5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Preach Other People’s Sermons

preacher

These are interesting times for communicators and preachers.

Never have we had access to so many other people’s messages. And never have we felt more pressure in delivering our own.

Almost monthly I hear of pastors (most of whom will never make the headlines) who are losing their job because of plagiarism—using someone else’s content but passing it off as their own.

That’s just sad on about 100 levels.

First, it’s sad for their church, who lost a leader and saw some trust fractured.

Second, it’s sad for the pastor who obviously got into some kind of content trap he or she didn’t know how to get out of. I’m sure a few of the people who got fired intended to steal other people’s work and didn’t care about the consequences. But my guess is that’s a small group.

I’ll bet the majority actually just got caught in a trap of overwhelm and shame: they felt too busy/inadequate/desperate to write their own content, downloaded someone else’s, and were too ashamed/insecure/embarrassed to admit that. Rinse, lather and repeat and you have a fireable offense.

A third factor may be that vicious cycle of jealousy and inadequacy. Because we can access messages by world-class communicators every day for free (as can our congregations too), it’s not that hard to get lulled into thinking we can never measure up, so we beg, borrow and steal other people’s ideas without giving credit.

A Rip Off Epidemic

If you don’t think this is an epidemic, please know I’m not even close to being the most well-known preacher on the planet, nor the best-known writer. But my team has found other preachers preaching our local series verbatim, with no permission and zero attribution. Even the jokes were re-used.

Ditto with my blog. My team has found other bloggers who have taken my content, pasted it word for word into their blog, and written their name above the post as the author. (We’ve asked them to take it down.)

So what’s the problem with idea-theft, sermon-theft or writing-theft?

It’s an integrity issue. It’s a character issue.

And at the heart of it is giving credit where credit is due.

There is nothing wrong with using other people’s ideas. Only fools think they are truly original thinkers. There really isn’t much new under the sun, so to quote, share and borrow ideas is fine. You just need to give credit.

And that’s the crux of it. If you mostly do other people’s content, then you’ll end up saying, “today’s message is based on a message written by Mark Batterson/Beth Moore/Andy Stanley/Tim Keller/Steven Furtick/Sheryl Brady/John Ortberg.”

There is nothing wrong with that occasionally. A few times a year I’ll open a message saying “What’ I’m sharing with you today aren’t my ideas—they’re based on the work of X, or come from a message/book by Y.”

But do that week after week after week, and people will begin to realize you aren’t writing your own stuff. Which is exactly why most pastors who plagiarize resist giving credit.

So what should preachers do?

I suggest a simple guideline for preachers:

Write your own stuff. And if you didn’t, tell people.

That’s it.

So why do we want to rip off other communicators? There are at least 5 reasons that get pretty ugly if we’re honest.

1. You want people to think you’re smarter than you actually are

Let’s be honest…one reason we borrow other people’s ideas and make them appear to be ours is so it makes us look smarter than we are.

Don’t think you can give credit and still seem smart?

Just listen to Tim Keller. In virtually every message, Keller references a book he’s read or a thinker he’s borrowing from. He does this regularly and generously.

And guess what? Keller’s one of the sharpest thinkers alive today. Also one of the smartest.

Quoting other leaders doesn’t make you seem dumb. It actually makes you look smart.

It’s evidence you’ve read more than a few tweets, and that you’ve dug deep into the heart of history or current events. It’s a sign you’re not lazy.

Ripping people off is lazy. Learning from other authors and thinkers isn’t.

2. You lie

Lying is an integrity issue.

People rightly assume when a speaker, artist or writer shares something without citing a source, it’s their take on an issue.

Far too many preachers today are literally downloading another pastor’s messages every week and preaching them verbatim.

If you steal money, you get fired. If you steal ideas, maybe you should be fired too.

3. You stop growing

Of all the leaders and communicators who have their ideas ripped off, Andy Stanley is likely at top of the list. He’s one of the most quoted leaders alive today in the Western church, and for good reason. He’s brilliant.

I had a chance to talk with Andy on my Leadership Podcast and I asked him about how he felt about others ‘stealing’ his material and ideas. I loved his answer (you can listen to the episode here or on Apple Podcasts—Episode 1).

Andy said—so accurately—that preachers who preach other people’s messages forfeit the growth that comes with preparing a message from scratch. They miss the angst, the frustration and the tremendous reward that comes from wrestling down ideas until they come out in a powerful and helpful way.

Andy’s so right. Preachers, when you start stealing, you stop growing.

You also lose your own voice. If you’re like me, you may not be the biggest fan of your own voice, but it’s a voice God gave you and that God loves.

Further, if you’re simply a copycat, my suspicion is a younger audience will eventually tune you out. Why? Because Millennials can smell a lack of authenticity a mile away.

You may not be quite as clever or articulate as your favourite preacher, but you’re real. And real resonates.

But wait, you say, can’t you buy Andy’s sermons so you can reteach them at your church? Can’t you download Craig Groeschel’s messages and reteach them at your church? Both legally?

Yes, you can.

There can be strategic purposes for doing so. And when you do, give credit.

But on all those other weeks of the year, don’t lose the edge you gain by wrestling through your own ideas, your own reading of God’s word, and finding your own voice on a regular basis.

4. You lose touch with God

When you plagiarize, you lose touch with God in at least two significant ways.

First, the sins of lying and stealing are themselves a barrier. Confession stands between you and God.

Second, stealing ideas required zero reliance on the Holy Spirit for inspiration, direction, courage or insights.

