17 January 2022  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to my pastor preaching, and it began to dawn on me that the sermon was almost identical to one I had just listened to on YouTube by a well-known evangelist. It was a good sermon, but he preached it like it was his own, even putting himself into the personal example the other preacher gave. 

I guess plagiarizing is a historical Adventist tradition, but it made me feel a little bad that my pastor didn’t acknowledge his source.

Signed, Heard it already


Dear Heard it:

Aunty isn’t a preacher, but she sent your question to one of our AT writers who is. He wrote this back:

I am proud to say that nearly all of my sermons are of my own composition, from beginning to end.

That said, it’s impossible to be original and inspired every week. There are just some really bad weeks when you can’t come up with anything. So on occasion I do borrow sermons, but I tell my congregation whose sermon, or part of a sermon, I am preaching. Sometimes it is enough to just slip in, “I got this idea from Pastor X——–.” I don’t tell them every commentary I consulted, though I will give credit when I quote. I also credit borrowed illustrations, and never make them sound like they happened to me.

It’s matter of basic honesty, and also avoiding accusations of plagiarism. As long as I tell people I’m borrowing a sermon in whole or part, no one minds because they know that normally I do my own study. 

But even with good intentions, every pastor picks up ideas and stories, and sometimes we forget where we got them. I remember a pithy line that I thought for years was my own, and then one day when I said it, a friend said, “Wasn’t that said in a book by X——-?” I looked in the book she referenced (which I had read years before), and she was right! 

A pastor friend told me over lunch once a rather creative outline he’d used for a sermon—and it sounded very familiar. “Is that original?” I asked. “No,” he admitted, “I got it from a cassette B—– gave me a few years ago, can’t remember who preached it.” It sounded so familiar because I had sent that cassette of my sermon to our mutual friend B—–! It annoyed me slightly that he didn’t give me credit, though I didn’t say anything to him about it.

Another time I borrowed a portion of a sermon from a church leader I respect a lot, and I later told him I had. He said, “Thank you, but I should tell you I got that sermon from Elder S——-,” and named another preacher we both knew! 

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with borrowing a sermon or parts of a sermon occasionally, but pastors should admit when they do. I have known a few (very few) pastors who almost never do original sermon preparation. The internet makes that easy. My opinion (and that’s all it is—I don’t want to be unkindly judgmental) is that a pastor who never does his or her own study isn’t living up to their calling. If a pastor consistently plagiarizes other people’s materials, it could be delicately and privately mentioned: don’t go telling everyone about it before you talk to the pastor personally.  

Thanks, pastor! 

Aunt Sevvy

You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identification of the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.

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