Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How To Be In-Authentic

I'll never forget the time a classmate failed our Ethics class for plagiarizing his final term paper.

Yes, you read that correctly: he handed in a plagiarized paper -- 100% word-for-word but with his name on it -- in a course on Ethics.

In recent years, I have been very impressed with some of the younger preachers that I have had the opportunity to hear. There are quite a few gifted communicators in the next generation -- biblically sound, interesting to listen to, and skilled at teaching their congregations. More than a few times, to be perfectly honest, I felt kinda small and stupid as I listened to them.

Then to learn that many (not all, but too many) get their sermons from a "service", pre-prepped and ready to share, and all that they have personally contributed was:
  1. insert a few details to make it specific to their own congregation, and
  2. practice in front of a mirror before Sunday.
As a writer, I cite my sources. When speaking, I do the same. At the very least, it's just good manners and giving honour where honour is due.
To not cite your sources (by preaching a sermon you didn't write but presenting it as if you had) is a form of homiletical plagiarism. You may sound impressive, and gain a reputation as a gifted Bible teacher, but you don't deserve it.
And -- eventually -- the people in your congregation are going to figure it out. Some will rationalize that it's okay because the sermon content was good. Many others -- particularly the younger generations -- will feel like you've been deceiving them (the antithesis of "authenticity"). Don't be surprised if they stop coming to church shortly after (and don't you dare blame them for it).

I don't think I'm alone when I say: I'd far rather hear an awkward sermon from the heart of a sincere speaker than a polished performance from a plagiarist.


  1. I have only recently become aware of these services and wonder what I would have done if they were available in my younger years of struggling to develop a system for consistent sermon prep. From time to time I have used key points or even outlines of sermons I have heard/read, as well as illustrations, and hope an examination of such usage would show adequate citation of the sources.
    While I share your concern regarding the integrity of using plug and play sermon services, I also empathize with those young pastors who are being run off their feet by demanding congregations and excessive programming, and then having their sermons compared to the incredible productions of some of the best preachers on the planet, who have research assistants and virtually no pastoral duties.
    Buying sermons and using them as your own is an unethical response to unrealistic expectations, hurting both the speaker and the congregation in the long term. Perhaps if we can address those ridiculous expectations the need for such services will shrink.

    1. "Demanding congregations and excessive programming" -- wow, Daren, I couldn't agree more!

      I've written about the dangers and causes of pastoral burnout here before, but if I could add more to that original post, it would include a look at unrealistic expectations.

      And I'm not suggesting that anyone who speaks needs to footnote every observation, one-liner, or humorous anecdote -- that would be bondage of another sort.

      I'm mostly reacting to the idea of pre-packaged sermons being presented as original work. On the other hand, in a day and age when pre-packaged "worship experiences" are acceptable, perhaps pre-packaged sermons are just part of the culture?