Pastors raid Internet to preach others' sermons
December 7 2001 by G. Jeffrey Macdonald , Religion News Service

Pastors raid Internet to preach others' sermons | Friday, Dec. 7, 2001

Friday, Dec. 7, 2001

Pastors raid Internet to preach others' sermons

By G. Jeffrey Macdonald Religion News Service When churchgoers in Bluffton, Ind., attend Fellowship Baptist Church to hear Lenny Stringer preach, they might hear a sermon he wrote himself. Or they might hear one somebody else gave years ago to another congregation.

"I know and trust the men that have submitted sermons on the page" at, Stringer said. "I have even preached a few. I would love to see more sermons added on a regular basis."

Stringer is one of thousands of preachers who consult pre-printed sermons and outlines when preparing their Sunday messages. He's also among an untold number who go one step beyond consultation, into a realm some consider plagiarism, by sometimes proclaiming a message that someone else composed.

Dozens of enterprises make pre-made sermons easy to get. Busy pastors have learned to tap the Internet, especially when they're in a pinch.

According to founder Shelton Cole, the site gets most of its 500,000 hits per month during the wee hours of Saturday night. But not everyone is singing the praises of the sermon marketing industry or of those who depend on it.

David Bartlett, Lantz Professor of Preaching and Christian Communication at Yale Divinity School, says the practice of preaching "anonymously inspirational stuff as if it were your own" amounts to plagiarism and betrays the pastoral responsibility to the flock.

"A sermon needs to go to the particular needs of a particular congregation on a particular day," Bartlett said. "If you're too busy to do the job right, then get another job."

Apparently quite a few pastors find themselves too busy to generate a fresh word each week. Craig Baugh of Fredericksburg, Va., a part-time pastor, praised one sermon-supply site for helping him deliver on Sundays.

"I have been preaching here for over six years now while holding a full-time job with the federal government," Baugh wrote. "Sometimes the demands are just too much to prepare a sermon from scratch. Your site has been a real blessing."

Those who furnish sermons, outlines and illustrations have no misgivings about the endeavor. As long as users either treat the material as a springboard for their own ideas or give credit where it's due, Cole said, everybody benefits.

"They're there for people to use as they see fit," Cole said, noting that he doesn't allow copyrighted material to be posted on his site. "If God gave (a sermon or outline) to me, why couldn't God use it for someone else?"

Cole's point illuminates a reason why pastors often don't see the sermon-borrowing practice as plagiarism. Pastors have traditionally understood the preached word to be a gift of the Holy Spirit, not merely of human hand. To take credit for a sermon is to commit the sin of pride by depriving the Spirit its due. Hence, pastors are often willing to share - and borrow - sermons and outlines with few restrictions, since they do not consider any man or woman to be the true author.

"To be honest, most times when I preach an online sermon I preach it as a word of God" rather than as another person's work, said Stringer, who works 50 hours per week outside the church at a secular job. "God blesses His word as it is preached with clarity no matter who it is that came up with the outline."

"Sometimes you know what subject you want to preach on, or what verses have touched your heart, but you are having trouble getting a handle on just how to proceed," said Dennis McKinley, pastor of Landmark Baptist Church in Carlsbad, N.M. "You can then go to a site like and see what other men have done with the same subject or text. I have even taken another preacher's outline and written it to fit what the Lord is leading me to do."

All 10,000 members of Cole's site are told that the intent is for materials to serve as a catalyst for ideas. They are "not designed to replace anything in the way of study materials."

Nevertheless, he concedes, "you can't stop somebody from plagiarizing." He once found one of his sermons, titled "Three Things From Hell You Should Find in Every Baptist Church," posted on another pastor's Web site where the pastor was taking credit as the author.

"I wrote him a note saying, 'Nice sermon,'" Cole said. "He was embarrassed and took it down."

Cole operates his sermon material clearinghouse from his home in Sheffield, Mass., where he is an independent Baptist church planter.

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12/7/2001 12:00:00 AM by G. Jeffrey Macdonald , Religion News Service | with 0 comments
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