What is a Pastor?
Recently, in evangelical and especially Southern Baptist circles, a controversy has arisen regarding pastors plagiarizing sermons. Some high-level evangelical leaders (like Ed Litton) have used other material from other pastors without giving credit to them. More than a few pastors will use entire sermons found online or from friends and never give credit to others. Of course, this prompts us to an even more foundational question we must ask, and it is what is the role of the pastor?
If the pastor’s role is to simply give a fiery speech and entertain the people, then there is nothing wrong with him having someone else develop his message so long as he is honest about it. However, if the man in the pulpit is called to be something more than just a circus entertainer behind a desk, then there is everything wrong with preaching someone else’s sermon. Sermon plagiarism is deeper than just using another man’s sermon outline. It goes down to the core of a person’s view of the ministry.
What Does The Scripture Say About A Pastor?
It is absolutely fascinating to read through the pastoral epistles in the New Testament (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). In 2 Timothy, Paul is writing to his young son in the faith to “not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” and to “share in suffering for the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:8).” The entire goal of this letter is for Paul to give the young pastor counsel as to how he can fulfill his duty before God and face the challenges which lay against him. These challenges consisted of false teaching facing the church (2 Timothy 2:16-18). He had to pass on the truth of Christ to other faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2). We could list a wide variety of difficulties facing young Timothy and the many responsibilities he had to fulfill. Paul was focused on urging him to continue in the good paths of the Lord Jesus Christ, which he had been taught (2 Timothy 3:14).
Here is where things get interesting. You have a veteran minister (Paul) writing to a young pastor (Timothy) about how to remain faithful amongst all kinds of dangerous perils. What is Paul’s ultimate counsel to Timothy? The Apostle charges Timothy to “preach the Word” in one of the iconic passages dealing with pastoral ministry (2 Timothy 4:1). Now, here is the intriguing point. Why didn’t Paul tell Timothy to go find 8-men to develop his sermons for him so he could attend to other issues? Why didn’t Paul tell him that he would go ahead and include a sermon for the young man in his letter that he could copy? It is because the pastor is to be saturated in divine truth. The pastor is not called to entertain the people, he is called to preach the Scripture. Look at what Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:13-16:
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:13-16
Paul’s counsel to Timothy was to “immerse yourself” in the work of the ministry. He was to be fully pursuing the work of the Lord. How can a pastor keep a check on his teaching if he is not immersed in the Bible? The entirety of the pastor’s duty is based upon the idea that he is immersed in the text of Scripture to be fully equipped to undertake his work. Everything he does is grounded in the Bible. Trying to preach a sermon without spending the necessary time in the text is not biblical eldership. It is not practicing what God has commissioned in the Word. It is evident of someone who is driven by pragmatism and not a biblical focus.
What Should You Do If You Find Out Your Pastor Is Stealing Sermons From Others?
I suppose this is the difficult step. If you are reading this and you just found out your pastor is stealing all of his sermons from someone else without giving credit, you have to realize a few things. First of all, he is being unfaithful to his calling before God. For whatever reason, he is not spending time in the text of Scripture like he should to fulfill his duty. Secondly, he is lying by not outright admitting he is using another man’s work. To be clear, I would still have a problem with using another man’s message even if he admitted it because of the aforementioned reasons regarding spending time in the text. Thirdly, he is cheating himself and the church out of the joy of knowing the Bible. He has substituted the thrilling experience of studying the text for the “quick path” of stealing from someone else. In so doing, he hurts himself by not knowing the Word of God, and he inflicts pain upon the church because he is not fluent in the Bible.
So, what do you do about this situation? I would recommend you follow the Matthew 18 church discipline process. Go to the pastor personally and talk with him about the issue. If he repents, then great, he needs to confess he has been stealing other people’s material. He can then move on in the grace of God as a faithful servant. If his heart is hard, then find a couple of elders in the church and go to the elder in question again about the issue. If he still refuses to study the Bible and mine the depths of the text himself, then you need to bring it before the church and move on to find a man who is willing to know the Word of God before he steps into the pulpit.
Unfortunately, what I am afraid will happen far too often is that those facing this issue will be in churches where no one else is willing to confront the pastor. Mainly, because everybody else in the church would be fine with the man getting his sermons from others because they have a worldly idea of ministry. In such a case, you should try to do what you can in regards to talking to the pastor, but you may have to find a different church to sit under a faithful pastor. It is a sad situation, but I am prompted to believe many individuals will be going through this scenario. Pray for your elders that they would be faithful to handle the text of Scripture. Pray for other Christians who have found out their pastor is getting his sermon from others. Be in prayer that they would have wisdom and insight from God to know how to handle the situation.