Ironically, in trying to make your content better, you’ve made it worse. You’ve robbed it of its true power. The real power in preaching comes not from our words, but from what God does with our words.

Do the hard work. You and everyone around you will be better for it.

5. It creeps into other areas of your life

I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s generally true that when you compromise in one area of your life, it doesn’t take much to start compromising in other areas.

Sin is like a weed: It grows fast and you never have to water it.

The best way to tackle sin is to pull it out by its root before it creeps into other areas of your life.

So what do I do?

What should you do in a hyper-connected era when you and I are exposed to more ideas in a day than our grandparents were in a month or year?

First, use other peoples ideas generously. Just give credit where credit is due. Quote. Attribute. Link back.

That covers most of us.

But what about those preachers who realize they’re guilty of knowingly stealing entire messages or lines of thinking and passing it off as theirs..and no one has confronted them on it (yet)?

I would strongly encourage anyone in this category to come clean. Talk to your board. Explain what’s been happening, and tell them you want to stop.

See a counselor if you need to (there’s something inside that drove you there in the first place), and start writing fresh.

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Thoughts?

What do you think?

Am I being too hard on us as communicators? What’s been your experience?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

68 Comments

  1. greg cleveland on August 13, 2018 at 10:20 am

    So I am guessing that your saying that all the pastors that are using ghost writers are really not telling the truth. Maybe we should be careful in our judgement upon others. After all as one of the greatest men of God that I know said these great words. “When they write better sermons I will preach better sermons.”.
    Just saying that we should be very careful.

  2. Greg Coldewey on June 25, 2018 at 7:49 am

    Having listened to Max Lucado for 30 years at Oak Hills Church, it’s not surprising to hear a “Max” sermon somewhere else. Years ago we attended a church in a different state, and the pastor preached a Max sermon word for word even down to the key illustration which was based on a local thing in San Antonio…but he adapted that part as if it had occurred to him locally. As a hearer, it felt very dishonest. Had he attributed it and preached it it would have been fine. It really was a great sermon, and one of the few I remember to this day. That pastor really destroyed his credibility, which is another danger.

  3. […] This article originally appeared here […]

  4. […] This article originally appeared here. […]

  5. Lee on June 4, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    Ha ha ha ha Great Blog post about copying blog posts! May I share this? Oh my! As the great theologian, Bugs Bunny said, “That’s All Folks!” Looks folks there is the Red Herring!

  6. Tony on June 4, 2018 at 8:27 am

    If you have a Word from the Lord, and somebody else takes it and runs with it, what’s wrong with that?
    Do you not want it to reach as many people as possible? If you’re looking for credit and recognition then you’re in it for all the wrong reasons… Maybe you need to rethink this.

    • Tony on June 4, 2018 at 8:57 am

      Look at it this way… somebody taught you. And somebody taught them and so on. Most pastors have around 50 sermons or so that they rehash every year… but a lot of pastors are relating what they have been taught in the past.
      Just teach God’s Word. Pray, ask for wisdom and incite, be open, be authentic and you’ll be ok.

    • Janet Woodlock on June 4, 2018 at 4:38 pm

      If God gives you a word for your community, what makes you think that’s what God wants to say to another community?

      You can only know this through discernment, not by lazy plagiarism. And if it is a word for your community, why not acknowledge it as a matter of your own integrity?

      Academics (rightly) lose their jobs over plagiarism: it’s considered a serious breach of professional ethics. And this should be so for pastors, who have an extra reason to behave ethically – their calling from God.

    • Paul on June 16, 2018 at 11:30 am

      If you preach a sermon verbatim and act like it was your own work, then that is stealing and a lie. Stealing and lying is sin. If you are going to preach other people’s sermons, then you should be honest and step down as preacher. Many lay leaders teach small groups with prepackaged study guides like in Sunday School classes. We generally call these leaders facilitators. At least we know where they get most (if not all) of their material. The pastor of the church and any person who regularly preaches should be studying the Bible and not spending precious time on copying sermons from others.

    • Paul on June 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      If you feel like you cannot preach a sermon that is original, then go to the Bible and read it word for word out loud to your audience. At least you are planting God’s word in the hearts of your congregation, instead of regurgitating other people’s sermons. Check out Jeremiah 23:30 and Romans 2:21. Instead of copying and pasting, I recommend you open your Bibles and diligently study.

    • greg cleveland on August 13, 2018 at 10:22 am

      Thank you for your post. You hit the nail right on the head. (Sorry I guess I should not say that because I know that I have heard that somewhere before.)

