Thursday, January 5, 2012

Borrowing From Other Preachers

As Christmas was approaching, Adam Hamilton posted on Facebook a reminder about their upcoming Christmas Eve eve service and then said "Pastors, if you're stuck as you are working on your Christmas sermon tonight's 7 p.m. service will be online - feel free to borrow anything from the sermon that would be helpful."

Adam Hamilton is usually very forward and open about telling people to take things that they find that might be useful to their churches and to use them. (Of course he also publishes lots of things which have to be paid for as well, so both sides are sort of being covered). But I wonder what other preachers think about this call to borrow as necessary?

I post all of my sermons on this blog for several reasons. One is so that people who missed my sermon on Sunday, or those who were there but wanted to revisit something, can have access to it. (They can also get a recording but we must remember that not everyone learns through hearing things). Second, I post them so that others who know me and do not attend my church can read them. But the final reason I post them is to give access to others to read.

While I certainly claim that I wrote them, I hope that at the same time I was a vehicle through which the Holy Spirit worked in proclaiming the word. Sometimes I can feel that directly, and other times not so much. But I can say that often I will think a sermon is not very good, but people will tell me how much it meant to them, that it spoke to them. That through my sermon they were able to hear what God needed them to hear that day. That happened to me just last weekend as a matter of fact.

I know other preachers who do not want their materials available. One minister who shall remain nameless, although some who read this blog will know exactly who it is, did not like to give out paper copies of his sermons because he thought that the Spirit moved through the preaching and it might not be found on paper.

That is, on its face, a reasonable answer except that I hope that the Spirit is also found in the words, and I have even felt sometimes that it was in what was written but not in what was preached. That is, it was a great sermon on paper, not so good in delivery. The opposite is also sometimes the case.

The other reason this minister said that he did not want to give out his sermons was so that his sermons would not be plagiarized by other preachers.

I have been a professional writer in the past, not that I am also not being paid to write now, and so I am very aware of the need to protect intellectual property. I was also wrongly accused of plagiarism in seminary (long story) and so know what it is like to be on the other side of the issue. I have certainly used other preachers' ideas to help me write some of my own sermons, or to give me new insights, and I hope I have given proper credit where it has been due. But where does intellectual property end and the movement of the Spirit, and therefore something I can't control or own, begin?

While I certainly want people to give me credit if they use my ideas in their own sermons or writings, I also hope that if they are so unable to write their own ideas about some piece of scripture that in using my words the Spirit can speak to those they are trying to address. I don't want people "stealing" from me, but if my words can be used by others to convey God's message to people who are hungry for that word, then use my words appropriately.

I'm wondering what others think of this issue? Do you make your sermons available to others? Where does borrowing cross a line that you don't want crossed? Where do our words end and the words of the Spirit begin? Is this preaching thing different than other issues surrounding plagiarism?

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