Make your own free website on

This site is about preparing and preaching sermons.

  Giving credit where credit is due

  “I had a pastor in our association to preach a revival in our church.
  As he was preaching, he noticed that the congregation was not responding;
  in fact, they were dumbfounded.
  He was preaching a sermon that I had preached just a couple of weeks before.
  When I preached that sermon, I gave the source of the sermon, and who had preached it.
  He preached it as though it had happened to him.
  The people stopped listening to him for he no longer had any creditability with them.
  ...the preacher committed plagiarism.
” -- Dr. Harold L. White

  Understanding plagiarism
  Plagiarism is a form of intellectual dishonesty.
  The word “plagiarism” comes from the Latin. plagiarius, meaning “kidnapper.”
  In Plagiarism and Originality, Alexander Lindey defined plagiarism as “the false assumption of authorship:
  the wrongful act of taking the product of another person’s mind, and presenting it as one’s own

  (qtd. in Gibaldi 151).
  To plagiarize, then, is to pass off someone else’s ideas or words as one’s own.

  Unfortunately, the religious world is not immune to plagiarism.
  Respected Christian leaders have been accused of failing to credit the sources of their written work
  (“King’s Plagiarism”; “Plagiarism Discovered”).
  Christian publishers have negotiated settlements for unauthorized use of source material (Kennedy).
  And ministers face an additional challenge: how much to credit their sources, and how to do so,
  when preaching and teaching (Buckingham; Lowry; Younger).

  While plagiarism is not a crime, it constitutes a serious breach of ethics.
  Writers who plagiarize, even unintentionally, can be held liable in civil courts or face sanctions
  from academic institutions and professional organizations.
  Of course, some instances of plagiarism also constitute a violation of copyright, for which
  there are severe legal penalties.
  Fortunately, you can protect the credibility of your ministry and avoid legal liability
  by developing methodical research habits.
  Plagiarism has received significant attention in academic circles in recent years.
  Both professional organizations and government agencies have struggled to define and control the problem.

  Acknowledging your sources
  Plagiarism is obviously a serious matter.
  You can avoid it by conscientiously applying accepted bibliographic standards.
  In order to cite sources properly, you must understand the different ways you can use them.
  Quotations are direct transcriptions of phrases, sentences, or paragraphs written by someone else.
  You should identify them as such by enclosing them in quotes or indenting them in blocks.
  When citing a quotation, you should specify the exact page number(s) where the
  borrowed statement appeared.

  A second approach to using sources is paraphrasing.
  Paraphrasing involves translating the ideas of a source into your own words.
  This is admittedly a delicate process.
  Legitimate paraphrases convey the concepts expressed in another source without retaining
  the phrases of the original.
  If you find that your “paraphrase” reproduces sequences of words from your source,
  you should modify it further or revert to a direct quote.
  Citations for paraphrases should direct your readers or listeners to the specific sources,
  including page number(s), from which you derived your ideas.
  Occasionally you may wish to refer to or summarize a source as a whole.
  In such cases you should cite the source without reference to specific pages.
  This implies that you have appropriated no specific verbiage or concepts from the source
  to which you are alluding.
  This kind of source reference is valuable in that it assures your audience that you have
  researched your topic thoroughly.

  Giving credit in lessons and sermons
  Discussions of plagiarism often assume the context of written documents.
  However, the principles of source recognition are more difficult to apply in public speaking.
  In fact, according to Raymond Bailey, “The special purpose of Christian proclamation
  and the nature of Christian theology [. . .] frustrate the performer who seeks to be pure and original.
  The church’s fidelity to a tradition has never promoted originality;
  its ideal of the common life in the body of Christ has never offered special protection
  to the ownership of ideas
” (“Plagiarism” 374).

