Plagiarism Part 2
In my last post I addressed the issue of preachers preaching sermons by other preachers and claiming those sermons as their own. In this post we will talk about some of the reasons some preachers feel compelled to “borrow” sermons that were authored by other men.
Part of the blame rests at the feet of the church. Many preachers are swamped by the demands of their many duties. Since most churches in America are small in size, it stands to reason that most pastors are bi-vocational. That is, they have to work a public job to provide for the needs of their families. There is no shame in being a bi-vocational preacher. I did it for many years, and the day may come when I need to do it again.
So, here you have a man who pastors a church. That fellow works a full time job to make ends meet. He is expected to do just about everything in the church he pastors. When there is a surgery, he is supposed to be there. When someone misses church, he is expected to call and visit. When there is a work day, the church expects him to take his day off to help them work around the church. This same man changes light bulbs, sweeps the walk, picks up the used Kleenexes out of the song racks, polices the parking lot, mows the grass, and does just about everything else you can imagine. When Sunday morning comes around, that same church expects that same overworked man to deliver an exceptional sermon. Then, they expect him to do the same thing on Sunday evening, and again on Wednesday night. No one takes into account the fact that their poor pastor has worked his fingers to be bones that week to meet the needs of his family and to make sure that everything around the church is in order. No one takes into account the fact that he has spent scant time with his wife and children because he has been so busy elsewhere. All most people think about is why the sermon seemed flat today. Or why it sounded like some other sermon he preached in the past.
There’s no denying the fact that some preachers are lazy. They will not take the time in the study that good preaching requires. They are too busy hunting, fishing, playing golf, playing video games, etc., to do the hard work of excellent sermon preparation. However, there are many more preachers who are doing the best they can. They work hard, and because they do not preach like a Charles Stanley or a John MacArthur, some people fail to recognize the contribution they are making to the kingdom of God. They don’t mind the long hours. They don’t mind the lack of recognition for their efforts. They don’t resent the work they do for their family or for their church. But, they are overloaded and their time is valuable. Be sure they have enough to do what they need to be doing.
So, church member, cut your preacher some slack. Get out there and help him visit. Take some of that work around the church off the preacher and free him up to spend his time in the Word of God. After all, that is his call, Acts 6:4; 2 Tim. 4:2. Do your best not to have expectations concerning your preacher that are unrealistic.
There is also the problem of unrealistic expectations regarding their preaching abilities. Think about it. A lot of church members get up on Sunday morning and watch Charles Stanley before they go to church to hear their own preacher. Now, Dr. Stanley is a talented preacher. He is not expositional, but he has a voluminous memory. He preaches for nearly an hour without notes. People hear him and they are impressed. What they fail to take into account is the fact that preaching is all he has to do. He does not have to make hospital or nursing home visits. His phone doesn’t ring at 3:00 AM. He is associates to take care of matters like that. He has a secretary who types his sermons. He has research assistants that help find illustrations. He has a whole staff that makes sure he has nothing to do but preach.
Does your preacher have that? My guess is that he doesn’t. Does he have the benefit of a first rate seminary education? Most likely he doesn’t. No, your preacher works hard and he studies when time allows, but he knows that people expect him to be excellent every time he walks into the pulpit. He knows the people are listening to MacArthur, Piper, Lawson, Stanley, and a host of other talented preachers on their computers, their iPods, etc., and he knows they expect him to be as articulate, as relavant and as polished as those men are. Well, he isn’t those man and he never will be!
In an effort to meet what he believes to be the expectations of his people, he may turn to the Internet to find just the right sermon. He goes out there hunting a sermon that speaks to him. He searches for one that exhibits scholarship, spirituality, and power. He takes that sermon and he preaches it. He may feel guilty about it. He may wish he could prepare that kind of sermon on his own. But, he needs something to preach becasue Sunday is relentless. It is always coming, and his week as been one activity after the other. So, he takes the sermon he found online, or in a book; he makes a few changes here or there, and he preaches it. The people are blessed. Then, someone finds out he got that sermon from another source, and failed to give credit for it, and they turn their back on the man of God because he failed to live up to their warped view of what a preacher is. They never take into account that they, and their foolish expectations, are part of the problem.
How do you help your preacher? You start by letting him be the man God designed him to be. God did not call us all to be Charles Stanley or John MacArthur. If God had wanted us all to be like them, HE would have cloned those men. God called your preacher to be the man he is, warts and all. God called him knowing his abilities. God called him knowing his level of education and skill. God called your preacher to be the man he is. What you can do to help him the most is to turn off that TV preacher, turn off that sermon on your iPod, and pray for your preacher. Ask God to make his study time valuable. Ask God to free him up so that he has time to prepare sermons. Ask God to fill him with the Holy Ghost, so that when he stands up to preach, the power of God falls. Most of all, ask the Lord to empty your head and heart of empty expectations regarding your preacher and his sermons, and pray that God will allow you to hear your preacher with fresh ears.
Your preacher is God’s gift to your church. Eph. 4:11-13, and you should be thankful for him. I am not saying that church members should not listen to other preachers preach, but I am saying that it is always wrong to compare your pastor to another man. It is unrealistic. It is hurtful. It is detrimental to the work of the church. It undermines your pastor’s confidence in his own preaching. If you like another preacher, listen to him, but do not compare your preacher to him, and for Heaven’s sake, never tell your preacher you wished he was more like so and so.
We preachers need to acknowledge the fact that plagiarism is a problem among our own ranks. There are far too many men who rest on the work of other men and refuse to do the hard work of sermon preparation for themselves. But, the church also needs to acknowledge that they have overloaded, overworked and over-everything their preachers to the point that have helped create the mess in which some preachers find themselves.
What do we do about it? Well, preacher you need to open your Bible and read it. You need to spend time before the Lord asking Him to open His Word to your understanding. You need to prepare to the best of your ability, ask God to fill you with His Spirit and His power, and climb in that pulpit and preach.
Church, you need to thank God for your pastor. You need to free him up so that he has the time to pray for you and prepare the sermons you and your family need to hear. You need to stand by him and remember that every time he pours himself into your life, that is less time he has to pour the Word of God into himself.
We all need to understand that, at the end of the day, what matters is not who authored the sermons. What matters is this: Is it biblical? Does it proclaim the Gospel? Does it feed the flock? Does it glorify God? Does it clearly exegete the Scripture? Does it help you grow in grace? Those are the weighty issues, not whether or not your preacher was 100% original in everything he said.
We’ll talk about this some more in the coming days.