  7. Russ on June 2, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    I’ve been reading through these comments and keep thinking, “What in the world am I doing?” My Sunday sermon preparation is so different from what so many of the guys are posting here. I usually put 2-5 hours of straight research into my sermons. I wish it was more, but that’s usually all the time I can afford. Thanks to Logos Bible Software, I use the “Exegetical Guide” to list my commentaries & language sources. I click on the ones I think I’ll like, quickly skim them, and literally drag & drop relevant comments into a Word Document; which automatically footnotes them. After 2-3 hours, I’ve got a 10-20 page document. I print that off and using voice recognition software, I look it over and speak my sermon into a text. Then I reformat it and I preach from my laptop. On the one hand, very few things in my sermon are original to me—when I talk about what fishing is like in the Sea of Galilee, since I’ve never been there, that’s stuff I’m getting from some other source. Even when I dive into application; it’s often stuff I’ve gleaned from books, life, sermons, etc. But when I say “This happened to me when I was 8…” it really happened. To say anything else would be a lie, and how would the Holy Spirit bless a lie? For that matter, isn’t Satan the Father of lies? Twenty years ago, I worked at a megachurch with a pastor most of us would know. I personally looked over his preaching notes many times. True, he was brilliant, but I can tell you he never plagiarized. He’d hand-write his notes and literally bring to the pulpit photocopies of the things he was quoting—and it was obvious he was quoting them because he’d say, “I’ve got a quote…it’s right here…hang on…okay here is it…” And then he’d hold it in his hand, step away from the pulpit, and read it with a force and passion that would honor the original author. I thought we all more-or-less followed a similar process. Now, I see why I’m having problems at my current church. I’ve been in my current church for about 4.5 years. By year 3, we grew to our highest levels on record, but in the last year we’ve had a split. One key leader of the uprising once said to me, “You’re just making stuff up because I’ve been going to church for decades and I’ve never heard anything like this before.” I was baffled because I just preach what the text says—if anything, I spend too much time stating the obvious. But if the American church is accustomed to preachers just recycling what “the showmen” are saying, no wonder people have “never heard this stuff before”—they haven’t heard the Bible! The Holy Spirit illumines HIS Words, not mine and not someone else’s! I’ll admit I’m not nearly as good as the famous preachers, but I’m hoping to improve; and as I get better, I’ll be better in teaching God’s Word, not sermon retreads. No wonder why the American church is in such tatters. Filling churches with preachers who copycat the “showmen” hurts the whole body of Christ because His people are not being taught discernment and it makes the guys who are not airbrushed seem even more irrelevant. Forgive me if I sound self-righteous, I’m really just discouraged by these comments. Maybe I’m a fool playing on a team of fools that would prefer to make themselves look good rather than Christ.

  8. Weekend Leadership Roundup - Hope's Reason on June 2, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    […] 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Preach Other People’s Sermons – Carey Nieuwhof […]

  9. Danelle on June 2, 2018 at 2:27 am

    What if the Holy Spirit gives the same idea to 30 different pastors who have prayed listening to His leading? Maybe not verbatim, but inspiration, theme, or anointing. Who is going to copyright that? The Holy Spirit is the author. Are you going to look to see the first peron in the chain to hear this from the Lord every time? I think many are forgetting the original author. This is a danger, in my view, of building up man and not the One you serve. I am a librarian and believe very much in Open Sources. The Holy Spirit is the most open sourced database anyone could have? Jesus gave you all free material to use and duplicate. He is the Word. Duplicate until the gospel is proclaimed in every tongue, in every nation.

  10. Jon Perrin on June 1, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Great article, Carey! I wish more pastors would understand this. It’s not a sin to borrow, but it’s at the very least shady to plagiarize. Unfortunately integrity is becoming a lost art in ministry. And once you’ve lost your credibility, you’ve lost your ability to lead. I tell people that I read and listen to so many great leaders/pastors that I will inevitably borrow the thoughts/ideas of others.

  11. Austin on June 1, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Love it. As an associate pastor who’s serving as interim youth pastor I often work through 3 sermons or lessons per week on the same topic. Original content becomes more and more taxing. Integrity, credit, and Holy Spirit are so important. Thanks for the post Carey.

  12. Kelly on June 1, 2018 at 7:32 am

    The more I think about this, the more this question keeps coming back up into my mind. I was a worship pastor for over 20+ years and have only been a senior pastor for the last 6. Not one time during my time as a worship pastor did I ever before singing a song give credit to the writer of the lyrics or the music. And we would do original songs every now and then but for the most part they were songs that someone else had written under God’s inspiration. Even at conferences now I hear a popular worship leader song someone else’s song without giving credit but not once have I ever felt angry or cheated that they’d sing someone else’s song. Again, I don’t copy messages word for word and I do give credit where credit is due, but this just gave me something to think about.

    • Janet Woodlock on June 4, 2018 at 4:44 pm

      Everyone expects you’ll be singing the songs of others don’t they? That’s why churches buy song licences. That’s not an integrity issue… unless you’ve ever said “this is a song I’ve written” about someone else’s material.

      NO ONE expects their pastor to be preaching someone else’s sermon though. So that’s a clear integrity issue.

      • Kelly on June 5, 2018 at 7:47 am

        Everyone expects you’ll be singing the songs of others? I hope they simply expect you to lead them into God’s presence. As far as the licensing – all/most church don’t pay for the CCLI. I just came back from a conference where worship was a major part of it and one of the worship leaders announced they were going to do a new song. I loved the song and try to look it up – I found it and the worship leader that lead it was not one of the writers of that song. I didn’t bother me in the least bit because all I was expecting of him was to lead me into God’s presence. I wasn’t expecting it all be original, just for Him to do his best to hear from God and lead us there.

        Do I think it’s a problem for someone to take an entire message word for word, story for story and not give credit? Absolutely. But, I personally don’t think there is anything wrong from hearing a preacher preach a word and it speak to you so much that God has you share with others that would never hear it otherwise. That’s not an integrity issue – it’s just a matter of hearing from God or not.

