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Plagiarism in the pulpit

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Contrary to the well-worn joke, pastors do not only work for 30 to 40 minutes on Sunday. In fact, as a pastor, it often baffles me how a week’s hours fill up without me even realizing it. A few ad hoc meetings, a member conflict that’s arisen, emails that need a careful response. How does Sunday arrive so soon?

Yet, of all the work a pastor does, the Sunday work we joke about and the preparation for that sermon may be some of the most important work. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul calls young pastor Timothy to “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” Here we find the high call to proclaim God’s Word to God’s people, which requires preparation and care.

Most pastors I know believe the work of preaching carries a weightiness. Pastors want the church to hear from the Lord. But sometimes, these two realities—busyness during the week and time needed for sermon preparation—collide. It is tempting to cut corners and to quicken the process. And in our technology age, it is easy to have a sermon manuscript from another preacher in a few simple Internet clicks.

This past summer, plagiarism in the pulpit became a topic of conversation as a few high-profile preachers in a well-known denomination were found borrowing from others without citing the pastor(s) from whom the work originated. While it was said that there was permission to use the material, the truth is that congregations were encouraged to believe that this material was their pastor’s work. It may not have been “theft,” but are these the actions of an honest shepherd?

It would be easy to point fingers and say shame on them, but before we point out the speck in their eye, let’s check for a log in our own. The temptation to “borrow” an outline or make a clever one-liner seem like our original idea can seem innocent—especially when the week gets busy or a pastor has studied the passage and doesn’t know what to preach. (Did I mention it is easy to find content online to reuse?) We must remember an enemy prowls, looking to tempt pastors away from doing the work to prepare God’s Word for God’s people.

So, where do we go from here? Are our pastors corrupt and their sermons unworthy of trusting as original? No! However, we should not consider USMB pastors exempt from this temptation as Sunday approaches. So, people in the pews, I encourage you to respond to this reality in a few ways.

Encourage: Take time to thank your pastor for the message you heard and encourage him to continue to richly study the Scriptures so that he can proclaim well.

Ask: Ask how his study of the Word is going, how he prepares for a sermon and how you might specifically pray for him in that process.

Pray: Pray for your pastor, that he may listen well to the Word and that his preparation can be led by the Spirit and protected from temptation.

Let me also give a word to fellow pastors who grind out sermons faithfully every week. Brothers, keep up the excellent work. Be faithful in preparation. Trust the Spirit and preach the Word! May God bless you in this work.

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