Tag Archives: sermon preparation

Who’s Robbing Whom? Some Thoughts on Pulpit Plagiarism

PulpitSupplyHandbookBookCoverby Doug Smith

Is it wrong to preach another pastor’s sermon?  Pulpit plagiarism can be a hot topic.  To commit plagiarism, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas.”  This issue is certainly not new, but there has been a good bit of discussion in the last few years concerning possible answers to this question, some of which are quite disturbing.

Some prominent pastors, such as Rick Warren and James Merritt, openly encourage other pastors to take their sermons and preach them – even without giving proper credit.  However, others disagree. On December 7, 2006, the Albert Mohler Program featured a radio interview between Dr. Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), and Hershael York, a pastor as well as a professor of preaching at SBTS.  They are in agreement about this issue, and the title of the program reveals their perspective: “Plagiarism in the Pulpit: Stealing the Material We Preach.”  They believe a pastor should actually take the time to study and prepare messages suited for his own congregation instead of using something prepackaged and pre-processed.  Shocking, isn’t it?

For years, in addition to full-time teaching, I have preached in a supply capacity, filling in for pastors or serving churches that do not have a pastor.  Study time is a premium amidst family and work responsibilities. It could be tempting to steal others’ sermons.

However, I believe Mohler and York are exactly right about this issue.   I realize there are variations on pulpit plagiarism, ranging from preaching another’s sermon verbatim to extensively modifying it.  Regardless of the extent, when credit is not given where credit is due, people are being robbed.  And the interesting thing is that the ones who suffer the most are not the people whose material is being used, but the people who are stealing it and the people who are having it fed to them.  Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations in at least five ways.

  1. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations of spiritual nourishment they can only get from someone who lives among them and labors in the text of Scripture.

The pastor who is content to steal others’ sermons robs himself of the valuable discipline of study and its benefits for himself. He has less reason to devote hours throughout the week to the Word than he would if he were preparing the sermon himself. The plagiarizer deprives himself of a great blessing that God would freely give to him and the congregation if he would devote himself to the Word.

The congregation also gets the short end of the stick. Just as the milk from a mother’s breast contains nutrients specially and uniquely suited for her child, a pastor who studies the Word and knows his congregation will be able to feed Christ’s sheep with a diet suited to their needs better than any prepackaged sermon can. Phillips Brooks said that a true preacher is one who utters “truth through his own personality,” and this is what every congregation needs. There are particular applications of the text that may be irrelevant to a congregation if taken from a “canned” sermon, and there are particular applications they need that cannot be gained except from their own pastor’s labors in the Word. This is especially true in foreign countries where the people may have no clue as to the point of certain illustrations from American culture and have certain needs that preachers from other backgrounds might not touch upon.

2. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations by discouraging consecutive exposition.

Many pastors have found that the best way to feed Christ’s sheep is through expounding the Scripture book by book. This enables the preachers to share passages with the big picture of its context in mind. When done correctly, expositional preaching lets God set the agenda and makes His Word the authority, rather than the preacher. There are variations on this method.  One can, like John MacArthur, preach dozens of sermons from one Bible book.  On the other hand, one can preach overview sermons which cover an entire book in one sermon, in addition to covering smaller units of Scripture.  Faithful expositors, no matter how large a preaching unit they use, agree with what Mark Dever has said: “An expositional sermon is one in which the point of the passage is the point of the message.” And the best way to ensure that you are preaching the point of the passage in each message is to preach consecutively through a book of the Bible.

A plagiarizing pastor may preach expositionally if he steals material from someone who preaches through books. But I would imagine the tendency for many would be to preach whatever sermon strikes them for the week or whatever the latest topical offering is from the mailing list they are on or the magazine to which they subscribe.

3. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations by encouraging laziness.

A pastor is called to be diligent (2 Timothy 2:15). He is called to take time to think in order to gain understanding: “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (2 Timothy 2:7). He must get the knowledge he needs and take time to process that knowledge through meditation and research and study. He must pray and labor. Preaching another man’s sermon requires none of this. One could certainly modify it, but the temptation to carry over as much as possible to prevent as much work as possible will be there.

4. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations of a safeguard against false teaching.

If a pastor is too lazy to study for his own sermons, he will probably be too lazy to check out the exegesis and application of another’s sermon to make sure that it is legitimate. He may begin teaching all sorts of false doctrine without even realizing that he is promoting unbiblical ideas. How can he guard the flock if he only takes for granted that he is feeding them healthy food?

5. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations by rendering thieving preachers obsolete.

If a pastor simply preaches a sermon from another preacher, why couldn’t someone else from the congregation preach? Why not simply have the person with the most pleasant voice preach? Why not have the person majoring in drama preach a stolen sermon? Better yet, why not show a video every week of a favorite celebrity preacher?

If a pastor simply steals sermons from someone else, why go through all the trouble? Why not fire the pastor or free him up to do the other things he needs to do and let someone else preach a “canned” sermon or show a video?

In his book, Walking with the Giants, Warren Wiersbe gives a relevant warning:

Two dangers we must avoid as we read the sermonic literature of the past: imitation and plagiarism.Imitation robs me of my individuality, and plagiarism robs me of my character; both are insidious. One young preacher was so taken with the sermons in a certain book that he decided to preach them as a series. What he did not know was that one of his members owned the same book and had read it. As the member left the service one Sunday, he said to his pastor, “That was a fine sermon this morning!” Then he added with a smile, “Next week’s is good, too!” The problem, of course, lies not with the character of the printed sermon but with the character of the preacher reading it. Blackwood was rather blunt in his counsel: “If one is tempted to steal the fruits of other men’s labors, one ought to let such books severely alone. . . ”

Francis Bacon, in one of his essays, compared students to spiders, ants, and bees, and we may justly apply the illustration to preachers. Some preachers never study but, like the spider, spin everything out from within, beautiful webs that never last. Some are like ants that steal whatever they find, store it away, and use it later. But the bee sets the example for us all: he takes from many flowers, but he makes his own honey.

So, let us neither spin sermons without study, nor be thieves like the ant. Let us be like the bee. As we benefit from a multitude of sources, we must make the final product our own. We need to be, as Dr. Erwin Lutzer said, those who milk many cows but make our own butter. Let’s learn from many sources.  Let’s assimilate what we have learned and produce our own sermons. If we fail to churn our own butter and merely lift our messages from other men, we do not merely rob them (even if they say it is okay), but we rob ourselves and the people of God of a rich spiritual feast.

A version of this article was originally posted at SharperIron.

* Audio of this radio program is available at www.albertmohler.com

 

 

Ezra 7:10 – Overview of Sermon Preparation Process

* Click here for a PDF file or click here for a Word document file of this article (4 pages).

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. – Ezra 7:10 (KJV)


We will overview the sermon preparation process, looking at Ezra 7:10.

1. Before doing anything else, we need to read and re-read the text and…

2. pray over the text.

3. Write down some observations on the text itself. Aim for 30.

4. Read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Ezra is the book the text is found in.  Ezra and Nehemiah were not two, but one book in the Jewish arrangement of this portion of the Bible.  This will give you a head start on the historical and literary context of Ezra 7:10.  Note any connections to the content of Ezra 7:10.

Now we are ready to look at the basic study process and sermon preparation based on this text.

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HERMENEUTICS (STUDYING THE TEXT)

This process lays the groundwork for the sermon.  Using Daniel Doriani’s method from Getting the Message (which we use as a text book in CAPS classes), we will look at hints for studying Ezra 7:10 in light of its:

C – Context – literary and historical.  What can we learn from the words, sentences, paragraphs, books, etc. around the text and is there anything from history (in or outside Scripture) that sheds light on the meaning and significance of the text?

A – Analysis – How is the passage put together?  What are some important grammatical and content markers?  Can you outline or structure the text visually to show how it functions?

P – Problems – Do you see any difficulties in understanding or communicating the text?  Has the text been misused to teach false doctrine?  Are there translation issues?  Could someone easily misunderstand this text?  Are there wrong assumptions to guard against in interpreting and applying this text?  Are there unfamiliar concepts or words?  Are people overly familiar with this text yet missing its full teaching?

T – Themes – What are the main themes addressed in the passage?  Can you relate them to other key passages in the Bible?  How does this passage specifically and (uniquely?) advance these themes in comparison to the other passages?  What are relevant cross-references?  Are there word studies that help you understand the themes of this passage (that also do justice to the interpretation of the text in context)?

O – Obligations – What does the text require people to believe, do, or avoid?  Does the application look significantly different for us versus what was required for the original audience?  What is the principle to be obeyed and how can it be obeyed today?