        • Michael Bulkley on June 5, 2018 at 1:40 pm

          “As far as the licensing – all/most church don’t pay for the CCLI.” That is an awfully broad statement to make. Maybe there are a number of small churches, or churches without live streaming, or web available broadcast that do not, but any church who puts there services online is risking big fines if they do not pay CCLI. Further, whether you broadcast or not it is illegal to play music in your church in any other context than the actual church service unless you pay CCLI fees (this includes VBS, church coffee shop, music in the lobby, music on your telephone hold, etc.). Now, one can decide to ignore that and likely if they are a smaller church with no outside broadcast and they will not be caught, but if their choice is to “not get caught” (no matter how one justifies it) it is still illegal and thus a lack of integrity. I do not like to pay my taxes and I think that much of my tax money goes to pay for immoral things but Jesus still said I had to pay to Caesar what was Caesar’s. All that being said, I do not know any churches around me that DON’T pay CCLI.

  13. Mlungisi Gabriel Magwaza on June 1, 2018 at 7:07 am

    Thanks Carey, I hope there is no problem to quote someones sentences and mention that to congregation.

    Question: How can I help someone who is in the same problem of preaching others’ sermons. We have a same fellow in our church.

  14. Deb Angerman on June 1, 2018 at 6:51 am

    I just finished an undergrad college course on speaking to youth, and one of the materials we were required to read actually recommended NOT sourcing “borrowed” material in our sermons, because it “interferred with the flow of the message.” WHATTT? I couldn’t believe it.

    My motto is borrow away – but ALWAYS give credit!

  15. Jeremy on May 31, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    As someone accused of plagiarizing even when citing the source I do see how important this is to people. Legit question though…when compiling all of the research for detailed topics it’s almost impossible to cite everything. For one intro to a message I used multiple sources. They weren’t other people’s messages but certainly books/articles. Didn’t quote directly. So what do you suggest? Or is that a different topic?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 1, 2018 at 5:09 am

      Good question…and I’m sorry you were questioned. Tough! You’re right, there are really no truly original thoughts. So attribute the major ones…be generous and humble with your sourcing and that should cover it. It can be as simple as “As Tim Keller has said” or “Andy Stanley points out..” That’s what I do.

  16. Campbell on May 31, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    I now include a “bibliography/sources used” in my sermon handout.

    15+ Years ago I attended a church planting conference at Saddleback. Rick Warren came in & spoke to the planters & told us, “You can use any of my information. No citing is necessary.” I thought that was great. Of course being the son of an English teacher, and the grandson of an English teacher, and having taught high school English myself, I wasn’t comfortable with taking that at face value. So I would use verbal citations for his or other authors thoughts, ideas, quotes, etc.

    A few years ago I realized that there are times where I quote someone but in the process I may forget to cite them, or may misattribute the quote. Then another pastor in my area was accused of using someone else’s material and passing it off as his own. I cannot recall at this time where I saw the idea to include a “Sources Used” reference as part of my sermon handout, but made the commitment at that time that I would try to include as full a list of sources for any particular sermon. So at the end of my sermon notes, I have a Bibliography.

    If I use another pastor’s outline of a series, even if I am not using any part of his messages, I include that in my source citation. If I use some personal Bible Study books (such as The Navigators LifeChange series) when breaking down a passage, I cite it in the notes. I don’t do this to be lazy, or just to make sure I am covered. I do this because I want my people to have good sources they can go to as well.

  17. Russ Baley on May 31, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    I just finished sharing this with my team. For years I have been railing against use of other pastors sermons. ‘Where was the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the copy and pasting of the sermon from Andy Stanley?’ With regards to point number 5. I know of a former pastor who constantly justified his plagiarism of Craig Groeshel and Louie Giglio. Yes even right down to the personal stories about family members including wives. When people approached me about it I talked to another local pastor who was my coach. We approached him and he rebuffed our loving attempt to correct his behavior. His reasoning was the Spirit can work through the any preacher because the Word was from God and he like the pastors he plagiarized were mouthpieces for God. Unfortunately he continued, his church leaders were okay with it. With regard to leading to other things creeping in. This pastor is now in jail for some not so good things. I will always strive to correctly represent myself because our integrity is the only thing man cannot take from us…we have to give it away.

  18. D. A. Taylor on May 31, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    About five years ago, there were several web sites where pastors could purchase sermon outlines with complete references. Being curious, I looked at the Google Adword data and found that these site owners were paying up to $5.00 per click — which meant they were making LOTS and LOTS of money. Of course, this web site and it’s associated activity only confirmed what I had see throughout 50 years of attending Christian churches and observing how most preachers only work 2-3 days a week. One particular pastors stands out in my memory. When the brethren called this guy during certain morning hours on weekdays, his wife would inform the caller “the Pastor is taking his nap.” Of course, this is what church members deserve when they ignore Christ’s instructions in Matthew 23:8-10.

    • David Nuhfer on May 31, 2018 at 6:10 pm

      You must have attended a lot of churches if, as you say, “most preachers only work 2-3 days a week”. As a pastor, I find your assumption 3 things – (1) Presumptuous, (2) Arrogant and, (3) Ignorant. Perhaps you should spend more time working on being a little more truthful and a lot less self-righteous.

  19. Chris Teien on May 31, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    I’ve preached over 900 sermons so far over my 22 years in full time ministry and they rarely have ever been 100% “original” and I think that with all the resources available to us there is no excuse for a bad sermon on Sunday mornings. Before the internet pastors used printed Bible commentaries and books for their sermons and today we have a ton of ministry sites giving or selling sermon series complete with graphics and outlines (like https://open.life.church/resources) and I think that if a pastor finds a series or outline or concept that is what their congregation needs they should adapt it to fit their ministry and people. I too have watched people preach another’s sermon and claim the experience illustration as their own and I think that is crossing the line but using another persons outline or sermon points – especially if they gave it or sold it to you should be ok. Not every chef/cook is making all the food from scratch – sometimes they grabbed the canned stuff to more efficiently feed more people. I used to attend a megachurch where the nationally recognized and admired Senior Pastor had a full time staff person that did a lot of his sermon research. Even more scandalous then a pastor using other peoples sermon ideas is the pastor that spends 75% of his time in his study working on his sermon each week.

