How to Avoid the Most Common Sin in Preaching

I Will Not Copy Again

When I was in seventh grade, my Social Studies teacher returned one of my projects. I think it was a brochure about a country I was “visiting.” She required me to redo it because I had plagiarized.

“Plagiarism” is a serious academic offense. It means taking someone else’s work and presenting it as your own. It is equivalent to stealing – although no physical property is involved, you are stealing “intellectual property.”

College students go to great pains to avoid plagiarism. They learn how to cite their sources, giving credit where it is due. They also learn to produce original thoughts and use others’ ideas to supplement their own.

A Harmful Trend
Most churches make their sermons available on their website, and several preachers share their sermons through a podcast or blog. This is helpful because it adds another resource to preachers’ libraries.

However, many preachers are taking others’ sermons and preaching them as their own. In fact, plagiarism is the most common sin in preaching today.

This is unethical. The Bible plainly says, “Do not steal” (Exodus 20:15). College teaches us how to cite our sources. So why do we get into ministry and suddenly think it’s okay to plagiarize?

It is also unfair. Your church isn’t paying you to preach others’ sermons. Your people don’t come on Sunday morning to hear you preach others’ sermons. They expect and deserve for you to preach your own sermons!

How to Avoid Plagiarism
The key to avoiding plagiarism is to write your own sermons. This may seem obvious, but it needs to be said. Stop presenting others’ work as your own and start writing your own material.

College taught us how to not plagiarize. Well, writing a sermon is a lot like writing a college paper. We follow the same process and can take the same steps to ensure we aren’t guilty of plagiarism:

  • Do your research. The first step in writing a paper is to research your topic. The same is true in preaching. Utilize every resource available to learn all you can about your topic (Bible book, character, passage, etc). This can include others’ sermons.
  • Craft a thesis statement. The second step in writing a paper is to create a thesis. This is a single thought that guides your entire paper. This is also helpful in preaching. After doing your research, come up with a single (original!) thought that will guide your entire sermon.
  • Cite your sources. The third step in writing a paper is to write the paper. The goal is to explain your thesis and support it with research. This is also the goal of a sermon. When it is helpful to use someone else’s work, cite your source and give credit where it is due.

Is It Really a Big Deal?
You might be thinking, “Does it really matter? Is it really a big deal if I preach others’ sermons?” In addition to being unethical and unfair, here are a few more reasons not to plagiarize:

  • It undermines your spiritual gift. If you are a preacher, the Holy Spirit has (hopefully) given you the gift of preaching. Does this mean He merely empowers you to take others’ material and present it as your own?
  • It undermines the blessing of God. What makes us successful in ministry is whether or not God blesses our efforts. Will He bless the preaching of His Word if it’s done dishonestly?

Is it alright to preach others’ sermons? Share your thoughts with a comment below!

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2 thoughts on “How to Avoid the Most Common Sin in Preaching

  1. I once found one of my writings unattributed in a book by a famous megapastor. This guy never manned up, even after the publisher put a footnote in his book giving me credit. Since then, reading articles about pulpit plagiarism has been one of my hobbies. This was a good article and I’m glad someone like Zack is addressing the issue. There aren’t many preachers who do.

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