And so, in our seminaries we teach new preachers to attribute everything. Do you use an illustration from somewhere? Make sure you tell your congregation where it come from. Do someone else's sermon shape the direction of your sermon? Be sure to acknowledge their influence! Thou shalt not steal!
There are so many problems with this hyper-sensitivity we have to plagiarism in preaching. Here are two:
First: I have no idea how much I read in a week. Between blog posts, articles, other sermons, essays, and books, by the time I sit down and write a sermon I have been influenced by countless sources. I have been influenced by the things I read, by the people I minster with, by the tv news I watch, by the movies I watch. They all shape my sermon. All of it. Do I cite it all?
Second: Then there are the times when I do have a really creative idea for a sermon. And then the next week I read the same idea in a sermon someone wrote ten years ago. It reminds me of a scene from the TV series "Suits." In it, the lawyer Mike gets a publisher to admit the she stole a book idea from a young author. And then, to keep the author from suing the publishing company, Mike pulls out three books published before the young author was born - and each one has a plot similar to the stolen book idea in question. There are no new ideas.
We are absolutely infatuated with originality. Every sermon must be brand new! Every sermon must be wholly a product of the person preaching!
As a sermon listener, I would rather listen to great sermon written by someone other than the preacher than a mediocre sermon written by the preacher. I think we need to be infatuated with quality sermons more than originality!
(I'm not saying that quality can't go hand in hand with creativity. It often does. But not always.)
Martin Luther valued the proclamation of the Word. He highly valued the proclamation of the Word. And so he wrote sermons that parish pastors could take into their own pulpits and preach. Because it was better for that preacher to have great sermon ideas - even if the preacher didn't come up with them - than to have original sermons that were mediocre. Frankly, were I parishioner in a congregation in Germany in the 16th century, I would probably prefer to listen to a sermon written by Martin Luther than one by most parish pastors of the era.
As a content creator - one who puts some of my sermons and other writings online where they are available to other preachers - I would draw a line between preaching and publishing. When it comes to preaching, I hope you will steal my ideas. If my sermons help you to preach on Sunday morning, please steal my sermon. But then if you publish that sermon (online or in print) acknowledge the source of that material. Or, just don't put it publish it.
What do you think? Is it ok to use ideas from other preachers in your sermons? Does everything need to be cited when preaching?