Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Alistair Begg preach. It was a beautiful sermon, rich with doctrine and encouraging to the soul. He was preaching in our chapel at LifeWay to the employees and took a bit of time to discuss life in the ministry. Since many are serving in some capacity in local churches (either as a staff member or volunteer leader), he encouraged us in our work away from office hours. Alistair is quite witty and is apparently fond of limericks. To poke a bit of fun at the ministers in the room, he recited a poem he had heard some time ago about the great preacher Charles Spurgeon.
There once was a preacher named Spurgy,
Who really detested liturgy,
But his sermons are fine
And I take them as mine
And so do most of the clergy.
With Charles Spurgeon being known to many as the “Prince of Preachers,” it is obvious why so many of us have learned from him over the years. However, the idea of quoting, borrowing, and (dare I say) stealing sermons is a sad delineation that must be made over and over again. In order to keep myself in check as I prepare messages each week, I try to operate by these three ideas.
1. It is wise to quote from spiritually mature and intellectually sharp leaders to your sermon. I find that using a short quotation from another pastor or scholar bolsters people’s confidence in what we teach. Additionally, it allows them to hear the same truth with a different verbal flair. Quoting from wise believers allows your church family access to the great spiritual wealth of those who have gone before us.
2. It is okay to borrow from another person’s sermon outline. However, you should always tell the congregation who you are quoting. There are times when getting to the right sermon outline is just tough. On top of that, if you read enough commentaries, there really are no new outlines for passages that have existed for thousands of years. So, as you borrow from other pastors and scholars, tell the congregation about those who are helping you better understand and teach the Word.
3. It is always wrong to plagiarize another person’s sermon and preach as your own. I would also add that is is pointless to do so. If you find another person’s sermon to be exactly what you need to teach, then allow the Lord to teach you the truth and then contextualize it for your church family. Every pastor or scholar that you plagiarize worked diligently on the material as part of their daily labor before the Lord and the church. By using it without attribution, we create three problems. First, you commit the sin of stealing. Second, you puff up your ego by creating circumstances whereby you can sound more spiritual than you are. Finally, you rob the church from knowing that there are many spiritual leaders from whom they can learn.
Image credit: “Spurgeon”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spurgeon.png#mediaviewer/File:Spurgeon.png