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Why Pastors Should Plagiarize

12 February 2008

image Our small group ministry team and elder board were becoming familiar with Bill Hybels research in Willow Creek’s "Reveal" project on Sunday night.  Yesterday the chair of our elders sent out an eleven part review of Reveal from Bradley Wright’s weblog. 

In jumping around on Wright’s site, I came across his article from last year on "Why Pastors Should Plagiarize."  (WHAT??!!??!!)  His article is not really on plagiarizing, but on significantly drawing from the work of others.  In part he says:

There seems to be a norm among pastors that all sermons have to be original in idea and expression. The problem is that this is very hard to do, so a lot of sermons aren’t really that good. That’s why the few pastors, such as Mark Driscoll and Ben Dubow, who excel at this form of expression have their sermons downloaded by so many people.

Let me come at this from a different angle. In two weeks I’ll be teaching a course on criminology. If I had to present *only* my own ideas, the class would be equal parts useless and boring. Instead, I use the work of many scholars (with proper citation, of course) to help my students to understand how to think about crime. Yes, I give my own ideas and analyses (and probably more than I need), but the the core of my material is the work of others.

Pastors almost seem to feel guilty about using the ideas of others–as if somehow they are avoiding their pastoral responsibility.

To be clear, whenever we use others’ ideas or words, we need to clearly indicate the source; otherwise it is plagiarism. (Okay, the title of this post isn’t quite accurate, but it’s catchy, no?). So, I’m advocating using others’ ideas with full acknowledgement.

In short, I propose that many pastors would preach more effectively if they sometimes simply summarize and illustrate the ideas of others.

It really is thought provoking.  One of the bases of expository preaching is that people need to hear the Word of God more than the words of men, therefore his ideas re: sermon series on the work of Dallas Willard or others seem lame to me. 

But I think he does provide a good perspective.  Attribution can go a long way toward removing some of the moral dilemmas of presenting someone else’s work as your own.

You can find the entire article here.

I have a couple of articles on attribution and borrowing from others that I will include after this.

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