Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

Pastoral Plagiarism

  • Ray Van Neste Baptist Press
  • Published Sep 20, 2006
Pastoral Plagiarism

Not long ago a pastor sent me a link for an article titled “Don’t Be Original -- Be Effective!” by a pastor and author in Ohio. After reading the article, I simply sat there dumbfounded, stupefied. I felt like imitating Ezra when he said, “When I heard about this matter I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled” (Ezra 9:3).

What produced this reaction? This article is a brazen argument for pastors to quit trying to produce their own sermons and instead simply preach the material of others -- even word for word! The writer, Steve Sjogren, argues that laboring to prepare a sermon yourself is silly, stating: “stop all of this nonsense of spending 25 or 30 hours a week preparing to speak on the weekend” (you may view Sjogren's article in full here).

As a positive example he cites Paul Cho, pastor of supposedly the largest church in the world in South Korea, who said: “Honestly, I have never given an original message in all my years of ministry here at Yoido Church. Each week, I preach word-for-word messages from either Billy Graham or W.A. Criswell from Dallas First Baptist Church. I can't afford to not have a home run each weekend when we gather. I don't trust my own ability to give completely original messages."

Sjogren argues that the desire to prepare your own sermons is the result of pride that we need to get over. In fact he ridicules those who think they are preparing good sermons themselves by asking: If they are preaching such good sermons, why are their churches still small? Sjogren’s call is simply to copy the sermons of big church pastors -- they’re just plagiarizing others, Sjogren says.

This is sad and disturbing. I remember hearing Adrian Rogers about 15 years ago at a Bellevue pastors’ conference firmly condemn this practice. Sure, it is fitting to listen and learn from people. But skipping the hard work of study and, instead, preaching other men’s labors is unacceptable.

Then, to label the effort to prepare for oneself AS the result of pride is seriously misguided and offensive. Is it not arrogant to say, “My service is so important I can’t afford not to hit a homerun each weekend”? Is this not man-centered and performance-driven? This is the real problem. The assumption in the argument is that the primary goal in preaching is a great performance.

So, if you can’t give a great performance, borrow someone else’s.

But this is not what our people need. Performance is available in abundance. The Word of God is not so available.

This all reminds me of a favorite passage of mine, Jeremiah 23. Here God sternly rebukes prophets who claim to come to God’s people with God’s message, but in actuality come with their own imaginations (verse 16). God contrasts their vain talk to the power of His Word (verses 25-32). God even says: “Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who steal My words from each other” (verse 30).

Even with differences in context, I think this is clear. Our people do not need a performance. They need to gather with their brothers and sisters to hear their own pastor, who knows and loves them, and to hear the overflow of his heart resulting from his own wrestling with the text that week. We are not to be talking heads with fine points, but messengers who, having set in the counsel of God, can come with His Word. Again, God speaks through Jeremiah:

"But who has stood in the council of the LORD,

That he should see and hear His word?

Who has given heed to His word and listened? ...

I did not send these prophets,

But they ran.

I did not speak to them,

But they prophesied.

"But if they had stood in My council,

Then they would have announced My words to My people,

And would have turned them back from their evil way

And from the evil of their deeds. (verses 18, 21-22)

Let us give up on the sham allure of performance, stop up our ears from the siren calls even from fellow pastors, resist the enticements of Vanity Fair and simply give God’s Word to God’s people. Then we will have the pleasure of seeing people turned from their sin (one of the true goals rather than crowd gathering). Some will be greater speakers than we are, but that is okay. Let us trust in the power of the Gospel and preach it in simplicity and purity (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Ray Van Neste is associate professor of Christian Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
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