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09 Nov 2017

10 Do’s and Don’ts of Pastoral Sermons

Raul Rivera

When it comes to using someone else’s sermon for inspiration or when borrowing someone else’s material to drive home a certain point in your sermon, when does it become plagiarism? 

In a recent Church Leaders article*, James Emery White mentioned that a pastor of a large church had lost his job when a church member heard a talk on the radio from a popular preacher. What struck this church member was that his/her pastor had given the same talk earlier that week. Upon further investigation, the elders of the church found a pattern of plagiarism in the pastor’s sermons.

So, as a pastor, what do you need to know about plagiarism and your sermons?

To help answer this question, it will be important to have a basic understanding of what the copyright laws have to say.

A brief look at copyright law

Plagiarism is illegal if it infringes an individual’s intellectual property rights, including copyrights or trademarks.

In most copyright infringement cases involving pastors and/or churches, the infringement by the church was inadvertent.

In general, the author or artist of a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to control the reproduction, adaptation, publication, performance, and display of the work that he/she produced. 

The Copyright Act of 1976 protects from copyright infringement the creative works that one produces; this happens through six “exclusive rights.” There are, however, several limitations to these exclusive rights. 

One of the limitations is beneficial to churches, and it is known as the religious services exemption. While the exemption is helpful to churches, there are conditions that apply. 

We address this topic more fully in another blog and you can click here to read it.

10 do’s and don’ts of pastoral sermons

Having an understanding of copyright laws is important, but it is something that will take time to fully understand. 

While I encourage to make the effort to educate yourself on the matter, which you can do through our church compliance program called StartCHURCH University, I want to share with you some practical applications that you can begin implementing immediately.

The following 10 do’s and don’ts of pastoral sermons is from the Church Leaders article by James Emery White I mentioned earlier. (You can find a link to that article at the end of this blog.)

5 do’s of pastoral sermons:

  1. Do take inspiration from another person’s talks.
  2. Do allow yourself to be informed by another person’s research.
  3. Do feel free to quote another person, tell their story, use their outline, and repeat memorable phrases with attribution.
  4. Do buy mp3s and manuscripts of speakers to grow as a communicator as you listen to their style and structure.
  5. Do borrow ideas for series from other speakers and churches.

5 don’ts of pastoral sermons:

  1. Don’t ever use another person’s creative outline without attribution.
  2. Don’t ever use another person’s unique insights without attribution.
  3. Don’t ever use another person’s stories with out attribution, and never, ever go even farther and tell it as if it happened to you.
  4. Don’t justify plagiarism by trying to spiritualize it with “It’s all for the Kingdom” or “It’s really not theirs, because God gave it to them” kind of statements. That is true of everything, such as our property, yet God says, “Don’t steal.” That includes intellectual property, too.
  5. Don’t let the abundance of online resources keep you from doing spadework on the Scriptures, exertion on the exegesis, and prayer for the pulpit that makes for anointed talks

In short, if any part of your sermon can be attributed to another pastor’s sermon, a simple acknowledgement can go a long way.

One last thought on plagiarism

While plagiarism of another pastor’s sermon is something that should not be taken lightly, and I think you would agree, many churches and ministries make the mistake of using the bylaws of other churches or ministries in part or in whole.

Oftentimes, this is done with good intentions, but what many pastors and church leaders do not realize is that those bylaws were most likely created specifically for that ministry.

In the same way, your church or ministry’s bylaws should be created and tailored with your church or ministry in mind. 

Does this speak to you? Are there aspects of your church or ministry’s bylaws that you are not even sure where they came from Better yet, are you confident in your understanding of your church or ministry’s bylaws?

We can help!

Give us a call today at 877-494-4655 and speak to one of our team members about the protective language and strategies that reflect what is important to you and your church or ministry.

Strengthen Your Legal Foundation Today!

Click Here

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Raul Rivera

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About the Author

Church Planter. Speaker. Author. CEO. Raul Rivera has had ample experience in the church planting world. His current venture, StartCHURCH, has helped 1000's of churches to start right. Raul has compiled an array of manuals and software tools that help churches stay compliant with the IRS. He also hosts over 35 national conferences per year, training pastors on how to launch their churches. Raul is married to his wife Genel, and they and their five children live in Atlanta, GA.