  It is certainly dishonest to invent “illustrations” and present them as events that have really happened
  (Edwards); to “borrow” others’ experiences and present them as our own (Bailey, “Ethics” 535);
  or to publish a slightly edited version of another preacher’s material without attribution
  or permission (Willimon 14-15).
  However, even if we agree in condemning blatant forms of plagiarism, there are plenty of gray areas
  that merit discussion.
  Gregory Smith states: “My study of the issue has led me to the following conclusions on the use
  of sources in preaching and teaching. ...oral communication requires less source acknowledgement
  than written communication.
  Your congregation does not expect you to “footnote” every illustration or joke you use in a sermon
  Smith advises that you should make a habit of acknowledging your sources in your sermon manuscripts
  or outlines.
  Doing so frees you to provide a copy to a church member, fellow preacher, or publisher without reservation.
  Smith advises that the typical congregation is quickly bored with attribution to unknown sources
  or labored technical identification. One can statethat a ‘biblical scholar has written’ or ‘the story is told’
  or ‘a minister has noted.’
  Care should be taken that originality is not claimed for the work or experience of another” (“Plagiarism” 375).

  Acknowledging our sources is an issue of personal and professional integrity.
  If we fail to give credit where it is due, we risk undermining the public trust on which
  genuine ministry is built.
  Taking reasonable steps to avoid plagiarism is an investment in faithful Christian service.

  Here is a bibliology that Smith has used for his excellent article:
  Augustine. “On Christian Doctrine.” 397-426. Trans. J. F. Shaw. A Select Library of
  the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Ed. Philip Schaff. Vol. 2.
  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956. [Available at>]
  Bailey, Raymond H. “Ethics in Preaching.” Review and Expositor 86 (1989): 533-46.
  —-. “Plagiarism.” Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching. Ed. William H. Willimon and Richard Lischer.
  Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995.
  Barzun, Jacques, and Henry F. Graff. The Modern Researcher. 4th ed. San Diego: Harcourt, 1985.
  Buckingham, Jamie. “Pulpit Plagiarism.” Leadership 4.3 (1983): 61-66.
  Edwards, Ronald. “Pulpit Honesty.” Baptist Bible Tribune 24 Sep. 1965: 6.
  Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. 2nd ed.
  New York: Modern Language Assn. of America, 1998.
  Kennedy, John W. “AMG Compensates Moody for Plagiarism.” Christianity Today 19 June 1995: 42.
  “King’s Plagiarism.” Christian Century 21 Nov. 1990: 1089-90.
  Lowry, Eugene L. “Preaching or Reciting? Theft in the Pulpit.” The Christian Ministry Mar.-Apr. 1991: 9+.
  ORI Provides Working Definition of Plagiarism. 17 July 2001. United States. Dept. of Health & Human Services.
  Office of Research Integrity. 10 Oct. 2001 <>.
  “Plagiarism Discovered.” Christian Century 2 Aug. 1989: 714.
  Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. May 1999. American Historical Association.
  10 Oct. 2001       <>.
  Willimon, William. “Borrowed Thoughts on Sermonic Borrowing.” The Christian Ministry Jan.-Feb. 1997: 14-16.
  Younger, Tom. “Why I Use Other People’s Stuff.” Leadership 15.1 (1994): 66-67.

  This article has been based upon the work of Gregory A. Smith who is Library Director
  at Baptist Bible College. He teaches Methods of Research in the Baptist Bible Graduate School of Theology


  This article is from Christianity Today exactly as it appeared:

  An Honest Sermon
  Plagiarism, the pulpit, and how to appropriate others' ideas appropriately. by Mike Woodruff and Steve Moore

  Last spring Edward Mullins, rector of Christ Church Cranbrook, served a 90-day suspension issued by
  the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. He was being investigated for an increasingly common but confusing
  Mullins's messages were found conspicuously similar to the words of Jim Cymbala, Texas pastor Phil Ware,
  and sources from the Online Pulpit.

  Mullins's story has served as a catalyst for the debate about preaching and plagiarism.
  Some have declared Mullins's actions unethical and Mullins himself unfit for pastoral ministry.
  Indeed, just a few months prior to Mullins's suspension, the pastor of Central Presbyterian Church
  in Clayton, Missouri, resigned after admitting to homiletic plagiarism.

  Others have rushed to Mullins's defense, such as a church member quoted in the New York Times:
  "People come to church for his sermons, whether they're his, they're incorporated, or however he does it.
  He puts the message forth that needs to be put forth."

