I’d best not, but think I should: Let’s talk about plagiarism.
“At this time, the Beatles material was standard beat group faire the best known songs by the best known rock and roll artist. Top of their list was Elvis Presley. they covered almost 30 Elvis songs he had recorded, as well as numbers by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincient, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Larry Williams, Ray Charles, the Coasters, Arthur Alexander, Little Richard, and the Everly Brothers. Studying the music of these artists taught John and Paul the basics of song writing.
“When they came together at Paul’s house to write their own material, it was a case of reassembling the familiar chords and words to make something distinctively theirs. This is how a bass riff from a Chuck Berry number came to be incorporated into ‘I Saw Her Standing There…’” (from The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner, mjf, New York, 1994, pages not numbered).
Three times in the last two years I’ve seen the heartbreaking scene play out: A minister who has been disciplined for using others materials.
Before going further let me note that in every case of discipline it has been a mix of mistake and politics. In each one the leadership doing the discipline was receiving great pressure from a contingency within the congregation to release the minister and it appears the discipline mostly mask or provided a reason to do what they already wanted to do. Note: this is not to minimize the responsibility of the one disciplined, just noting a fact that seems significant.
It’s an odd time we live in. In previous generations of preachers, the minister felt honored if someone wanted to “steal” a sermon they had put together. The posture was, “if you can use it and it helps others, please do.” Often the preacher would joke (even if the sermon was “original” with him), I don’t mind you stealing it if the guy I got it from doesn’t mind. Often ministers
Part of the problem is the whole concept of originality. It is actually our MISSION to not speak our own words but those of Another. I well remember putting together a sermon on Galatians 6 over 30 years ago and then within 3 months seeing the almost exact sermon in a book. We (both the guy who published and I) were both “stealing” from the same source, Galatians 6.
This all begins early for most ministers. Even before college. We hear a guy preach and like how he does it and that pulls us toward preaching. And if how he does this affects others, then if I want to affect others, I should do, act, talk, dress, preach, as he does. This continues in our education as we are drawn to teacher and preachers whose style we think works. How many imitated Gus Nichols, N.B. Hardeman, Ira North, Willard Collins, and that line could conceivably be carried back to Christ. Christ, who we are actually TOLD to imitate.
Add into this mix that many of those who preach do not feel confident early on in their own material. Stir in a large portion of crazy schedules and unrealistic expectations that every lesson will be a home-run. Toss in the reality that Sunday comes every seven days and add a dash of "what do I preach next?" And before you know it SermonCentral becomes your best friend/worst enemy.
I want to say that every preacher has taken a sermon to one degree or another from another. But, I’m certain if I say that someone will tell me they have not.
I think the solution is simple: Be honest.
If I am using another’s material I will at the start of the series say clearly the source (i.e. I got this material from John McArthur).
The older I get the less of others sermons I use but some of my best stuff is still not original with me. But in the first lesson of a Gospel Meeting I will be clear: “When I first started preaching meetings I called the guys who I had heard preach specific sermons in meetings that had affected me and asked if I could use their sermons, so the sermon on Mr. Stranger is from Eddie Cloer, the sermon on Do You Believe is from my Uncle Dan, etc. So, I want you to know, not in a haughty way, these sermons work, they did on me.”
To the degree I am using the material of another I will give credit. A few years ago I heard Andy Stanley series called “How To Be Rich.” Wow, it was powerful. I took it almost verbatim and began each lesson by saying: “A while back I heard a guy from over in Atlanta preach these sermons and I thought, ‘our people need to hear these lessons.’ So, just so you know I got this material almost exclusively from Andy Stanley.
Every so often - 6 months, a year, I will say “I get a lot of my material from John McArthur, my brother, Jeff, Rick Warren, J.W. McGarvey, Ed Young (or whoever it is that is influencing me at the time). I don’t want any of you to think I came up with this on my own.”
It is neither illegal or dishonest to use the sermons of others who put them out for the purpose of being used by other preacher or sermons you buy. I can remember dad often using Copeland's Executable Sermon Outlines, Barclay's notes, Wiersbe, or Warren. And while it might be OK, it may not be wise. Be careful that you make these yours. And, before you become tied to another, please KNOW what you believe.
Be very careful about using the illustrations of other people. We all use them, but beware of how you use them. Do not make the story of another your own unless you have had the same experience. Even then you might say “I can identify with Lonnie Jones when he …” At times just give them the credit: “Bill Watkins tells of the time when…”
If you put something in print, try with all your might to find the source and to give credit if it is from another.
The last three years or so I have rarely used the material of others, BUT, those “others” still have impacted me, affected how I think, study, present. I am indelibly marked by the writings, teachings, classes, and personal influence of many other people. I pray that I will never forget that nor misuse it.
One more word or two. Do not expect your preacher to walk on water every week (he can only do that so often) and not expect that he is not reading from and being influenced by others. And, if as a preacher or teacher, you are that rare prodigy who believes every thing you write or say is original please work on and pray for humility and please be patient with and try to understand those of us who aren’t.
Solomon was, of course, correct in all of his “under the sun” statements but the one in Ecclesiastes 1:9 seems especially on point here; “…there is nothing new under the sun.”