Originality in Sermons
As a young preacher, I’m finding it helpful to get inspiration and ideas from others in writing my messages. Where is the line, ethically speaking, when it comes to gleaning and borrowing from other people’s material in my own sermon preparation and delivery? At what point should I give credit to others? I’m also curious how much other pastors borrow from and are inspired by what other people have said/written, and how much of other pastor’s preaching is entirely original to them?
Pastor Marvin Yoder – Mattoon, IL
Typically, as the senior pastor of our church, I develop my own material based upon what I perceive the Holy Spirit is saying to our church. However, there are times when I see something that somebody else has done that fits with what the Holy Spirit has spoken to me. There are several ways I benefit from the things that others have done.
If I allow what somebody else has done to simply be an inspirational springboard and I then develop my own material, seldom do I mention who that person was to the congregation to which I’m preaching. In this case, what I’m presenting is my own work and the only connection I had with what the other person did is to allow their idea to inspire what I prepared and presented. Keep in mind that even at this level you have to be careful, because directly or predominantly using someone else’s ideas in what you are saying without giving them credit can be viewed as plagiarism.
There are times when I directly use material that somebody else prepared or something another person said because it fits with what I feel that I need to say. In cases like that I give credit to the other person, stating that I got the material or quotes from them, the source if it is a published book, magazine or website that the congregation has access to, and express appreciation for it.
If you have any questions, I suggest that you check out some reputable websites that give guidelines when writing:
Here are some websites that give ethical guidelines when speaking:
Keep in mind that as preachers our congregations look upon us as men or women of God who communicate the oracles of God to them. Some preachers have lost credibility with their congregations because they mostly use something that someone else has prepared, such as material in a published book or magazine, or from a sermon source website.
My prayer is that I am inspired by the Holy Spirit in my messages, and am ethical enough to give credit where credit is due.
Pastor Larry Phalen – Dickinson, ND
I have read 100’s of books that give me inspiration to share. Many of the books I have reread whenever I am going to revisit that particular subject. Throughout the years I have always mentioned who I am teaching after and where I received my inspirations.
As a result, many in the congregation have bought the books mentioned and have been equally as blessed as I am through their teachings. One of my reasons for this particular avenue is to have my congregations grow up in Him through my sharing and my teachers. It has worked well for us and the Lord.
As far as ethically speaking, I personally have no idea so I just mention the book and the author and share.
Pastor Al Jennings – Fort Wayne, IN
I use resources from others the majority of the time, but I study it out for myself. I don’t focus on being original; I focus on being a blessing to people. I think about what would be beneficial to my congregation. What message do I feel impressed to share with them? What does God want them to hear at this time? I gain a lot by looking at other’s materials then I study it out and pass it through my anointing. This way, it comes out “me,” and as I minister, I allow the Holy Spirit to help me deliver the Word. As you study other’s resources, it’s important that you spend time in the Word so you know how to rightly divide the Word of truth.
Pastor Jim Blanchard – Virginia Beach, VA
Ministers often receive sermon ideas and material from many sources. Here are some following thoughts that may prove helpful to you:
- It is important to maintain your personal integrity in using other’s work and material in your messages.
- A good rule of thumb is adopting the policy of most colleges and universities and avoiding plagiarism by properly citing sources.
- Many ministers have been inspired by the style of others and at times emulate some gestures or mannerisms which of course are not copyrighted; however, written publications and quotes should be cited when used in your sermons.
- As you pray over your messages, God is able to give you fresh insight and revelation into the material you are studying.
The question itself is likely an indication to keep a clean conscience in crediting other’s work in creating sermon outlines; and even if others do not do so it is not a good practice to follow.
May the Lord bless your ministry!
Pastor Phillip Curtis – Franklin, IN
I borrow from others who have borrowed from others all the time. What I do borrow, I try to be able to give scripture to support. Kenneth E. Hagin used to say, “Don’t believe something just because I said it, but because it lines up with the Word. ” I do give credit at times, but if I gave credit for everything, half of my message would be filled with acknowledgements. Most of the books that I read and people I listen to constantly quote others, sometimes giving credit, sometimes not because of not wanting to break the flow of what they are saying at the time. Keeping the attitude that what I preach is not about getting people to look at me, but to get people to look at God and to see people grow in Him, is really what it’s all about.
Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
Growing up in a house filled with ministry, I’ve found that I rarely say anything that is completely original. At my age (51) I have also put an end to my endeavor of attempting to make everybody think it’s all my material. I think Jesus even mentioned something about this topic. He admitted that all of his material was simply a repeat of stuff he’d heard His own Father say! It might actually be much healthier for those we are “feeding” if we cut out as much of the additives as possible to the diet that we are providing. Most of the messages I’ve preached that were totally original were pretty much the “mess” portion and lacking in the wisdom of the “ages.” I know that I possess some terrific revelation that is powerful, life-changing, and dynamic. I also realize that without the input from the masses of individuals that I’ve allowed to speak into my life…well, it just wouldn’t even exist.
With that said, I think it’s both admirable and wise to give credit to where credit is due. I’ve listened to some very dynamic individuals who were extremely liberal in sharing the fact that they were using thoughts generated by others. I find this extremely refreshing. I’ve also listened to speakers, who were obviously gifted presenters, that I knew had “borrowed” almost all of their material from others without mentioning it once. Years ago, this might of seemed offensive to me, but after 30+ years of ministry I’ve come to understand that one might teach a lesson so often that he forgets where it was he first learned it! It just comes with the territory, I think. So my opinion on the ethical issue here goes like this: If you know you’re using material that you’ve gleaned, why not admit it? The people who really know you probably already know. If you’re not comfortable admitting it, maybe you should be spending time with God finding out why…for your own health.
I also believe that after years of teaching on specific topics—the material you’ve gleaned becomes such an integral part of who you are that it can become nearly impossible to give credit to all of the “others” that you’ve received insight and revelation from. But the truth of the matter is, if it’s truly life-giving revelation, it came from the same source—our Father.
Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
Jesus said that His words were not His own and gave the credit to His Father. Ultimately all good credit belongs to God, but if you preach something you heard, or read in a sermon or book, it’s right to give the author credit for the material.
I quote other teachers frequently and much of my sermon preparation involves studying other minister’s books or teachings. In the middle of a message, I don’t stop and cite the author, page, CD, or book title, but often I will start a teaching with reference to a particular book or books and name the author(s). Other times, I have closed with referring to the author(s) that gave primary inspiration to the message and recommend their works for further study.
In most small churches, the congregation knows the pastor’s favorite teachers and speakers (i.e. Tony Cooke) and enjoys it when you quote them and use their material. Giving tactful references is best but not always essential. However, when you’re traveling, or speaking to a larger audience, live streaming, or recording your messages for distribution, then referencing your sources is very important. It shows humility, respect, honor, and in certain cases, you can be breaking the law if you don’t.
Pastor Phil Edwards – Ennice, NC
For the first few years I treated everything like it was my revelation – never giving credit to anyone. I wanted everyone to see how anointed I was. The problem? I was at the core of my preaching, not God. Another problem I encountered was when it came to delivering the goods (so to speak), I was unable to do it. I fell behind my peers in personal sermon preparation. I became uninspired in the pulpit and everything I preached was as dead as last week’s newspaper. Also, by not developing your pulpit ministry you are not developing a close relationship with God. Everything in your ministry should be developed around a closer relationship with Him. Without a relationship with God, you are a carnal Christian at best.
Today, I still use other preacher’s materials but I almost all the time give them the credit. I do what Bob Yandian recommends. He stated, “I like to use other people’s materials when I’ve had time to develop them and take ownership of them while giving the author credit.” For instance, I’m doing a series on the End Times the first quarter of 2014 and I’m using Bob Yandian, Dwight Pentecost, Hilton Sutton, Hal Lindsay, and Rick Renner, which will get the credit for their writings.
So, if you use other material be sure to at least let your congregation know. It will not only make you a better speaker, it will make you sound smarter.
Pastor Duane Hanson – Saint Paul, MN
I believe the issue being addressed in this question is an interesting combination of ethics and the source of our inspiration. I imagine that most teachers and preachers can’t help but find some level of inspiration from what they’ve previously heard others share; however, that tends to be just the “seed” for their own message. As someone once said, “No one’s had an original thought since Adam!” (Sorry, but I took the liberty to paraphrase that statement, and I have no clue who might have said it first, so ethically speaking, it can’t be plagiarism, because I don’t know how to give them credit!?!)
