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A friend of this magazine tells a disturbing story: While traveling on business, he visits a local church. He finds himself listening to a finely crafted, well illustrated, and moving sermon, but feels as if he has heard it before. When he returns home, he opens a Max Lucado book and discovers that the sermon was a recitation of one chapter. The pastor had not acknowledged his debt in either the sermon or the worship bulletin.

Unfortunately, whether it's stealing from homiletic giants or anonymous Internet sermon services, the problem is with us. Many pastors plagiarize. These are good men and women who otherwise are models of probity. What gives when it comes to preaching? What gives is that we find ourselves in three unhealthy situations.

First, we live in a media-saturated age in which we can watch, listen to, or read the brightest and best preachers at any time. The pressure on the local pastor to match this eloquence is felt on both sides of the pulpit.

Second, the pastor is expected to do what no other public communicator is asked to do. Depending on the tradition, the pastor preaches and teaches original material, one to four times a week, for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Commentators on npr and cbs have maybe three or four one-minute commentaries to write each week. Newsweek columnists generally write 700 words every other week. Politicians may give more speeches per week, but the content is canned and composed by a staff.

Third, the pastor is about the only public communicator today whose efforts are not collaborative or edited by others before they are made public. We in the church still suffer from the romantic illusion (a result of the European Enlightenment and American rugged individualism) that the sermon ...

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When Pastors Plagiarize
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In the Magazine

December 9, 2002

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