Chapter 158

Using Someone Else's Sermon

What is plagiarism?


What is sermon plagiarism?


Using someone else's material cannot take the place of our own study and meditation on the biblical text.

Plagiarism is stealing other people's material. In the world of scholarship, when things are put in print, any idea taken from someone else must be credited in a footnote. In the world of preaching, a pastor who takes sermons from other preachers — word for word — without giving credit is guilty of plagiarism. That is stealing what is not yours. If my regular sermon preparation consists of going online and getting a sermon from somebody else and preaching it as is, that is an ethical problem. Even worse, taking someone's sermon every week is a greater problem.

Motives and honesty are the key issues. We quote others for two reasons: either the person has more authority than we have, or the person said it better than we can. The second case requires that we give credit. If I get Timothy Keller's sermon and deliver it as if it came from me, that's deception. If I quote him word for word, I should give him credit. The general rule we should follow is, whenever our motive for using someone else's material is that they said it better than we can, then honesty requires that we give them credit. You are not diminished by quoting somebody else.

This is not to say that we should not draw from many sources in sermon preparation. Occasionally the thrust of someone else's sermon, the main idea, or the development, works for you, and you think it will help your hearers. But somehow you have to make the sermon your own. Using someone else's material cannot take the place of our own study and meditation on the biblical text. The sermon must be in your words. It may be someone else's idea, but it is in your words. Do you make it your own, or do you claim it to be your own when it really belongs to somebody else? It must fit your experience. Although we do not preach our experiences, we must experience what we preach.

When we make someone else's ideas our own, the line between what is " original " (nothing is truly original) and what is plagiarized is difficult to discern. But clearly if we take most of our material for a sermon from another preacher, then it is a matter of honesty and integrity that we give credit.

In the cases where we use most of someone else's material, it would be wise to discuss this with church leadership. They ought to be part of our conscience, understand why we want to do this, and agree to it.

The requirements for footnoting differ greatly between writing and preaching. If a sermon is put into print, the footnoting should be more extensive.

When we use someone else's sermon outline, one way we can give credit is: " I came across an approach to a sermon by so-and-so, and I want to share it with you. "