I will never forget the night in the fall of 2000 when a member of the house church we had just started approached me and said, "Pastor, you are not going to believe this. A few weeks ago at a church here in New York, I heard the same exact sermon I heard at a church while visiting friends half-way across the country!"
As he described the sermon, I soon realized it was from Rick Warren's sitewww.pastors.com now under www.saddlebackresources.com. Most of the sermons on this site were topical in nature, and many were 6-12 week series. With your purchase came a full manuscript, an outline, and a bulletin insert so the congregation could follow along. The site also gave carte blanche permission to use the sermon without citing Rick Warren.
Most preachers are fully aware that the number of Internet sermon resources available online has exploded since the early 2000s. Many of the sermon resource sites now provide greater biblical and theological content and are not focused on providing full sermon manuscripts, but rather resources to assist in sermon preparation.
But the rise in online resources raises a pressing question: How do pastors know if they have become too dependent on the sermons and resources of others? Plagiarism in preaching isn't always easy to define. Of course speaking verbatim large portions of someone else's material without giving credit should be off limits, but in most cases what constitutes plagiarism in the pulpit varies depending on who is asked. Every pastor will have crises that come and go in the life of the congregation, impacting weekly schedules and our best intentions. Furthermore, each congregation comes from a cultural background that influences every aspect of the church, including the preaching.
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