R – Reflections (Main Point & Redemptive Thrust) – What is the main point of this text?  How can you boil it down to a single sentence proposition that tells us the primary theme/topic (what the text is talking about) and the thrust (what the text is saying about what it is talking about) – and join the main application with the main theme?  How does the text point to our need of Christ or what Christ has done?

(CAPTOR – acronym helps you remember these phases of study for hermeneutics)

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HOMILETICS (PREACHING THE TEXT)

The task now is to take the most important insights from our study of the text and communicate them in a sermon.

  • Take the main point of the text and rephrase it for the sermon – draw the congregation in by making the application clear in the main point of the sermon (we must…/you must…).
  • Craft the homiletical outline and transitional statements, especially between your sermon points.
  • Make sure you have prepared to adequately explain the text and include appropriate illustrations.
  • Craft your introduction and sermon conclusion.  (Frontload application in introduction, bring home in conclusion.  Rule of thumb: land where you took off.)

HERMENEUTICS:  For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. – Ezra 7:10 (KJV)

  • CONTEXT OF EZRA 7:10 – Literary: Books of Ezra/Nehemiah, especially Ezra 7:9 & 8:22.  Historical:  Post-Babylonian captivity, return to the land, Ezra a scribe/priest.
  • ANALYSIS OF EZRA 7:10 – Ezra had prepared his heart to do three things, all related to “the law of the LORD”:  seek, do, and teach.  “For” indicates this is a reason for something else (context indicates “the good hand of God” – 7:9).

For Ezra had prepared his heart

  1. I. To seek the law of the LORD
  2. II. and to do it
  3. III. and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
  • PROBLEMS IN RELATION TO EZRA 7:10 – What is “the law of the LORD”?  “Statutes and judgments”?  The relation of “the law of the LORD” to our concept of Bible & Gospel?  What do we make of the handling of the mixed marriage situation in Ezra-Nehemiah?

  • THEMES IN EZRA 7:10 – God’s Word (Josh 1:8; Ps 1, etc.); obedience/blessing; teaching/preaching (Matt 28:18-20)

  • OBLIGATIONS IN EZRA 7:10 – God’s hand can be on leaders and all other people (8:22) if we devote ourselves to God’s Word (God’s Law… now “all Scripture” 2 Tim 3:16-17) by study, obedience, and teaching.  Devote ourselves to these things – make God’s Word priority #1; Devotion – active – does not happen by accident – not passive, but proactive!  “Bible before breakfast” – say no; schedule; alarm clock, etc.; quiet place; streamline reinforcement (audio Bible on drive, etc.).

This order is important:  to teach we need to be models of obedience, to obey we need to know what Word teaches, etc. and must have a devotion to God to do all of these!

Study – set aside time & routine; read, meditate, ask questions of Bible; learn how to use study tools properly; Obedience – do what we understand God’s Word to require, even if inconvenient or hard; Teach – share with others what God’s Word teaches (evangelism, family worship, parenting, Sunday School, preaching, etc., etc.)

  • REFLECTING ON THE MAIN POINT & REDEMPTIVE THRUST OF EZRA 7:10

Main Point – Ezra experienced the blessing of God because he was devoted to the Word of God; Redemptive Thrust – our fallen condition of ignoring or misusing the Word/fear of sharing it & Christ’s (the incarnate Word) perfect example of knowing, doing, and teaching God’s Word – God’s Word points to Him and brings us to faith.  Do these things on the basis of the Gospel — Romans 12:1-2  (this devotion to God’s Word is not moralistic but a response to the great salvation He has accomplished for us).

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HOMILETICS: For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. – Ezra 7:10 (KJV)

  • MAIN POINT – God’s blessing rests on those who devote themselves to His Word (study, obey, teach).  à  In order to enjoy the blessing of God on our lives, we must devote ourselves to the Word of God.
  • HOMILETICAL OUTLINE & TRANSITIONS –

To enjoy God’s blessing, we must devote ourselves to

1. Study God’s Word (DILIGENTLY SEEK OUT ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR LIVING)

TRANSITION:  “To enjoy God’s blessing, we not only need to devote ourselves to studying God’s Word, but also to obeying God’s Word.  We need to obey God’s Word to enjoy His blessing.  Notice that the text said that Ezra ‘prepared his heart…to do it,’ that is, to practice, obey, or perform what he saw in his study of God’s law….”

