Avoiding Plagiarism in the Pulpit

Monty Hale

Monty Hale is the director of the Bivocational and Guidestone office of Pastoral Ministries at the South Carolina Baptist Convention. His duties include assisting pastors and churches in transition, developing projects and initiatives to promote healthy leaders, and assisting churches with effective conflict resolution. Prior to joining the SCBC staff in April 2005, Hale served as Leadership Development Specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention, and as a pastor for various Baptist churches.

The Internet is a great tool. Pastors have at their disposal volumes of books, commentaries, articles, blogs and other material so numerous it boggles the mind. What used to be contained on bound pages and put into books are now at the disposal of anyone, anytime, anywhere. This ease of accessibility carries a danger. The great temptation for some is to find a resource, download the material, carry it to the pulpit, and preach or teach it as if it is their own.

I spend most of my days ministering to pastors and church staff who are in conflict or about to be forced to leave their positions. There are an increasing number of them who for one reason or another have thought they could get by with such a practice. While immorality in the ministry continues to be a reason why ministers have to leave their churches, plagiarism is increasing as a reason too. So, here is some advice:

  1. Always cite the source. All of us have weeks that we just don’t have the time to prepare as we should. There may have been a crisis that needed our undivided attention. Illness or family issues may have encroached on our preparation time. In these times, we must rely heavily on outside material. No matter, a person of integrity will site the source and NEVER pass it off as their own. This goes for outlines, illustrations, stories or other material used from another source.
  2. Do the heavy lifting. With so much available with a simple keystroke or a click of the mouse, the temptation is to justify our laziness. The preparation of sermons and the writing of inspirational material is hard work. Letting someone else do the work and passing it off as if you did it is simply dishonest. Time management and maturity are both issues here. You might not be able to watch as much football or have to stay up a little later, but it must be done.
  3. Own up to your discrepancies. Do this before you are caught. If you find yourself in the middle of this deception, own up to it and quit before someone Googles you and you find yourself having to explain why you are stealing. I’ve heard the excuses. You know, “I’m just so busy doing other things in ministry” or “I just don’t have the ability to say it the way others do.” Whatever the excuse, own up to it.
  4. Be yourself. Okay, so you can’t preach like the great expositors and orators of the day. Or your writing is nothing like the popular authors who churn out books by the dozen. So what? Be yourself. Those who listen to you or read your work want to hear what you have to say, not what someone unknown has said to them. Be you and share from your heart.

Let me conclude here with an illustration from my life. I love to play golf. The truth is, I’m not a good golfer. My ability falls very short of my passion for the sport. One the reasons I’m not so good at golf is I don’t take time to play. I have learned that if you want to get good at something that you don’t have a natural ability to do, you have to practice, hone your skills, study others that are good at it, and take time to do it. The same is true about preparing sermons and writing inspirational material. So, practice, hone your skills, study those who do well at these areas, and take time to do it.

 

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