On sermons, plagiarism, and pastors outsourcing their work...

Discussion in 'Philosophy, Truth, and Ethics' started by Ananias, Sep 20, 2021.

  1. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    It's not exactly news that many pastors outsource their sermon-writing to others; it's been going on for centuries. The reasons for this jobbing-out of a primary pastoral task are manifold: the pastor may lack literary ability (and may perhaps be functionally illiterate); the pastor may feel himself so busy with his other pastoral tasks that he cannot spare the time to research and write a sermon himself; the pastor may feel "blocked" and unable to come up with anything insightful to say about Scripture on a given Sunday. Yet this common (if unadmitted) practice is still plagiarism -- and worse, a cheapening of the pastor's role in delivering God's Word to his sheep.

    The sermon should have a primary place in any church service. It is one of the primary means whereby Scripture is taught to the congregation (either directly in expository preaching or indirectly via topical preaching). A pastor who cannot write and deliver his own sermons is failing at a core element of his job, and this inability calls into question his own fitness for the role he occupies.

    Preaching a sermon is not simply oration. It is, ultimately, the creation and delivery of a commentary or essay on a bit of Scripture. It is primarily a literary effort rather than a rhetorical one. Nearly all of the great Christian sermonizers of the past (the Apostle Paul, St. John Chrysostom, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon) were excellent wordsmiths as well -- their talent was not in gifted speaking so much as in gifted writing. Too many modern pastors do not write well (or even read well, if we're being honest), and rely on forceful oratory to make up their literary lack.

    If you've spent as much time listening to Evangelical preachers as I have, you can spot a boilerplate sermon from a mile off. Your soft-spoken pastor, who has in the past delivered rather bland sermons punctuated liberally with many "ums" and "ahs" and stutters and coughs, all of a sudden turns up on Sunday and delivers a fire-breathing oration complete with Scripture references and name-dropping of famous theologians. Boy, the Spirit was really on him today!, we think with charming naivete. While this may be true sometimes, it is more often the case that the good pastor has availed himself of a sermon-writing service (or simply lifted an existing sermon off the internet, hoping no one will notice).

    Bad enough that these pastors are stealing others work and calling it their own; worse still is the ethical and intellectual rot this practice exposes.

    When someone preaches a sermon, they're teaching. This is not entertainment. When a sermon is being given, school is in session. But it is not education of the congregation only -- it is the preacher himself who is supposed to be learning and growing in wisdom by the preparation of his sermon. What does it say of a man of God if he delegates this task to someone else?
     
  2. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    What if the preacher uses material from one of the Books of Homilies, or a patristic sermon?
     
  3. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    As long as sources are cited and quoted accurately, it's fine. Using sources is not the issue; even Scripture uses sources. (See, e.g., 2 Kings 12:19.) The problem is when sources are used without attribution, or indeed are simply lifted wholesale and used as ones own original work. Every seminary issues dire warnings about plagiarism, the punishment for which is usually expulsion.

    Plagiarism is theft, the stealing of someone else's words and claiming them as your own. It is possible to commit plagiarism unintentionally, through faulty memory or careless practice. The remedy is to retract the piece and issue an apology (and to return any emolument or profit gained as a result of the plagiarism).
     
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  4. JoeLaughon

    JoeLaughon Well-Known Member Anglican

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  5. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    There has always been a difference between research and plagiarism. William Barclay's commentaries were very popular in some part of the world I lived in for a while, which sadly meant that there was a tedious similarity between sermons from different preachers. The business of recycling sermons also arises, where the congregation begins to remember that sermon.

    There is also a difference between Bible Study, New Testament Lecturing, and Preaching.

    If the sermon is to be printed out or published in some form, it should, were appropriate, include references to material used, quoted or supporting, and these may well be in the form of footnotes, however those things are not essential for the Spoken Delivery of the Sermon, and may indeed detract from the proper delivery of the Sermon.

    To me, the real problem with plagiarism, is that it shows, No one can deliver someone else's words, with the authenticity of ownership that one can with ones own words. There is these days, thanks to the infernet, and abundance of preaching resources, free and subscribed, and I have no problem with a preacher using these as a resource, but not simply as the text.

    Perhaps one of the pitfalls of the 3 year lectionary has been the rise of the exegetical discourse manner of preaching, which in many ways has become standard diet for many preachers. Now I believe that the exegetical sermon has a place, and those who regularly attend should hear some, however it is not the only form of preaching. There is a difference between exegeting text and expounding a text. There is also a place for non exegetical preaching, where the sermon addresses parts of the experience of the congregation, perhaps addressing responses to things that confronts us, (like pandemics lockdowns and the like).

    In another thread there was a lamenting of poor catechesis in relation to Christology, and Christology may well be a subject for preaching. Many in our congregations think little of the Nicene Creed, and I reflect that it is indeed a very long time since I heard a sermon on the Creed.
    • Content
    • Delivery
    • Relevance
    • Language
    • Conviction
    I long recall may Dad telling the clergyperson on the way out of Church that they had driven their sermon past three logical conclusions. Good sermons often have a logical thread and flow which enables the congregation to follow the argument.

    My real disappointment with outright plagiarism, is not simply the theft of intellectual property, it is also the theft of the congregations time, and it is theft of the sermon that should have been preached. It represents a commitment to deliver our second best to God, and that is just not quite good enough.
     
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  6. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Well said.
     
  7. AnglicanAgnostic

    AnglicanAgnostic Active Member

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    What famous, deeply religious person wrote "....the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.”?
     
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  8. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    That would be John Wycliffe.
     
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  9. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    The problem with topical sermons, in my view, is that many pastors don't actually preach but simply orate. They play to the audience, they do a stand-up act, they tell stories, and maybe if you're lucky by the end some sort of Christian message will emerge. I've heard lots of sermons that could just as easily have been given to the Kiwanis meeting or a local dentists convention. Jesus rarely makes an appearance in sermons of this kind.

    I'm not saying that every sermon has to be a verse-by-verse exegesis (though many preachers do just that, and to great effect). Topical sermons have their place, but they must be grounded in the Biblical text. Truth flows from Scripture. As Paul puts it in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 (my sig!), "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

    Motivational speaking, social and cultural harangues, storytelling, and comedy are fine diversions, but the pulpit is not the place for it. Church is the house of God, where the people of God worship God. It is a school for the Christian mind and a hospital for the sick Christian soul. The preacher's task is to preach God's Word.
     
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  10. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    I was mortified a couple of years back when in place of the sermon we watched a you tube video from the Victorian State Department of Health.

    Those who see a political edge to the gospel need to ensure that the gospel is informing their politics, and not that their politics is informing their gospel. This is a problem on both the left and the right. Preachers need to ensure that they do not use scripture in the manner that a drunk uses a lamp-post, more for support than illumination.
     
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