Friday, May 11, 2007

Plagued by Plagiarism

I was really surprised. Not that somebody would take something I’d written for and repost it. Not even that they would repost it without crediting the source. But to see my article posted under someone else’s name on a church website was shocking to me. (Finding it again on another site was less of a shock; guess I’d gotten used to it).

I’ve heard the stories of preachers sitting in the audience and hearing their own sermons being preached. Or the stories of preachers using others’ stories as if they had actually happened to them. I even know of one preacher who was interviewing for a job and used a sermon by someone else… and the other sermon was on tape in the church library. Oops!

Don’t plagiarize. It’s as simple as that. Go overboard in quoting your sources. Nobody will think the less of you. Preachers, if you say, “I got a lot of these ideas from a sermon I heard,” no one will be upset (though you might not want to do it every week). If the story happened to somebody else, it still has power. Don’t lie. It didn’t happen to you. It happened to them. If you want to put somebody else’s article in your bulletin, go ahead. But credit the source. People will appreciate your bringing that information to their attention. Bloggers, people will value what you have to say even more when you point out where it came from. Teachers, writers, speakers, everyone! Don’t plagiarize.

Now somebody help me down from this soapbox.


ben overby said...

I was a family minister with a congregation for just a few years. The minister typically downloaded his sermons from someone elses. He'd set with his tape recorder playing, jotting down his outline. He'd use the jokes, everything, and never indicate that the work was almost totally someone elses. One day he was out of town and a visiting minister (I think it was his son-in-law if memory serves me) filled his shoes. He presented a typical 3 point sermon. Out of curiosity I did a google search with the three points and in no time I was able to download the outline from the same sermon, even illustrations, from an online resource. I wonder how much of this goes on in churches and why?

When I was working fulltime and trying to do a descent job of preaching, I'd often used outlines from sermon books, books with the disclaimer that anyone could use the outlines, make them their own, without referencing the author (who often admitted to borrowing the outline from someone else).

How can it be that those of us in fulltime ministry can't find the time to work with the text long enough to develop something without using someone else's work verbatim and without reference?

I've been so deeply influenced by men like Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright that I'm a bit pregnant with some of their phrases and terminology. But I wouldn't want to try to pass off their work as my own. When I've taught certain subjects, usually in a seminar or retreat, subjects where I feel my thinking is so mixed up with Thomas Merton, or Willard, or Peterson, I just indicate their influence, the particular books, and apologize for not really knowing where their ideas end and mine begin. I then charge forward without too much further reference. There's a balance we need to seek; balance between maintaining our integrity as ministers but without feeling compelled to footnote every other sentence which would undermine our capacity to communiciate effectively (unless we are presenting research at a scholars conference!) : )


lisa leichner said...

Wow, I think that's shameful.

Chris said...

Apparantly this is a common problem, one which needs to be addressed. But, to do so requires us to get to the root of the problem and I am not too sure our churches are ready to deal with what I feel is the reason behind so many doing what we are discussing.

I haven't heard this anywhere, or read it on anyone's blogsite, but in my opinion, the reason so many preacher's today are using material and sermons from others rather than writing their own is that church keep them running here and there serving as a glorified baby-sitter rather than allowing them to be the minister/servant they have been called to be.

Also, there is so much pressure to perform in the pulpits today because it seems preachers are judged on their ability and showmanship rather than the message they are delivering.

Just my opinion, but had to voice it.