Monday, December 08, 2008

Plagiarizing Sermons

17Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17, ESV)

It is becoming alarmingly prevalent for many pastors to get their sermons from sources over the Internet or popular books and materials. It is feasible today for a pastor to go to sources on the Internet and download a sermon to be preached from his pulpit on any given Sunday. No prayer or laboring over the Word of God, just click “download” and you have an instant sermon for the upcoming Sunday service. Worse yet, these sermons are being passed off as if it were their own work.

But the Bible gives clear direction concerning the obligation of those in pastoral leadership. And key to the role of the pastor-teacher is just that – to teach. And before the pastor has anything to give to the congregation, he must first be taught and receive instruction from Scripture. The only way to achieve this is for him to be challenged through laboring in God’s truth, pouring himself out over Scripture, allowing it to penetrate his heart and mind. The phrase “labor in preaching and teaching” means to literally work to the point of exhaustion. Should we expect anything less? It amazes me that in many leadership positions in the secular world, how many are willing to wear themselves out for material gain or fame and fortune. This includes those who aspire to be in political office. All this is to achieve and earthly “crown”. It should not be out of the ordinary to expect that someone in spiritual leadership in pastoral ministry should seek to labor with at least as much intensity for spiritual gain and a heavenly crown.

All elders are to be able to teach, but this passage of Scripture points to a particular group of elders who are particularly gifted and driven to preach and teach. The man who stands in the pulpit as the so-called senior pastor week after week, since he is the key teaching pastor, needs to be this type of man. If he shows no inclination to do so, he is unfit for this position. To take the lazy way out cheats himself out of the life changing experiencing of digging into God’s truth, and subsequently deprives his congregation of keen insights that would be normally gained by laboring in the Word of God.

I remember visiting one church close to us some time ago and discovering that the pastor got his whole sermon series from a popular author’s book – practically word for word! Needless to say, I never felt compelled to go back.

It is no wonder that the evangelical church is in such a mess today, when the pulpits are overrun with lazy shepherds who are unwilling to engage in the necessary work of expositional teaching and preaching of Scripture.

Tim Challies published an article entitled “Plagiarism in the Pulpit” a couple of years ago. Challies sites an article published by Suzanne Sataline in the Wall Street Journal discussing this issue. In the article she discusses how this issue has created quite a stir over ethics. Quite frankly, I find the issue of taking another’s work and using it as one’s own blatantly unethical, not to mention patently unbiblical. Apparently Sataline quotes from several Christians who are in favor of this practice. Perhaps it should not come as any surprise that Rick Warren is among those who are in favor of using other people’s sermons without giving credit for the source of the material.

Tim Challies reflected on a couple of reasons as to why this is taking place. One is the laziness on the part of the pastors who are looking for a way to avoid the arduous task of sermon preparation. This, I believe, is the primary cause of the problem. But Tim offers the other side of the coin, which is the pressure that congregations place on the pastor as a result of the on-going “spirit of pragmatism” that has become so prevalent today. Pastors have succumbed to the pressure to be witty and entertaining. The expectations of far too many congregations is that the pastor be some charismatic leader similar to what the secular culture looks for in corporate America. While endeavoring to meet the demands of the congregation in light of this expectation, many pastors simply do not have the time for adequate sermon preparation. I agree that there is certainly quite a bit of pressure from churches to fit this expectation, however, it is the pastor's duty to give the congregation what they actually need biblically, rather than what they want. Perhaps it is time for more pastors to put a stop to the whims of man-made expectations and follow their Scriptural mandate for pastoral ministry. If they cannot fulfill it there, perhaps it is time to move on elsewhere, where they can fulfill their role biblically. I feel that the pastor’s study of the Word of God should be central to what he does. I wholeheartedly agree with this quote from Tim’s article:

“The pastor must lead the way in studying the Word. This must be his primary occupation and must take precedence over other tasks, and even important tasks, such as pastoral counseling or providing leadership.”

I believe that one of the primary problems being faced in the church today is a crisis concerning the lack of recognition of the biblical role for the pastor-teacher. When you think of it, the pastoral leadership is to provide the biblical vision and direction for the ministry of the church. This direction must be gleaned from the careful study of Scripture. And if the leadership fails to provide this, then it should be no surprise that the congregation will fail to function in a biblical manner and its spiritual growth will be severely diminished.

1 comment:

jerfireandhammer said...

Eric,
I haven't been to your site for awhile, and I really appreciate this aritcle on "Plagiarizing Sermons".
It is so true.
T.A.