  Others have claimed that what he did was perfectly legal—after all, he paid for the online sermon material.
  In fact, the Internet has made "borrowing" sermon material from others far easier.
  And, perhaps, more common.

  Richard Stern, a Lutheran minister and professor of homiletics at St. Meinrad School of Theology
  told Louisville's Courier-Journal, "People tend to drift into it. They get pressured (telling themselves),
  'I've had three funerals and two weddings; I don't have a sermon ready, so I'll just look in this book
  or go on the Web.'"

  But the question isn't simply whether it's easy or common or understandable, but is it right?
  How can preachers effectively and ethically incorporate into their sermons the great insights from others?

  Does anyone not borrow?
  As the newspapers reported on Mullins's suspension, they found several people who defended
  his practice of preaching others' material. The New York Times reported fellow Episcopal rector,
  Harry Cook, suggested that every pastor borrows at least some preaching material:
  "If plagiarism of the sort that Ed Mullins is accused of is punishable, there would be no one preaching
  on Sunday."

  Reba Cobb, an executive with the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, discovered painfully j
  ust how pervasive plagiarism has become.
  After delivering a message at a national gathering of Baptist Women in Ministry in Fort Worth, Texas,
  Cobb was accused of preaching someone else's sermon.

  Cobb, in turn, confronted the research assistant she hired to help write the sermon.
  She discovered the researcher had plagiarized the entire message.
  When Cobb went to the researcher's source for the sermon, she discovered that he, too, admitted
  to lifting the sermon from yet another.
  Cobb finally tracked her twice-plagiarized sermon back to a 1979 message delivered
  by a Methodist pastor from Indianapolis.

  To be sure, the problem is not a new one.
  Back in 1735, the Rev. Samuel Hemphill was critiqued by one of his parishioners, Benjamin Franklin,
  who remarked, "I rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by others than bad ones
  of his own manufacture."

  And while Franklin sarcastically criticizes Hemphill for copying others' work, he brings up
  an important point: many of our sermons would be much improved if we included the insights
  and thoughts of others more eloquent and wise than ourselves.

  Borrowing others' ideas does help to communicate the gospel, and the availability of great messages
  on the Internet is a good thing.
  As one pastor put it: "Who owns wisdom? As I see it, all truth is God's truth.
  Books are published to pass along ideas.
  By passing along those ideas, I'm fulfilling the intent of the author.
  You don't publish ideas hoping no one will use them.
  Truth isn't to be hidden under a bushel."

  Not everyone who uses others' material plagiarizes, and there's a better way to utilize
  the collective wisdom of great preachers than to preach it as your own.

  What is fair attribution?

  The ministry of citation
  In the debate over whether to give credit and how to cite references, we often lose sight of the pastor
  who simply wants his congregation to value his preaching.

  We preachers sometimes hesitate to divulge our sources because we're reluctant to admit
  we are not self-sufficient, spiritual superheroes.
  We want our hearers to see us as founts of overflowing wisdom, rather than cracked, clay vessels.

  Unfortunately, our desire to hide behind the façade of "the preacher who went to the mountain
  and returned with a word from God for the people," as I heard one TV producer remark recently,
  actually undermines our congregation's spiritual growth.
  By failing to acknowledge the people who have influenced our thinking and the limitations
  of our own wisdom, we miss the opportunity to teach through authenticity.
  By our unwillingness to publicly recognize others' influence in our lives, we unwittingly short circuit
  their impact on the lives of those within our ministry.

  Earl Palmer of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle freely recognizes those who have influenced him.
  Everyone who knows Earl knows how he has been influenced by C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and Karl Barth.
  People don't think less of Earl because he reads and liberally quotes these three.
  Instead, countless people have been inspired to read and study his trio of thought-shapers
  because of Earl's attribution, and they've been changed because of it.

  Revealing your sources
  One Sunday, Bill approached the pulpit and told his people he was going to be preaching on Nehemiah.
  He'd heard a tape series by a popular radio preacher, and it had both inspired and challenged him.

