Jun 7, 2012

Plagiarism and Pastors

When I first arrived in Arlington eight years ago, I received (more precisely my predecessor received) four independent offers to “take the load off of overburdened pastors.” That week’s mail was not so atypical for pastors of large churches, who get a lot of mail we don’t need.

Back to the original point—how was this unburdening to be done? Through the prepackaging and marketing of some church program or another, thereby freeing up the minister’s valuable time for other pressing matters. Curiously, two of the four pieces of “junk mail” involved offers for weekly sermon preparation “kits,” complete with pastoral prayers and responsive readings for worship. The other two pieces proposed guidance on stewardship drives and confirmation training. My bias concerning the last two was that if we did a better job with confirmation, then we wouldn’t need to be so anxious about stewardship drives.

For many preachers, this type of plagiarism is a real temptation. It is not easy to steal enough time to preach faithful sermons to our congregations. Clearly, with the advent of the Internet and the overabundance of sermon “help” now available, plagiarism is a valid concern. Yet, I deeply believe that only the pastor as preacher can preach well to her or his individual congregation. In the church of Jesus Christ there is never one size that fits all. Rather, it is in the particularity of God’s word that the church grasps and lives out the gospel word.

Each pastor and congregation has a particular and blessed relationship that no one else can imitate. Most pastors, in any event, do all those other ministerial tasks so they may preach the word. Therefore, we can have confidence that no preacher will be so dull or unmotivated as to let the temptation for shortcuts weaken effective preaching. At the same time, preaching is a task that is so difficult we never do it by ourselves. Congregations, the scripture, other pastors and life experiences all converge as voices that the preacher listens to with discernment in preparing a unique word for distinctive congregations.

Pray for me as I continue to practice the “art of listening.”


Debbie said...

But when all the elements of a good sermon come together well each member of the congregation feels like the pastor is preaching specifically to him/her. Thanks for your continual weekly efforts.

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