  20. Joe Gunter on May 31, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    Right on Carey! I find it very aggravating in my circle the amount of re-preaches I hears. Even worse, leaders don’t want to communicate where the received the content from. The truth is many people in the congregation don’t follow what’s being preached by “Big Name” leaders and are un able to identify when it happens. Unfortunately, I feel this way of preaching is becoming standard in today’s church culture. Not too ago a church member came to me excited saying how awesome the message someone preached was and ask I had ever heard that before and I said, “actually yes I have.” No credit or reference given to the original writer but preached well!

  21. Michael Bulkley on May 31, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    I have read all the comments so far posted and I was fascinated with some of the thoughts presented. In short my takeaway from Carey is not that it is wrong to re-preach someone else’s message, it is just wrong to present them as your own. I have had moments where I read someone’s sermon or blog and immediately realized that God was answering my prayer for how to speak with my congregation about something. I then told the people that very point, “I was wrestling with this and I read/heard this perspective and I believe God is saying it us as well as to the original author’s audience.” I also know that there is intentional plagarism (frankly I did not realize it was as widespread as Carey has alluded) and unintentional. I remember having a conversation with Phil Driscoll and he told me how he almost never listened to anyone else’s music when he was writing his music as he did not even want the chance of accidentally copying a riff. I thought that was extreme but for him it kept him so devoted/dependent on the Holy Spirit to lead him in writing his music. I do not in any way suggest that we not ever listen to or read other’s sermons or books (very much to the contrary) but I do think we should maintain that attitude of caution as it keeps us dependent on the Holy Spirit for inspiration. As for those who are bi-vocational, I feel your pain very much. I just know that the best messages I have given have often come from moments of my greatest pain and thus often when there was little time to prepare the way I would like. I also have a church dynamic where I am often called to cover the pulpit with little or no notice. Thus much of my sermon material comes from my journals and personal devotional/study time. Just my thoughts.

    • Mike McGuire on May 31, 2018 at 3:02 pm

      “Thus much of my sermon material comes from my journals and personal devotional/study time. Just my thoughts.”

      This is a good point. I too am bi-vocational. Bible study and journaling should be more than just to find material to preach, but it often becomes a good source. Just a few weeks ago I was reading a devotional magazine, and the focal verse was Hebrews 11:7. That struck me as a good passage for a biblical sermon warning against coming judgment. I was out of the country on a mission trip and it became a sermon while I was preaching there in a crusade.

      As for other comments above, I often use quotes from others as illustrations. I always say something like I read this in a book by John MacArthur, or I saw this in a clip on YouTube, Or I heard this in a news clip on CNN or something like that. Somewhere in this thread the comment was made that when you quote people and give them credit, you come across as being more prepared and intelligent.

  22. Jeff Courter on May 31, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    The lowest grade I received in seminary was in my preaching class, where I made the comment, “If I want to give the best sermon to my congregation, I will go online, download it, and show it to my congregation!” My professor did not appreciate that comment, but I still stand by it – I will probably never be the best preacher in America, and the best sermon most likely will not be mine.

    We Protestants are so focused on the sermon, we have forgotten that worship is about the whole service, not the sermon! The sermon is a part of an entire event focused on directing our attention to God, and glorifying him. The Protestant Reformation came at a time when most people could neither read nor write, and most could not afford to purchase a Bible – reading scripture and explaining it was essential for transmitting the Gospel. (This is part of the reason public education became important to most Protestant denominations, BTW.) Today, neither of these is the case, and most people can find meaningful explanations of the Bible online, in the comfort of their room of choice.

    So why preach? A good question – if we aren’t asking that very question, we risk becoming anachronisms ourselves. If we see the sermon as a part of a larger goal, the worship of God, then the sermon becomes less the reason people should attend. People should attend to worship, not simply to listen to us preach. To think of my sermon too highly is hubris. As the Buddhist saying goes, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.” At my very best, in my very best sermon, I am merely pointing a finger at the Divine.

  23. Paul S on May 31, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Carey

    Great article but what advice you would give to a young bivocational pastor with a young family and only 4-6 hours to build a sermon?

    You can understand why it can be tempting to lean on other people’s messages for inspiration and direction in this context. Especially when there are those resources available from life.church and others.

    • Michael Bulkley on June 5, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      Hey Paul,
      I know I am not Carey but if I were to guess, or at least give you my two cents after 22 years much in your shoes, I would say freely use the resources available but just don’t hide it. Further, I would say that often in my reading other sermons or resources they spark an idea or answer a question about a text I am studying which, while spurred by my reading, is my own thought or my own way of describing the point. The Holy Spirit can work that way. But the problem is when you cut and paste a sermon, or parts of it and present it as your own where it gets muddy. I remember a time I told a guest speaker how impacted I was by a point he made and that I would be preaching it again. He said, the first time give me credit and after that it is yours, but always remember it ultimately came from God. One last thing I would offer is that I use Logos Bible software. It is expensive up front (I have been building my digital library for 14 years) but it helps me cut so much time in studying as it helps me get right to the point and gives me many differing perspectives on a text all in one place. Hopefully your church could purchase it for you if you personally do not have the budget. God bless you in your endeavors my friend!

