POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Milk many cows...preaching and plagarism

There is an article running over at the Wall Street Journal about the practice of pastors preaching other people's sermons, buying them for a few bucks off of the internet.  This is becoming more and more common today.

There are two edges to this problem.  One is genuine plagiarism, taking another's ideas to be your own.  The other is a natural passing on of teaching - every teacher resembles his master and will no doubt garner phrases, language, and concepts from learning under them.

I think anyone who does teach or preach reads books, articles, sermons, commentaries, etc.  As I once heard Greg Laurie say: We all milk many cows, but make your own butter.  I know if I hear something really good taught somewhere (over coffee, in a home, in church, at a Bible study, on tv, radio, internet, etc) I will at times file the idea mentally and then adapt and use it in appropriate messages.  Every Christian teacher, every person that teaches, is not bringing something completely original to the table.  After all, if we are only teaching our own original ideas, we are not doing our jobs.  We are called to preach the gospel (Galatians 1) and the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3) so complete originality in ideas can be disastrous.

Personally, I know of no Christian who teaches who does not multiply the teaching which was given to him.  He does not have footnotes along the way and in every teaching conversation and setting.  Does a pastor who has read 10 John Piper books and uses the phrase or a paraphrase of "the supremacy of God in all things" need to cite Dr. Piper every time he uses the phrase in a Bible study or in other teaching settings?  I think this can get a bit overbearing if we are not careful. 

Yet this article describes a very different phenomenon.  Pastor's going online and buying a sermon for 10 bucks and then preaching it as their own.  This to me has a myriad of problems.  

  • It short-circuits a process that God does in the life of the preacher - a pastor who is not wrestling with the text, with God, and with how to bring this to his own people is not experiencing the sermon before bringing it to others.  This is a great loss to the pastor's own life.
  • It makes preaching a show - we see this is the case. Let the good communicator do the work for you...after all, excellence is what matters. 
  • It makes men lazy and releases them from some good pressure.  I know I pray hard when I know that I have to bring God's word before others.  God, help me! should be the cry, not "O Great, Ed Young Jr. has a good one up this week!"
  • It deceives the people of God and makes the moment of the sermon somewhat of a farce. 
  • It emasculates the man of God.  The pastor says to himself - I cannot preach, I need to have one of those other guys do it for me.  How can this man be a prophet to bring the Word to a people?  He admits that he has nothing to say.
  • I think the philosophy of ministry behind this is the same one that drives people to put up video screens across the nation of a "top notch communicator" instead of training and sending men to teach the Bible.  We can sell out quickly to the polish and presentation of men as the primary means of teaching the church.  We do not think the Word has any power.  I am all for excellent preaching; I work to develop my own craft, but belittling the ministry of the Word by making it dependent on the minister's "creativity" shows we have moved quite a distance in our view of preaching. 
  • Additionally, some of the "creative preachers" out there selling sermons for big cash may commit a different sort of whoring than the one who is preaching them. 

I am sure that many people are going to draw the line in different places on this, but we must draw a line.  I know I have influences on my life and preaching.  Ravi Zacharias, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and a host of others have all influenced me as I have listened to hours and hours of their teaching.  Not to mention my own pastors over the years from whom I have learned so much. I hope I am the better for it.  I also footnote every sermon I put together along with a bibliography. This is probably excessive, but I am a book geek and like to do it. Plus, I enjoy using my sweet EndNote software :)

I want to be influenced by others teaching in a deep way, many times it becomes part of who you are...but I always want to make my own butter in the secret places with God.

Your Thoughts?  Here is the WSJ Link again in case you missed it above.

(HT - Justin Taylor and Tim Challies