and disrespectful to use someone else's work and not credit them; it is lying to others to present something from someone else as my own thing, which is also unloving behavior toward those I am teaching; and it is ridiculous to be so ego-fragile that I cannot admit when someone else has produced something good, great, or beautiful.
Part of creating the kind of community God expects within the Body of Christ and that will speak to the world about the love and reality of God depends on such simple, everyday things as giving credit where it's due...