Your pastor is plagiarizing his sermons; What to do.

All preachers borrow ideas and illustrations from one another.  I heard Adrian Rogers say, “I got this story from someone who got it from someone who got it from the Lord.”  We all smiled and the purists among us were satisfied.  He gave credit.

But what about when a pastor lifts the sermon in toto–lock, stock, and barrel–from another pastor’s book or website?  Is that right?  Is he guilty of something–possibly something illegal? or at least unethical?  Does he violate some unwritten law somewhere? Should a church be concerned?  And what if you are a member of that pastor’s staff and you are the only one who has learned where he is stealing those sermons?

A friend wrote to ask about this. He asked that we keep his identity anonymous, for obvious reasons.

His pastor is well-loved and highly respected.  A father figure almost.  Quite by accident the staff member discovered where the preacher was getting his sermons on the internet.  The man is preaching them verbatim.

“It’s quite impressive, actually,” he told me. “That he can remember those sermons in such detail.”

The pastor obviously did not give credit to the source of those messages since as far as the congregation knows, the Lord was giving those messages to him directly from on high (as opposed to indirectly, by way of this other guy, the one who spends untold hours in his study, on his knees, working and hammering out those messages).

The pastor is being dishonest, of course.  I’ve known of pastors being fired for such.  And he has lost the respect of his staff member who reported it to me.

Who’s going to bell the cat?

What should the staffer do?  If the pastor is insecure or frightened or anything less than a mature believer, to confront him–even in love–with what he is doing could be scary for someone who works under him.

My wife and I have discussed it at length. She’s been a pastor’s wife for over half a century and knows the calling as well as the heartaches and joys. We agreed that for the staffer to go to the pastor with this–“I have found out where you get your sermons”–would be risking his job.

I replied to the anonymous friend that I would reply on the website since I imagine he’s not alone having a pastor who is doing something unethical but wondering what to do about it.

One.  You’re right to be concerned.  Thank you.

Two.  I know you’re praying. The Lord who called this man into the ministry in the first place needs to do something.  Clearly, He already knows this guy has gotten off the track somewhere along the way, but it’s still the right thing to do to pray.

Ask the Lord to handle this.  To awaken the pastor’s heart to what he is doing.  Ask God to give the pastor burdens for messages he should preach and insights from Scripture that cry to be proclaimed so he will not feel a need to lift someone else’s messages.

Three.  And let’s be clear on this up front:  What the pastor is doing is unbiblical and unethical.  “I am against the prophets who steal my words from each other” (Jeremiah 23:30).  There is no justification for what the preacher is doing.

While it’s true that preachers borrow from each other all the time, I give you the words of Warren Wiersbe: “I milk many cows, but make my own butter.”

Four. This is an offence serious enough for him to be fired.  I’ve known at least two ministers who were ousted for plagiarism.

I’m remembering one pastor who was fired for lifting sermons from books published by other preachers.  As the matter came to a head, the newspaper in his city printed the transcript of his sermon alongside the text of that book. They were identical.  The preacher even quoted the author’s personal story as having happened to him.  Can you say ‘lying’?  The effect was to shame him.  Interestingly, a few years later, that same preacher was in the news again, this time for embezzling money from the offerings.  Once we begin to cut corners and rationalize our sins, it becomes easier and easier to go for bigger game.  The little sins lead to the massive ones.  

Five.  Unless the Lord should tell you otherwise in no uncertain terms, a staff member is not the person to confront the pastor with such a matter.  As my wife said this morning over breakfast, “He might find himself out of a job.”  So, if someone deals with the matter, it should not be one of the pastor’s associates.

Six.  Be alert for ideas from the Lord on positive things you can do for the pastor.  Perhaps giving him a great book by some well known pastor or teacher of preachers.  Tim Keller’s stuff is great.  Warren Wiersbe wrote several books on the primacy of preaching. Ask a preacher whom you hold in high esteem to recommend a good one (not too deep or the lazy preacher won’t read it; and not too good or he’ll preach it!!).

Seven.  Keep telling the Lord you are not going to handle this, that this is the Lord’s problem and not yours.  And try to be sweet about it. (Smiling?)  Seriously, keep it before the Lord.  The effectiveness of the pulpit ministry is at stake, and possibly the future of the pastor’s service in that church.

I’ll post a cartoon or two along the way.  Perhaps the pastor will see one of them and get convicted.  Or better yet, perhaps he will read this and think it’s about him.

“You’re so vain. You probably think this song is about you.”  –Carly Simon

Okay, you’ve noticed something here…

I really haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know.  All I’ve done is agree that this is unscriptural, unethical, and unwise.  And to ease the mind of the anonymous staffer that this is not his problem to solve.