  24. Stephen Hamilton on May 31, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Hey Carey, this is excellent and very timely. It’s critical for all communicators to be men and women of integrity. Just give credit where it is due. We need to increase our time with God and in preparation to increase our effectiveness.

    • Kel on May 31, 2018 at 4:10 pm

      I often share words of wisdom I’ve learned, whether from my own children, grandchildren, friends, or pastors. I always give credit, but withhold names if it’s a minor. I add my own take on it, share how it impacted my walk with Christ. I would never just peach a whole sermon mimiking another. I wouldn’t feel good at all about that, regardless of how profound the message would be. I need to sleep at night knowing I’m right with the Lord. I think using quotes is fine, but plagiarism is just not okay. When we quote the Bible, we should always reference the chapter and verse. It would frighten me to think that anyone might have enough trust in me to just take it for granted. I’m not worthy, nor am I worthy of another’s words. I always carry bibles to share, so that those who hunger can find truth in those pages.

  25. Danny Legault on May 31, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    I do appreciate the thrust of this article and I don’t have any criticisms of the various points. However, there is something very refreshing about Mike Bickle’s (International House of Prayer) approach. He again and again emphasizes that his copy right policy is the right to copy. His passion to get the message out far exceeds any need to get the credit.

  26. Mike McGuire on May 31, 2018 at 11:28 am

    I used to be a High School teacher. We do not expect high school teachers to write their own books every day for lesson plans, however we do expect that they will put their own spin on it, in a good way. years ago while I was in seminary, the pastor I grew up under had written a book. I bought a copy of it. When I was a you, the youth minister taught us to take sermon notes. I kept weekly notes in that church from 1973 until I moved away from home in 1980. From then I kept notes until I became a pastor in 1989 (Now I have my own notes) Anyway, going back to the book. There was a particular illustration that my pastor had used from the pulpit. He was telling a third person story about a little boy who skipped school one day. He elaborated on the story ( I forgot what exactly happened) and the surprise ending of the story was, “And that little boy was me!” That sermon was included in his book.

    Years later while in seminary, I was the youth minister. I saw a copy of that book on my pastor’s desk. (Not the author of the book.) That pastor began to tell that same story in a sermon, and at the end he said, “And that little boy was me!” At that point, I lost all respect for that pastor. As this article said, he could have given credit to the author of the book, but he didn’t. As I began to pay more attention, he was ripping off other pastors virtually every sermon. He would get a newsletter from a church. Copy the outline of the sermon in his own handwriting and then give it to the church secretary to type. Then he would preach it on Sunday as his own. He could have saved a lot of time and effort if he had just taken the newsletter to the pulpit.

  27. David on May 31, 2018 at 11:12 am

    I simply do not agree with this post. We have used a video series of yours to train our people in leadership. I read sermons and listen to sermons frequently. When I quote Sources I do foot note these in my sermon notes. Sometimes I do preach other individuals sermons. …. not verbatim …. I add and subtract and make changes but I definitely use other peoples ideas. I like what Dr. Adrian Rogers said many years ago about this, if the bullet fits your gun, use it. Pastors have many things to accomplish every week and most of us speak 2 to 3 times a week. It is hard to be original every week.

  28. Paul on May 31, 2018 at 11:10 am

    Hi Carey

    This is an awesome article and I agree with it all but as a young bivocational pastor I have a question.

    Many friends of mine who are full time pastors have encouraged me to get inspiration from other messages, saying that I should prayerfully listen and read the manuscripts etc. and then personalize it. When you’re trying to turn a church around, working 40 hours and raising a young family you can understand why this seems appealing. In fact the likes of Craig Groeschel even encourage it

    Do you think that it is acceptable for a bivocational pastor to lean more heavily on other pastors messages given their context?

  29. Derrell Brame on May 31, 2018 at 10:59 am

    Not sure I agree with all the points made. It is true, some of have so many other responsibilities other than preaching. When I listen to other sermons, I am always in sermon mode to gather ideas and the best way to express thoughts. Rick Warren used to say, “There is nothing original. The secret to good preaching is hiding your sources” (or something like that). For me, if there is a good sermon that has touched my life, I want to share that same idea. I will rework the words and outline to make it me, then preach it! I remember sharing Max Lucado’s 100 Happy People series. I called Oak Hills and they gladly shared much of the media with me to use. I gave credit, but used Max’s sermon ideas in the series. I guess, if you are using the sermons word for word, you are just memorizing a script, and that would be plagiarism! But if you take the text, idea, and work through all the thoughts as you allow the Holy Spirit to lead, not sure how that is wrong! Anyway, we all are individuals and have to be honest before the Lord and our church board…thanks for the thought provoking article!

    • David on May 31, 2018 at 11:03 am

      I agree

  30. Cecil Cogswell on May 31, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Well spoken Carey. As I read this thought comes to mind, “where you start you usually finish.” This is my own thought, but I am sure someone else has thought it before (protecting myself here). Having spent over 30 years in ministry and sermon prep I have learned that you MUST spend time reading God’s Word in order to received the message that God wants delivered to His people. My time was before the heavens opened and everyones’ thoughts and writings became available online. I would caution that if a preacher does not start in the Word, he will not finish in the Word. Holy Spirit inspiration comes through the Word not the words of other people. Proclamation/preaching is not about parroting someone else, it is about allowing God to speak through us as His instruments. We should never go online first seeking inspiration! The pit is way too deep and sermons prepared by the most godly men are just man’s words which makes us think we sound sound smarter, not be smarter. Surf away after the sermon is mostly finished seeking a better way to say things, or great applications, but resist the temptation to start online.

