Most of us know that pulpit plagiarism is becoming an increasingly rampant problem these days. I think this is probably due to a number of factors, including such things as the easy availability of large numbers of sermons and sermon outlines online, the increasing pressure on pastors to sound like the celebrity preachers so many of the people in their congregations like to listen to or watch online, and the lack of solid training in exegesis and expository Bible teaching among so many pastors these days. But perhaps one of the most glaring problems is the lack of understanding among so many pastors regarding what their calling really entails.
D.A. Carson touched on this issue back in 2010, in an article at The Gospel Coalition website which asked the question When Has a Preacher Crossed the Line into Plagiarism in His Sermon? Answers were published from five Coalition members, one of whom was Carson, who writes:
First: Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.
This is a very good answer, in my opinion, but I am struck by the fact that there are many pastors these days who would claim that the first two points do not really apply to them, despite the fact that they regularly repeat other men’s sermons. For example, many would say that they are not stealing if they have obtained permission to use the sermons, even without citing their original author. And they would argue that, so long as the members of their congregation know that they are preaching other men’s sermons, then they are not deceiving them. But I don’t think that there can be an answer to Carson’s third point, which is that they are failing to devote themselves personally to the study of God’s Word “to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.” The simple fact is that, as pastors, we are called to preach the Word, not simply to repeat what someone else says about it (2 Tim. 4:2). In the process we are to make sure to teach “the whole counsel of God,” an important aim of pastoral teaching for which the Apostle Paul held himself up as our example (Acts 20:27). To this end Paul admonishes a pastor to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 NASB). How does simply repeating the work of other men even come close to heeding this command?! How does one demonstrate his own ability to accurately handle the Word of God if he doesn’t even bother to do the work himself?! We simply cannot fulfill our calling as pastors if we are not doing the hard work of understanding and accurately handling the Word of God for ourselves.
I would also argue that fulfilling this calling is a necessary part of heeding the Apostle Peter’s command to pastors to “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4 NKJ). How can a man serve as an example of how we must learn to hear God speak to us in the Word for our sanctification if he isn’t even bothering to delve deeply into the Word himself? How can one serve as a proper example of how to accurately handle the Word of God if he doesn’t even know how to do it himself? In my view, one of the most important things I do as I teach the Word week in and week out is to model for the flock how they should rightly handle the Word of God for themselves. In this way I serve as an example to help them be like the Berean Christians, who were “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11 NASB). How does simply repeating the work of other men serve as an example to the body of Christ of how they ought to properly study the Bible for themselves? We simply cannot be the example we are called to be without demonstrating how the flock under our charge can properly study and interpret the Bible for themselves.
In my opinion, there are far too many pastors across America who are either incapable of doing the hard work of exegesis and sermon preparation, or they are unwilling to be diligent to present themselves approved to God as a workmen who do not need to be ashamed. Instead, they would rather simply repeat the sermons of other men, and for this they ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves! My fellow pastors, let us not be among them!