Pastors guilty of this unworthy practice need to go back to the Lord who called them in the first place. Ask Him to clarify a couple of things…

–Did He think you and He were capable of coming up with sermons to fit the people to whom He would send you?

–Does He intend to speak to you out of His word? or was it His intention that you copy from other people’s work?

I would urge you to live in Jeremiah 23 a few days and take its message to heart.  God said to the prophets who were stealing one another’s messages: “But who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word?  Who has given heed to His word and listened?” (vs. 18)  He added, “If they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds” (v.22).

There is your solution.  Get with the Lord.  Read His word and listen.  Stay there. Don’t be in a rush.  Really hear His heart.

And don’t come back without the sermon He wants you to preach to His people.



17 thoughts on “Your pastor is plagiarizing his sermons; What to do.

  1. Strong words and a fit message for this generation of preachers. You might add Jer.48:10 to the list. “Cursed be the one who does the Lord’s work negligently.”
    Thank you for speaking against this pastor’s unethical practice and calling this what it is, sin.

    I do however, take issue with your recommendation that a staff member not confront the pastor of known sin because he might lose his job. You referenced Jeremiah. So I guess Jeremiah can confront wicked kings and priests and Nathan can confront sinful kings as the Lord directs, with the possibility of losing their life, but for heaven sake, a staff member dare not confront a worthless shepherd because he might lose his job.

    Then what about John the Baptist who confronted Herod, and Stephen who confronted the Jewish rulers. Oh yeah, these guys lost their lives for the sake of confronting sinful leaders. Yet somehow, this innocent staff member should remain silent because he might lose his job if the pastor doesn’t like what he says. And what about the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:12-20. “If your brother sins, go to him and show him his sin in private; if he listens to you [repents] you have won your brother.”

    Sir, you have justly condemned this pastor’s error as a violation of God’s Word. How then can you overlook what the Bible says, even Jesus’ own mandate, to protect this man’s job. The owner of Hobby Lobby was willing to close down everyone of his stores if the Supreme Court ordered him to promote abortion. But somehow men in the church must remain silent when the leader of God’s people is duly in error. I find your advice hypocritical and more in the line of Job’s friends who gave bad counsel. But then who am I.

    Amos 7:14

    • You clearly would like for us to walk around with a clipboard confronting one another with the sins we have spotted. That, my friend, is as far removed from the Christian faith as it’s possible to get. I love the way you start by complimenting me and bragging on what I said and then end up calling me a hypocrite. Well, at least you confronted me.

      • Dear Pastor Joe, please I love most of your articles and read them diligently but I have to disagree with you here. It’s true that the staff member may not be the best person and God may direct otherwise. However, how many dear souls including erring Pastors may end up in hell because of peoples failure to correct leaders. Kindly remember Paul who chastised Peter for his hypocrisy and prevented Christianity from being corrupted. The Christian faith is stained with the blood of faithful saints who suffered, died or were tortured for the truth. God bless you richly

      • Eric is (way, way) too harsh, so much so that I question his motives and need to control based off what he said and the way he said it … But he is also correct. Staff or no, the person who observes the sin should confront them personally and directly – in prayer, love and concern and with a view to restore – but it has to be done. It’s biblical and necessary.

        • Okay. I still disagree. We do not confront every sinner with every sin. This is not like embezzlement or adultery. The pastor is not actually hurting anyone, but merely betraying his calling. he does need to be confronted, but I still say the staff member is probably not the best one to do it.

  2. Joe:
    Thanks for addressing this important issue. You dealt with the issue honestly and thoroughly. I agree with your advice that the junior associate not confront the erring pastor directly – this is a matter which goes beyond a junior associate/senior pastor interaction.

    I would have recommended that the junior pastor speak directly to the the appropriate denominational leadership – dealing with the offending pastor is the denomination’s responsibility [that’s why denomination leaders are paid the big money :)] The offense is not against the junior pastor but against God and the congregation members; thus, the denomination has the responsibility to act correctly.

  3. If I wrote a book or posted something on the web and a person preached it word for word and used it repeatedly in their ministry for the glory of God, I would would be shouting glory. The message is not our property. We don’t have the right to trademark the truth. We need to be diligent in our preparation and studious, but we put it out there for people to use. Don’t steal and lead people to think you have done work that’s not yours, but I want folks to use my stuff. It is very arrogant to think we can copyright the truth and profit from it. Our attitudes about this — on both sides — reveals a sinister type of pride that is very prevalent in the church today! The pastor doesn’t want the folks to know he doesn’t have the time to organize something original, so he plagiarizes; the staff member is incredulous because he is a professional religious worker in the church and makes his living by writing studies etc, so he feels cheated. I am sitting in Peru feeling smug because I think I can see pride in others — it’s a vicious circle :(. Thank goodness for mercy and forgiveness! Feel free to use this as you wish ;).