  31. Sheila McJilton on May 31, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Having had my own work plagiarized, I am sensitive to this issue. I work very hard on my sermons, and I begin on Monday morning, using a book entitled FOUR PAGES OF THE SERMON by Paul Scott Wilson to guide my (creative) thinking and discernment about which text. (NB: I am an Episcopal priest, so am in a liturgical tradition that gives me four choices of Holy Scripture: OT, Psalm, NT & Gospel). Occasionally I go back to one of MY old sermons and use the bones of that, but almost never go back to that sermon entirely, because the context is different. Yes, I almost always preach from text on an I-Pad, but the I-Pad seemed to free me up in a strange way from text on paper. I would never use someone else’s work without crediting them, and I do use quotes of sources.

  32. Luke on May 31, 2018 at 10:25 am

    is it the same thing when there is a team of pastors and one pastor wrote the sermon series but everyone is responsible for preaching it?

  33. Ian on May 31, 2018 at 10:22 am

    I am challenged by this. I am struggling with the idea of not using someone else’s sermons. What about things like Orange curriculum for student and children’s pastors? If I had to write all the content that I need in a given year between preaching with students, leading events, and preaching on Sunday throughout the year, I would never be able to do of the other ministry work I need to do. I use so many sermons from other pastors and great preachers more like commentaries. I trust that guys like Andy Stanley, Steven Furtick, Levi Lusko, and yourself are far smarter than I am and have done countless more hours of research than I can do. I always try to give credit and rarely if ever have I used a sermon word for word. However, I have used sections, application points, or breakdowns of a scripture from other pastors. I am unsure where to draw the line… What is right or wrong here? I struggle to see a difference between using orange curriculum and using someone else’s sermon content, so long as you contextualize it for your people and use your own stories or illustrations.

  34. Heartspeak on May 31, 2018 at 10:12 am

    I read a blog post like this and sadly shake my head and cry, “Dear God, rescue your people!” Churches are dying. (Note: the Church, is not dying) Stubborn people. Unrepentant hirelings. An unhealthy commitment to 3 songs and a talk as the ‘only’ way to do God’s work. NO focus on actually doing what it takes to make disciples who make disciples under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

    It’s time and past time to really look at what are we doing and what are the results. Jesus said that by their fruit you will know them. Most ‘fruit’ of what churches are doing is inedible.

    God does His work in the lives of those who seek Him but that does not mean that what we are doing is right, good or best. It means that God is faithful to those who genuinely seek Him.

    Sorry. Not sorry. Just nauseous…..

  35. David Nuhfer on May 31, 2018 at 9:43 am

    This has always been an issue of great contention, because the question is always “What does it mean that a pastor used someone else’s material without giving them credit?” Too much to share in one post, so I’ll try to make it brief (or as brief as a pastor who has been doing this for almost 30 years can be.) In this world of multiple “sermon help” websites and organizations that offer their sermons for sale for other pastors to use, the idea of plagiarism has become increasingly muddied. I remember reading one famous pastor saying that buying a sermon series from his organization is a help because “why should you have to do all the research yourself that we have already done and made available to you to use?” I have purchased many message series and sermon books and I have used them in my ministry. I have gone through the essence of them, made changes, added personal illustration, selected different scriptures at some points and even changed some of the main points. I have found them helpful in preaching and saw them help change lives for the better. I have never claimed that they were my personal creation, nor have I ever tried to sell them. At times, I have said that the message was inspired by thoughts of a specific preacher, but you simply cannot spend sermon time giving credit to every person from whom you get a thought. Sometimes, I wonder, “Where did THEY get that idea?” I have used illustrations from other pastors experiences, starting with, “(NAME OF PASTOR) tells a story about . . .” The truth is, many pastors of larger churches have staff & researchers helping them find and put together their messages. Most of us don’t have that luxury. In addition to sermon prep, we are busy visiting the sick, the new guest & the family in crisis, meeting with boards, trying to be visible in the community, changing light bulbs, mowing the church lawn, etc. I think a lot that might be called plagiarism is not plagiarism. Perhaps we had better give less credit to the people writing the words on paper and more credit to the Spirit that does the inspiring. We also need to be careful who we accuse of plagiarism. A statement I once heard is true when it comes to preaching – Anything any of us preach is not original. It has all be preached before in some way and we all get our content from somewhere that is not original to us, whether it is from the Holy Spirit or someone else. With the exception of someone intentionally taking someone else’s message and passing it off as his/her own, “plagiarism” is in the eye of the beholder. I hope this is helpful.

  36. Andrew Minard on May 31, 2018 at 9:39 am

    Great point about being real and how people resonate with that.

  37. Lois Holliday on May 31, 2018 at 9:33 am

    David Jeremiah (YEARS ago) did a sermon that involved Marines, San Diego, Hell Week. A very good message that I listened to on the way to work and the way home from work. Same day – BBN had him on 2x a day. Next Wednesday night, pastor’s son did the message and it was Jeremiah’s message, word for word. While everyone around me was spellbound, I couldn’t help having an attitude that bordered on contempt. Sorry. Not right. Not good. But that’s just how I reacted to his blatant, misleading behavior.

  38. Kelly on May 31, 2018 at 9:26 am

    I get what Carey is saying completely, but if I hear an idea that I didn’t personally think of, I’ll take it and run with it because I agree, I don’t think we are as original thinkers as we’d like to think we are. I may also hear a message and that message gives me a different idea to take it in a different direction. I personally believe that just as God can speak to you through someone else’s teaching – God can use that speaker to speak to you to deliver ideas from that message to people that would never have heard it otherwise.
    I don’t steal messages word for word, and I do give credit when I use someone’s idea, but I am not as creative as I would like to be when it comes to preparing a message or series and I think there are a lot of others like me that feel the same way, although it may not get said on this platform. Those are just my thoughts.

    • David on May 31, 2018 at 9:38 am

      I agree with you. I think there is a difference between inspiration and laziness. I too have been inspired by other messages but would use that to write my own sermon and not use someone else’s. If God wants a message out I believe this is one of His many ways of doing that.

  39. Jonathan Lowery on May 31, 2018 at 9:25 am

    This article reminds me of how I really need to lift my Pastor in prayer and ask God’s power to be on his life. As worship leader, I don’t have to prepare a sermon every week so I can’t imagine the weight of such a huge task. My prayer is that I will always share out of a heart that’s been with God when I lead worship. I read more and more as I get older to learn from those smarter than myself. God uses those things to refine me and I share that as I lead worship. I also often share books and authors with my team so that they can be impacted in the same way by great books, DVD’s and online teaching. Thanks for sharing and stirring my heart to pray more for my Pastor as he prepares each week.

  40. Daryl J DeKlerk on May 31, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Well said to lean into the Holy Spirit each week! Love the line, “The real power in preaching comes not from our words, but from what God does with our words.” Praise God!

  41. John Spohn on May 31, 2018 at 9:24 am

    In every sermon I have placed a personal family illustration. I have visited some congregations where my family illustration was used as though it were the speaker’s personal life. It would have been so much easier to say “I heard ” or “I read.”

  42. Rachelle M on May 31, 2018 at 9:23 am

    This recently happened at my church, where our new pastor plagiarized his whole first sermon series, and continues to use free sermons presenting them as his own.

    Pastors should be led by the Spirit about what to preach and to do so with integrity.

    I have been wrestling with whether or not we should stay at our church. The board looked into the issue, but it has since been dropped. I am afraid I am not growing. I love our church, and don’t want to leave.

    Any advice?

    • George on June 1, 2018 at 6:08 am

      stick with the church for the time being and then see how you feel. The church is not just the pastor, it is the people and you will have established relationships there which you need to consider.

      • Rachelle on June 26, 2018 at 11:54 am

        The people at my church and the relationships I have are the only thing keeping me there. I don’t want to leave.

        Any advice on how to address the church or pastor with this issue?

        He has lost all credibility and respect from me.

    • Janet Woodlock on June 4, 2018 at 4:57 pm

      Pass this article on to the Board? And express your deep concerns?

      The church leadership should deal with integrity issues, and this is an integrity issue.

      • Rachelle on July 19, 2018 at 10:43 am

        This is the action I have decided to take. Thank you, Janet!

  43. Charles F Norris on May 31, 2018 at 9:22 am

    Excellent points, Carey! I appreciate your valuable insight. Please keep up the good work! Charles

  44. David on May 31, 2018 at 9:19 am

    This is a good article. I use quotes a lot whether I am preaching to the congregation or teaching the youth. Sometimes someone can say my thoughts better than I can so I use it… and give them credit. The best part of sermon writing is having so much that it needs to be pruned so that all is left is the good stuff. 🙂 As a pastors, speakers, teachers, and leaders we must check our ego at the door. We follow (Heb 13:7), serve (Matt 20:25-28), live above reproach (1 Tim 3:1-3), and live like Jesus (John 13:13-15) in all that we do.

    Let’s continue to build each other up, inspire each other, and through the power of the Holy Spirit help build the Kingdom of God.

  45. Eric on May 31, 2018 at 9:17 am

    I’ve purchase sermon series in the past and given credit where credit is due. I have consistently found that it feels un-natural to preach someone else’s words and ideas. It just doesn’t flow, and it doesn’t connect as well as when I preach messages I have written.

  46. Mike on May 31, 2018 at 7:57 am

    5 REASONS TO PREACH AND TEACH THE BIBLE IN CONTEXT
    1. Eliminates silliness of “how to have you best life now”.
    2. Causes pastors like Carey to stop eisegeting texts
    3. Eliminates a sense of self righteousness.
    4. Deals directly with sin, repentance, forgiveness from God himself.
    5. Helps pastors like Carey stop delivering sermons without the text even open and giving his almighty interpretation of life. This saves no one. This points no one to Christ but rather to Carey as he would have it that way.

    • Jeremy Mahood on May 31, 2018 at 9:22 am

      Hey Mike, you may disagree with Carey and at time I do as well. However, I’m not sure the attitude of the way in which you expressed yourself is healthy! How about you post the number of salvations and baptisms and those serving in ministry and compare them to what’s happening where Carey preaches. I’m not talking about attendance or crowds…just salvations, baptism and serving. And then you can be as critical as you would like.

    • Scotty Jarrard on May 31, 2018 at 7:20 pm

      Hey Mike,
      Exegesis Matthew 18:15-20 and tell us how you could of handled this differently.

      Love you brother, I really do.

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