2. Obey God’s Word (DO WHAT IT REQUIRES)

TRANSITION:  “We need to obey God’s Word.  But devotion to God’s Word does not stop with study and obedience.  We also need to teach God’s Word.  Notice that the Bible says Ezra ‘prepared his heart…to teach.’”

3Share God’s Word (TELL OTHERS WHAT IT REQUIRES)

  • ILLUSTRATIONS – Biblical illustrations (obedience to God’s Word in Ezra-Nehemiah – handling the intermarriage situations, festivals; teaching – Neh. 8); illustrations from word studies; how you know what someone is devoted to or if someone is devoted to something (their tools/equipment; their schedule; their activities; their performance; their conversation); what/who a preacher is devoted to (who he quotes, models his ministry after, listens to etc. etc.); qualities of a good teacher; qualities of a bad teacher (illustrating by contrast)
  • INTRODUCTION – get attention, raise need, hint at application, orient to text, give context;

Text is about qualities of a person blessed by God & their devotion to His Word – about a teacher who is favored.  An introduction might talk about how you know if someone is devoted to something (see in illustrations above).  Another approach might be to talk about the opposite of Ezra – qualities of a bad teacher (we can all think of real life examples).  This illustration would also function throughout the sermon as a foil to compare what we should be against the alternative.

Introduce text, theme, context — People were coming back from Babylon, where they had landed because they refused to devote themselves to know and obey God’s Word – were now returning – how to enjoy God’s blessing?

Ezra’s example:  Ezra a leader – but this applies to all of God’s people (8:22).

Introduce proposition before transitioning to body:  If we want God’s hand of blessing, we must devote ourselves to His Word.

  • CONCLUSION – Land where you took off. For example, recap qualities of a bad teacher and qualities of a good teacher, the things we must be devoted to according to Ezra 7:10.

Growth in godliness and usefulness in ministry (as leaders or church members) are evidence that God’s blessing is upon our lives.  This blessing comes via our devotion to seek out, obey, and teach God’s Word.  Does your life give evidence of God’s blessing?  Devote yourself to these things.  You will please God.  You will enjoy God.  You will point others to God.  In other words, if you commit yourself to these, you will enjoy His blessing.

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After you do your Bible study and steps to prepare your sermon, finish up by completing the outline or manuscript you will take to the pulpit or use from memory.  Put the intro and conclusions in their place and flesh out the outline with the illustrations and other material you wish to include, including integrating the redemptive thrust so that your sermon is preached in the context of the Gospel.  Pray over it and preach the Word!

Basic Sermon Prep Steps – Alistair Begg

Here’s Pastor Alistair Begg’s basic approach to preaching:

1. Think yourself empty.

2. Read yourself full.

3. Write yourself clear.

4. Pray yourself hot.

5. Be yourself, but don’t preach yourself.

You can read a more detailed explanation at the blog of “Unashamed Workman,” (a site devoted to expository preaching) by clicking here.

He also shared this in the 2005 Basics conference, along with other helpful messages by himself and other speakers (see here for free access to the audio or to order the messages).

Quick Guide to Sermon Preparation

Dr. Hershael York, pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort and preaching professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, presented a helpful one-session workshop on sermon preparation in the midst of the 2007 Power in the Pulpit Conference. You can listen to or download the audio here (for free): A Sermon Preparation Checklist


Below are the basic steps Dr. York takes the audience through. This is a good refresher for experienced preachers and a good basic training session for those starting out. I hope you find it useful.


“Sermon Preparation Checklist” by Dr. Hershael W. York, 2007 Power in the Pulpit Conference

1. Read the text

2. Determine the parameters of the “preaching unit”

3. Trace the Argument/Narrative in the Text in a descriptive outline

4. Identify the Main Theme

5. Move from main theme to proposition

Note: The proposition must be applicational and NOT merely descriptive. In other words, what should the listener DO as a result of the truth revealed in the text?

6. Restate the points of the argument/narrative in applicational form

7. Fill in explanatory subpoints that arise from the text

8. Add appropriate SHARP ingredients (stories, humor, analogies, references, and pictures)

9. Write out transitional sentences

10. Develop the introduction that accomplishes 6 things:
  • Establish a rapport
  • Introduce the subject
  • Create interest
  • Set up and read the text
  • State the proposition
  • Transition into the body of the sermon
11. Develop the conclusion

LINK TO FREE AUDIO OF THIS MESSAGE: