How do you feel about borrowing other pastors’ sermons?
Years ago, somebody thought of combining the ingredients of a cake into one simple box. Since then, all you have to do is pour the contents into a bowl, add an egg, maybe some butter, stir, and bake.
It’s faster, easier, and usually better than starting from scratch.
Sundays follow busy weeks; and there are better preachers out there. But at the same time, we wonder if it’s okay to use others’ messages to prepare our sermons faster and better.
Is it okay to swipe sermons?
The Bible says that there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known (Luke 12:2). Plagiarism is a pernicious sin. I’ve known pastors who lost their jobs from crossing that line.
The Dilemma for Preachers
- Is it better for your church if you invest the time to preach a message crafted for them or to spend more time doing other ministry and preach a good message from another preacher?
- And, how do you use others’ work with integrity?
I suggest we borrow a term from the design world to show us how to use others’ material without plagiarizing.
The Swipe File
The concept of a swipe file is simple: when you see something you like, use it as an example. You wouldn’t use it as is – it’s someone else’s work after all – but use it to give you ideas to translate into your context.
That’s exactly how I approach using others’ sermons. They are my swipe file. I look for sermons on the passage or topic I am preaching on, and as part of my research, I do three things with them:
1. I look for ideas that I connect with.
What are the preacher’s points? Which ones do I connect with? Which ones would I drop? What would I add based on my own insights and convictions? Sometimes I’ll use two to three points of a brother’s message. Sometimes I’ll use one. Sometimes I don’t use any of them outright, but use them as stimulants to come up with my own outline on the topic or passage.
2. I look at the illustrations.
Good preachers include personal illustrations to illuminate their point. Have I had an experience similar to the sermon author’s that would illustrate my point? I find it is always easier to modify than create from scratch. If the preacher is telling a story from his childhood that demonstrates poor judgment, what incident in my childhood demonstrates the same thing? Personal illustrations are always better than telling some unknown person’s story. We live on the same planet so chances are that we’ve had similar experiences.
3. I look for well-constructed phrases.
As an author, I’m attracted to great word choices. When a preacher uses a great image or metaphor, composes with a catchy rhythm, constructs with assonance or memorable (but not cheesy) alliteration, I’ll capture those phrases and make them my own.
If you find yourself wanting to use some of the material directly, or if your message has been significantly influenced by another, give the preacher some credit.
The Benefit to Preachers
After all, since the days of Solomon, there has been nothing new under the sun, so there’s a good chance that the preacher you’re reading was influenced by a previous preacher, who was influenced by a previous preacher who was… You get the point.
The benefit of seeing others’ sermons as a swipe file is that you are learning from their ideas, their structure, and the development of their thoughts. That’s good ground for you to grow as a preacher and to deliver the goods this weekend.
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Hal Seed is the founding and Lead Pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, CA. He mentors pastors who want to lead healthy, growing churches with resources at www.pastormentor.com.
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.
Scott Wesley Brown says
Great points Hal. In using quotes or parts from someone else’s sermon (say Rick Warren) I was told to say:
First time: As Rick Warren has said
Second time: As someone once said
Third time: As I’ve always said!
Hal Seed says
Well said Scott! May I quote you on this? (Once or twice. After that, I’ll own it as my own.) LOL
Hal Seed says
Thanks Art! We all learn from and borrow from others. Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun. It’s merely who we process what we’ve learned from others and mingle it with our own personality and experience that makes our words and thoughts unique. I love what Solomon says, “The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true” (Eccl. 12:10). That would be a good goal for every preacher, IMO.
Thanks Hal. Gutsy, honest and helpful. I have not come across much on this topic other than the typical condemnation of plagiarism, which most of us are all pretty well aware of. While you (we) don’t condone plagiarism, your article includes some ethical helpful ideas. By the way, I assume you heard about the the preacher who said, “I’ll be original or nothing.” Turns out he was both.