Word Stealing Prophets

Several articles have been published recently about the problem of plagiarism among preachers. It’s not a new problem but one that may be growing due to the availability on the Internet of both written and recorded sermons.

A friend of mine who is a popular preacher told me of the time he visited a congregation while on vacation. He settled in on the back row eager to listen to a sermon on his day off. What he heard amazed him. He heard the preacher preach word-for-word a sermon he had written and preached just a few weeks earlier. The plagiarising preacher even told the personal stories from the sermon as if they were his own.

In a recent article from PreachingNow (volume 6, number 8), Michael Duduit suggests that plagiarism is a problem for three reasons:

  1. “It is dishonest. It is presenting someone else’s work as my own. If I did that in the business world or in higher education I’d be fired.”
  2. “It cheats the congregation of the anointed passion that comes from a God-called messenger working through the biblical text to uncover the truth God has for that congregation that day.”
  3. “It cheats the preacher. When we simply take a shortcut and use someone else’s sermons instead of doing the prayerful study to prepare our own messages, we shortchange our own process of growing as spiritual leaders.”

How sad when a preacher listens to a sermon that is the product of someone else’s disciplined study and thinks that he has become an expert on the topic or passage by virtue of merely listening to the sermon.

The articles about plagiarism that I have read recently remind me there is no substitute to the hard work of research and prayerful study. They have also reminded me of the importance of following the rules of attribution when preaching.

I’ll let Jeremiah have the last word –“‘Therefore,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares’ ” (Jeremiah 23:30-31 NIV).

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