In most cases, the inspiration for a sermon idea will primarily come during my personal time with the Lord. I always have a notebook or tablet handy to write down thoughts and ideas when they pop up. During my devotional time, or while reading the Word, I’ve found that the Holy Spirit will use that time to influence the direction I should take when preparing for a message. I learned many years ago that I needed to prepare messages based upon what the congregation needs to hear, not on a subject that I might find interesting to study and teach. It really comes down to the principle of “knowing the state of your flock” when preparing a message.
When I spend time meditating on the Word, or praying about the church, the Holy Spirit is so faithful to speak specific things to my heart. Many times the “seed” for a sermon begins with a simple phrase taken from a scripture, or perhaps a concept that is revealed during prayer that might become the title theme for a series.
There’s one principle we must all remember: we should all pray, study and meditate the scriptures to prepare the messenger, not just the message.
I must admit, that’s not an original concept, and you’ve probably heard a similar quote before, but it’s impossible to know who said it first, or when you first heard it! It’s a principle that was dropped into my heart and made real to me by the Holy Spirit, so now I’ve made it my own! (So perhaps from now on, you can quote me, and give me credit for it!?!)
There’s another basic principle (and promise) that I’ve found encouraging! In John 16:7-15, Jesus explains to His disciples the necessity that He must leave, and that the Spirit of Truth would come and take His place. Verse thirteen teaches that He will take the Truth and reveal it to us, and use that Truth to lead us and guide us through this temporal life. The Holy Spirit will do exactly what Jesus said He would do, and fulfill one of the primary reasons why He was sent into this world.
Paul also reinforced this truth and made it clear that the written Word was designed to inspire us! Like Jesus, Paul wanted believers to accept the Gospel as God’s Inspired Word, and trust the Holy Spirit to lead them and guide them into all of God’s Inspired Truth! Consider the powerful truth from these two passages:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
1 Thessalonians 1:13 (MSG)
When you got the Message of God we preached, you didn’t pass it off as just one more human opinion, but you took it to heart as God’s true word to you, which it is, God himself at work in you believers!
When these two scriptures are combined, we should purpose to stand on this basic principle: Even though God will use a man to speak His Word, Truth is inspired by God Himself! I will always give full credit to the Lord for the inspiration of a message, because I don’t consider what the Holy Spirit speaks to my heart as material being taken from another person or resource. When I’ve been inspired concerning a certain topic or subject, I always appreciate how the Holy Spirit will direct me to a particular book or article that will have specific scriptures and information that will support the direction He’s already given me for a message. And if another person’s message becomes the primary source for a sermon, especially if it’s been borrowed from an article I’ve read, an outline or study guide I came across, it is only ethical that full credit be given at some point during the delivery of that message.
Personally, I probably only share about 10% of what I have studied and prepared for a message. Many times I go into a service with pages & pages of notes. Realistically, I may only use a few of those prepared notes, and touch primarily on those points that the Holy Spirit desires that I share with that particular group of hearers. I’m sure many preachers have noticed that when preaching the same sermon again, from the same notes, it will always come out different based upon the different group of hearers.
There are times when we should take advantage of someone else’s material, such as a quotation that is helpful in making our point. If the message we’ve prepared does need some additional supportive evidence, validation or verification of truth, then find that source and give it the necessary credit. However, if you already know the point you’re trying to make, meditate on that thought and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal a Biblical example, or a personal illustration, that will help you make the desired point. He can always take a “Biblical Truth” and help you make it your own. Then you can speak that truth with conviction, from your heart, and not sound like an “echo” from another voice. (I’ve never understood preachers who use another individual’s personal experience and tell a story as if it was their own. In my opinion, that’s plagiarism of the worst kind!)
As we study and prepare a sermon, and when we come across useful quotations and applicable illustrations, we should acknowledge them as a resource and give them credit for the material we use. And from a practical application, due to copyright issues these days, if a church utilizes a projection system, or large screen monitor to show scriptures or quotations, they should always have the author or source of the material listed on the screen.
Plagiarism is obviously an ethical issue; however, I believe it ceases to become a concern when we’re quoting a scriptural principle, or personal illustration that was given to us by inspiration from the Holy Spirit!
Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
It is just fine to quote another minister from time to time. We all have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and we get revelation that needs to be shared. You need to take the time to get revelation on what other minsters are saying. You need to test it out and walk in the revelation to see if it is God. Your walk with the Lord will have the most wonderful revelation of all. When you get the true personal and anointed words from the Lord–no one can talk you out of them.
I was fortunate to sit under Brother Hagin, Pastor Hagin, Tony Cooke, Doug Jones, Keith Moore, etc., for two years while attending Rhema. Quotes from these men stay fresh forever because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit (especially the ones that Doug borrowed from Tony, haha). Fresh revelation to me might be something that you have understood for years. Either way, we need to stay renewed to the word of God. If you try to teach another man’s revelation, it will fall flat. No matter how young you might be, you have a lot to offer the body of Christ. Tell us about your revelation and your personal relationship with your Heavenly Father. It is okay to borrow a little from time to time from other ministers, but don’t quote me on that. Haha. Get your inspiration from the Holy Ghost and bless everyone that you meet.
Pastor Monte Knudsen – Mount Pleasant, IA
There is truly nothing new under the sun, but there are many things that are new to us. Creative people are very good at thinking of new slants, different perspectives and new ways of saying old and powerful truths. Reading is a great benefit to ministers and helpful to us in igniting truth that begins burning afresh within us. Many times I have used commentaries that have spurred new thoughts and insights into a passage. Reading along certain subjects given to a whole book, helps bring your thinking into focus and often makes alive the revelation within your heart. You could actually preach through the book or use certain chapters. Let the people know that the book is the basis of your teaching
To put a great idea into a message, sometimes I will find an outline someone has created, and then put my own thoughts and perspective into it. If I quote verbatim from a person I always credit them. It actually makes the message more powerful when the subject you’re speaking on is confirmed by other highly respected leaders and ministers. For example I may be speaking on the subject of the tongue. To emphasize a point I may quote Kenneth Hagin, Joyce Meyer, Charles Spurgeon or Andy Stanley. It brings a force to the truth when you are able to quote others who have spoken the same truth.
At rare times I have taken a message taught by someone else and read it word for word. At the end of the ‘message’ I have let the people know where I got it and where they might buy the book. Preaching is about persuading the listener to believe. This means whatever you are using to persuade the listener should be honest, authentic and genuine. If I am trying to persuade someone to be saved, but don’t want them to know I am using another’s material to help me be persuasive; I am being deceitful, maybe even prideful. These are poor qualities to being effective.
As many times as you will be speaking to your church, you will need the help of others to stay interesting and vibrant. If you speak twice a week, it would be very difficult to come up with your own creative way of saying everything. Jack Hayford once said he loved beginning a message but he was a lousy closer. When asked how to do that, he suggested using Tommy Barnett’s material. He thought Tommy knew how to close the deal. The important thing is that the truth you are trying to communicate is real to you, not just quoted from someone else. If you have no faith in it, you won’t produce any faith in the listener. You cannot give what you do not have. Good preaching to you. Give em’ heaven!
Pastor Stan Saunders – Chillicothe, MO
Most of my sermon ideas come from others. I constantly read books and sermons. As a pastor, I am more of a general practitioner than a specialist. As such, I must preach and teach a well-balanced diet of sermons. However, sermon prep is only one of the many responsibilities of my weekly schedule. Those in traveling ministry should probably have a narrower emphasis of topics of which they minister. They may have more time to develop their “own material.” I have no such luxury. Time demands of pastoring funnel me towards finding help from others in my sermon prep.
Even though I absorb the thoughts of others and include them in my sermon notes, they are always delivered through my own thoughts, style and beliefs. The sermons are very much mine. I do try to give credit to direct quotes. I may also mention the book and author from where my thoughts were developed. Too much quoting and mentioning of others in the sermon can become too cumbersome and can become unnecessary filler that does not help the listener.
If I were publishing the sermon, then I would feel a much greater need to give more detailed footnotes. Almost all of my sermons are intended for my immediate live audience. We are the body of Christ, and we need each other. If there is ever anything that I say that can help someone else, then I would be honored for them to use it without quoting me. I doubt that mine was an original thought anyway.