Plagiarising Sermons

This is post number three in a series I am writing about sermons. . (you can find others in this series here.) In 1997 the university ministry I was part of imploded. The guy overseeing university ministry in New York was fired, and they brought in a guy from the outside who was not a good […]

by bob

Aug 6, 2021

This is post number three in a series I am writing about sermons. . (you can find others in this series here.)

In 1997 the university ministry I was part of imploded. The guy overseeing university ministry in New York was fired, and they brought in a guy from the outside who was not a good fit (to put it kindly). It took only a few months of butting heads with him before I decided to make a change. I’d been interested in the Vineyard for a while, and this seemed like a good time to investigate. I felt like I was home immediately.

My original thought in attending a Vineyard was to take the Cornell students we were working with to church with us and eventually become a Vineyard university ministry. After a few months, I set up what I thought was an appointment set to talk about this. It turns out it was a church planting assessment, and from that point forward, I was on track to be a Vineyard church planter.

So I began learning as much as I could about church planting…and it was pretty discouraging. Potential church planters were told that they needed to tell your story and vision to everyone they met and then invite those people to be part of your church plant. You gather these people into a small group, then you start another small group, and eventually, you bring all these groups together and start a weekly worship gathering.

There were all kinds of apocryphal stories that went along with the advice. One was of a guy hanging out in the diaper aisle of a supermarket and going up to young moms, inviting them to a parenting class. I mean, that isn’t creepy at all.

Creepiness factor aside, I’m an introvert. I have zero desire to walk up and talk to strangers. That meant gathering people was going to be a challenge, and it was.

So, we shifted gears. I decided to start utilizing the things we did well, so we began a Sunday worship gathering. I had spoken regularly for about 10 years, and Liz had been leading worship for even longer. Additionally, we had a committed group of Cornell students who helped with every aspect of the project.

So when we planted the Ithaca Vineyard, we did it backward. We started with a Sunday worship gathering, and through that, began gathering people into small groups.

(There were some downsides to this model, but perhaps that is for a later post.)

Church planting is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. If you are using the “start hundreds of conversations model”, that takes time. Plus, there are logistical concerns and administrative tasks…and often, there is a second job involved and a young family.

Which leads to the original impetus behind writing this series. Sermon stealing…or plagiarising sermons. Scot McKnight wrote about this a few years ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The topic made news this summer as it was revealed that the new head of the Southern Baptist Convention plagiarised sermons from the previous head of the SBC.

Now, everyone who teaches/preaches stands on the shoulders of others. Our thinking is formed by things we have read, things we have heard as well as our experience, and no-one could be expected to after every idea say where it came from…those would be really long and really dull sermons. But, if a substantial portion of a sermon or series of sermons came from a single source, the right thing to do is mention that.

Back to my church planting training. Because of the time crunch church planters were under, the head of church planting would commonly tell people that they didn’t have time to prepare sermons. (We were also encouraged not to do pastoral counseling as it will “eat your lunch”.) And, besides the time, most didn’t have much experience doing it either. So, his advice was to find someone whose voice resonates with you and steal their stuff.

[ Now, to be fair, the ‘steal their stuff’ advice could have been given with the assumption that credit would be given. But I sat through enough to know it wasn’t always.]

And people did. Although usually, you have to buy them. Often even after their churches were established. When we were first starting, Rick Warren’s sermons were the hot seller. Then it was Graig Groeschel. Eventually, the Vineyard had their own guys making their sermons available. (I actually heard a sermon from a Vineyard in Ohio preached here in Ireland).

So, did I ever buy a sermon? Yes. The first time I ever bought a sermon (and yes, it was a Rick Warren sermon) was when we were going to be teaching about parenting. There was not much need to teach on it for university students…so I had zero experience and didn’t even know where to start. So I downloaded a couple and used his ideas for research to write my own. I didn’t share it as my own.

And whenever I got an idea or resource from someone else, I would say at the beginning of the sermon, ’hey, this is something from a sermon (whoever) preached, and I found it helpful.” Likewise, if I got an idea from a book, I would say that. That was it…nothing major.

So, what’s my point? I’d encourage you to read the post by McKnight…he says it better than I can…(and I don’t want to just steal his stuff:). But I’m writing this because it goes to the more significant issue of what the sermon has become. And that is something that has to be changed. More on that to come.

Do you think this is a problem or much ado about nothing?

image credit: Image by Okta_Aderama_Putra from Pixabay 

What about Bob?

bob

I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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