  "I want to tell you how I've personalized the truths of that series," he said.
  "I'm not going to try and quote the pastor on the tapes, but I undoubtedly will, because this series
  has had a big impact on me."

  At the door after the service, one older man remarked, "Pastor, I've heard that series of tapes
  — and it is good.
  But what I heard today was even better, because it became flesh in a man I know and respect."

  Bill told us he learned a valuable lesson about borrowing that day: keep your motives pure,
  and communicate truth by making your sources clear.

  Another preacher, Mike, said he discovered the same lesson when he shared the sources
  for his sermons through the bulletin, handouts, and citations on the printed versions of his messages.
  He found that people were eager to dig into the sources.

  "People started e-mailing me with their favorite quotes and illustrations on the subject,
  or asking for additional explanation," he said. "It was like opening up an extended conversation."

  Examining our motives for how we do (or don't) credit our sources forces questions like
  "Am I attempting to deceive anyone in this message?" and "Am I portraying myself in any way
  that is not truly me?"
  Being open about our sources also may cause us to ask, "Have I been relying too much on the works
  of Wesley, Calvin, Swindoll, Lucado, Graham, or anyone else lately?"

  Anyone who stands in the pulpit regularly will wrestle with this issue—especially on Saturday night,
  after a week full of surprise meetings, drop-in visitors, and emergencies.

  Few preachers set out to plagiarize, but the urgency of the moment can often cloud the clarity
  of the choice.
  Choosing, before we get to that moment, to always share our sources and influences freely
  will ensure our motives stay on track.

  Where credit is due
  David Seamands, who for years was the campus pastor for Asbury College and Asbury Seminary,
  once jokingly remarked, "I have to get my sources right, because these sermons will be preached again
  in student pastorates all around."

  Yet discussions on the "do's and don'ts" of citation when using sermon aids and outlines,
  Internet illustrations, and other forms of "help" can quickly turn into the kind of "jot and tittle" discussion
  for which the religious people of Jesus' day were infamous.

  Preoccupation with following every Turabian standard for citation can drain the lifeblood
  from even well-researched, original sermons.

  Whatever rules we suggest for referencing others' work, they must be understood as guides, not masters.
  What is presented on Sunday is not an academic paper or research for a juried journal.
  It is an attempt to be a voice of hope, encouragement, reproof, admonishment, grace, and truth.
  Just as failure to cite correctly can undermine the integrity of a message, preoccupation
  with citations, proper sources, and footnotes can cause our listeners to miss the point.

  Sometimes brief recognition—such as Bill gave on his Nehemiah sermon—or a casual citation,
  such as "I appreciate what Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great … " suffices.
  If further citation seems necessary, you can include full citation in the bulletin or sermon notes.
  This gets all the information into the congregation's hands—and lets people know you're not pretending
  to be something you're not—without cluttering the sermon with footnotes.

  After David Seamands joked about getting his sources right, he quickly added,
  "But more importantly, I have to fan the fire of the Spirit at work in these young pastors
  and future Christian leaders—for I know if the Spirit was at work, truth will work its way out!"

  When it's your stuff taken!
  Of course, it is possible that you may one day turn up on the other side—and someone is
  "borrowing" from you.

  We both have had experiences where we have heard or read things by others that originated with us.
  At first, there is a feeling of being miffed: "Why didn't they recognize me?"
  Then comes humility, the realization that someone was really paying attention to what we said.
  Imagine that!

  David Owen, the Methodist pastor from Indianapolis whose sermon was plagiarized several times
  over 22 years, seemed unfazed by it.
  When the Courier-Journal asked if he had any negative feelings about the incident, Owen said,
  "No. One would prefer attribution, but generally whatever I print or write or say is for the whole church."

  While it is right and good to both cite correctly and be cited correctly, we must finally agree with Paul,
  who challenges our desire to possess and control when he says, "whether in pretense or in truth,
  Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice."

  Anyone remember where he said that?

Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Click here for reprint information on Leadership Journal.
Winter 2003, Vol. XXV, No. 1, Page 35