    • May we feel free to disagree just as strongly? No one is talking about copyrighting truth. We’re talking about a lack of integrity. That matters a great deal. We’re talking about Jeremiah 23:30, “Woe to the prophets who steal My words from one another.” We’re talking about ministers who say they’re called to preach and are too lazy or too involved in lesser things to get alone with the Lord and get the sermon.

      • I thought you guys were talking about pulpit work. Integrity (what you are when you’re alone; the inner strength derived from character) is another discussion. Academically, plagiarizing is wrong because you are stealing from the original author to receive credit and cheating yourself. You are also not loving your neighbor because the other students worked to produce an original work. With respect to a pastor who, without profiting from a sermon, uses a sermon from a published source without permission is a different matter. The Jeremiah reference does not apply (it is also a misrepresentation of the verse). Pastors receive instruction from Scripture; The prophet received it directly from Yahweh. We all preach the apostle Paul’s stuff. Nothing is original to us. It is arrogant to think that, after 2000 years, we can come up with original Bible preaching. Be sure that someone has said it before if it is worth saying. By the way, I trademarked that last sentence so give me credit if you use it! 🙂 Thanks. I enjoy writing to you. I don’t have many outlets for lively discussions here in Peru. Blessings!

        • I never preach the Apostle Paul’s stuff or any other man’s. I read it and then listen to the Lord. Peter (in 2 Peter) referred to Paul’s writings as Scripture. Be careful about dismissing a clear teaching of Scripture when it does not agree with your position by saying a) it doesn’t apply here or b) you’re interpreting it wrongly. Those are tactics of certain cults. Thank you for the comment. –Joe

  4. Joe, I am sad to say this has become a battle at our church, recently. Last year, I recognized our new pastor giving a sermon that had bothered me on the radio, when I heard it on a program I usually did not listen to. My husband and I take sermon notes and found many uses of materials that should have been given as quoits, but were being claimed as the pastor’s words from God. We brought this to him and were threatened over it. The church deacon also attacked me for questioning the pastor’s sources. We brought it to the counsel which we were a part of, but still no change.Next we brought it to the church body with a few other witnesses, and hence a battle. Advisers who were called by the deacon are taking the mindset that we have been picking on a pastor (of many churches). It has been difficult to bear, as they wish to sweep it under the rug. We gave them chapter after chapter of proof from two books that have been plagiarized over the past year, word for word. Still, half of this small church does not care that the pastor is stealing, deceiving, and being lazy for his pay. He has broken his covenant and has cronies to allow other dishonesty. Passing on other responsibilities to outsiders is another sign. But the men in power lord over the body, or lack of, as the church dwindles. We want to stay and see correction, there. It once was a loving church home.Pray for our cause to be heard by God .

    • I am looking for your advice on the madder above. We have let two outside (pulpit fill reverends) listen to the tapes of sermons and both agree the are pastoral plagiarism, after reviewing J.M. Boice’s books. Neither reverand or association (SBC) hold any control over an autonomous church. Even our church constitution has been broken, as this pastor wishes to depose of the church counsel for any input. Recently, he told the congregation he wants no feedback on his sermons.He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, at age 64. My 86 yr. old father calls it a cult, and no longer a church. The pastor seems very crafty in his MO. We ( ten of us believers for many years) wish to turn him over to Satan to see him repent, but leave the role of pastor at our Baptist church. annonomous

  5. My husband saw this site and said, ” where do you draw the line”? It may not be embezzlement, but stealing is stealing. The pastor does not counsel. but asks for raises when he took three extra weeks of paid vacation (after 3 off) in less than a year, because he holds out of state Obamacare and must run back to TN for visits and medicines. The trustee and deacon let him do this, without being honest and switching to IL insurance. He only wishes to pay TN taxes, but the church accountant said it is illegal. Is dishonesty okay in the pulpit? We think NOT!

  6. Should a group of informed Christians be forced to leave their church to have an honest pastor? congregational churches vote, but that may mean a vote of 15 to 14, and some have not come to hear sermons all year! Titus 2:7 speaks of being an example to others in truth and love. Should we have to travel an hour when the church we are attending is 10 min. from home? The new pastor is not a man above reproach, but if a woman discovers it, she will be told she ought to go elsewhere. I have seen this with deacons who target older ladies in churches, until they are gone.What of bad deacons who fight and pastors who lie?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *