Posting sermons

It’s been a long time since Jonathan wrote this, but I keep thinking about it.

Basically, his blog gets about 100 hits per day, and most come through google searches. But one day (a Saturday, to be more specific) he got over a thousand hits from people looking for “Memorial Day Sermon.”

So, what do you think about this? Obviously, we had a lot of last-minute pastors grasping for straws (but, of course, since they ended up on Jonathan’s site, they got very well written, theologically deep sermons). But, I wonder, how much plagiarism is going on? Or, is it just healthy research and sharing sermon ideas?

Do you post your sermons? I don’t usually post them because I assume no one reads anything that long. But maybe they do. Maybe the real question is, are they reading them too closely? As a pastor, do you care about people stealing your stuff? Or are you in the camp with Neal Locke who often quotes Woody Guthrie:

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.

the photo’s by takomabibelot.


19 thoughts on “Posting sermons

  1. When our new church website rolls out we will post sermons on our church website, although mine will only be in audio format because I preach from a memorized outline.

    But when I did write them I only posted a couple over time. Mainly because I thought those couple were good conversation starters that would work well when read. I think the main reasons not to post sermons is that they are meant to be spoken at not read, and many (most/all) sermons lose a fair amount when not verbally delivered.

    As for plagiarism, it happens quite a bit. I used to subscribe to Homiletics Online and just for fun I would take entire sentences from those sermon and do a Google search for them. It was amazing and depressing to see how many pastors not only preached a sermon they didn’t write and took credit for it, but then also had the hubris to post it on their church website.

    I remember one pastor who stole the Homiletics Online sermon every week.

    Then there was the time I was writing my final sermon for my previous church, and I found someone else’s wonderful final sermon that included a great closing image/metaphor. When I went to search to see if I could find some better attribution I found that this person had basically copied someone else’s entire final sermon word for word. What a wonderful message to send yo a church you are leaving, eh?

  2. I do post a transcript of my sermons, or at least most of the ones that I have a full transcript for. Though I’m sure the majority of people just skip over them I do know that a number of people read them, as I’ve gotten comments both online and offline from numbers of folks. It is especially helpful for the occasional church member who doesn’t make it to Sunday service, as currently we have no other mechanism for getting it out there.

    I have been slowly working towards moving away from a strict manuscript, and those sermons don’t get posted. I’d probably rather have just the audio on the church website, but we haven’t gotten around to figuring out how to do that. I suppose if I do less manuscripted sermons then we will really need to find a way to get the audio out there.

  3. We post ours mainly for family and friends who like to read them. Matter of fact I just finished posting todays. We still do manuscripts but more often than not what gets preached is very different from the manuscript. I like the discipline of writing it and use it more as a guide when I preach.


  4. I hardly ever post mine. I preach from a manuscript sometimes but not all the time and the manuscript ones just seem too long. But every now and then I post one that I think worked out, or will make interesting reading. I would be glad for anyone to copy it in parts, or use the whole thing.

    I’ve never used someone else’s whole sermon, and when I quote even a sentence or two I always attribute, but I dont think I could give another pastor a hard time for preaching someone else’s sermon, even though it does violate copyright law to do that. I mean, we’ve all had weeks (or months even) when sermon writing is so low on the list you cant even see it down there, havent we?

    The way I figure it, I’ve already been paid for the sermon, by the church and nobody’s borrowing of my words can take that away. The sermon is so much more than words on a page – it’s really about the alchemy of the words/preacher/congregation/space, so even if someone else speaks the exact same words, there’s no way that s/he can steal the experience of what has already happened.

  5. Still in school here, so I don’t have a church website to post sermons on (my own church doesn’t post them) — but I’ll never forget the time, some years ago, when I went to the website of Susan Andrew’s church during the time she was Moderator. I read some of her sermons. Then a week or so later I was googling something (memory fails me now) and I ended up at the website of a Presbyterian church somewhere out in the midwest. And there was a sermon that sounded very familiar — it was one of Susan Andrews’, copied almost word for word! I remember wondering how someone would have the nerve to plagiarize anyone’s sermon, never mind the moderator of the GA!

    Well, after being in seminary for four years my rose colored glasses are fairly tarnished. Sadly.

  6. I don’t post them much here, but I post them on our church website and they’re on iTunes.

    iTunes has been great for our congregation. Since we have a congregation full of people who get caught in traffic, they like to hear the sermon when they can’t make it on Sunday.

  7. I used to post sermons. With you Carol, on that I wonder if anyone reads that long. Some people have told me they are sorry I don’t post any more. Yes, sermons are oral, not written, but some have published books of sermons (not so much any more) so I’m not opposed to putting them down on paper, per se (like somehow that is against the Holy Spirit).

    I have a hard time thinking that anyone would plagiarize my sermon. I could never give someone else’s; the “voice” would be too different. Perhaps some people are that generic, but I’m not.

  8. The college students at our church sometimes imagine John preaching one of my sermons. They laugh and laugh about that.

    Yeah… I don’t think many people could steal mine even if they wanted to. They’re too personal.

    Of course, there is a tradition of illustration sharing, and some of our greatest preachers (MLK, Jr.) often borrowed heavily. And I’ve certainly been in the sermon crunch…. But the trend does sadden me a bit. I hope that google isn’t sapping out our creativity.

  9. I’m so worried that I’ll unintentionally plagarize someone’s sermon that I avoid reading them online, especially if it’s a text I’m preparing at the time.

    And I agree with the idea that a sermon is something that happens, not something that’s written; and with the idea that my sermons are generally too personal and/or time-specific and/or congregation-specific for anyone to be able to steal. I’m also suspicious that, some weeks, they aren’t worth stealing.

  10. Previous comments got me thinking that since we are both pastors, my wife and I have often joked that one of us ought to just prepare the sermon for the week and then both of us could deliver the same sermon in our respective congregations.

    But the reality is that we both approach faith and ministry quite differently, our congregations are in different places and have different expectations, and we both speak in completely different voices. For either one of us to preach the other’s sermon would not be a true reflection of who we are as people or as ministers. An effective sermon is a truly personal event.

    An amendment to my previous comment about posting sermons, is that there are some times that the message is so congregational specific or that I will share some story or the other that I don’t think is quite appropriate to be published in a public forum that I won’t publish that sermon on line.

  11. Tied up in all of this is our concept of ownership. Do we really “own” the words we preach, especially if we believe our words are “inspired by God?”

    And how does one own words, anyhow? Really, using tangible property as a metaphor for ownership of intangible property is…well, just a metaphor, at the end of the day.

    Kind of like early colonists trying to explain to Native Americans about “ownership” of land. I’m sure the Native Americans thought it was all pretty ridiculous. Until they were forced off their land, that is. My fear is that in an age of increasing angst over who owns specific arrangements of words on a paper or in a spoken sentence, we are becoming more and more closed, forcing people off of their creative territory.

    As far as sermons go, I post mine under a creative commons license, which not only permits anyone to use them (without asking permission) but also allows them to change the content as much or as little as they like. The sole right that is “reserved” is that of attribution (they have to give me credit) but I’m starting to have my doubts about even that much. Why is this imaginary “credit” thing so important to me?

    Is it because I worked so hard to arrange those words, and when someone elsewhere claims them as their own I’m somehow deprived of some ego boosting thing? I can understand (barely, barely) the cry of writers who feel they might be deprived of income with which to feed their families, but as Juniper already noted above, most pastors are paid to write the sermon, regardless of who later preaches it.

    I’m taking a class in January on the Dionysian Forgery (medieval church history), and some preliminary reading has already brought to light that our concepts of “Forgery” and “ownership” are relatively new in the grand scheme of word history.

  12. A young preacher mentioned in a Preaching lecture last term would walk to each side of the platform, reach up, and wag downward with two fingers before his sermon. When asked, he said those were quotation marks. Everything between the marks was a quotation!

    There is another young preacher who, for reasons I do not understand, has declared himself a personal enemy of mine. Curiously, I see a signature “hit” on my blog from him every week on Saturday night if not before. I suppose he’s getting notes, I hope they’re good ones for him, and I know he’s getting prayed for. 🙂

  13. I do have to say… even if pastors have a more lenient view of what can be shared. Even if we don’t mind if someone borrows heavily from us, beware if you’re the borrower.

    A lot of parishioners don’t have the same view. They tend to get pretty furious if they find out that you’ve preached someone else’s sermon. A highly respected pastor in our town just got nailed for borrowing heavily without citation. He had to leave his job.

  14. I almost always post my sermons online (except when I am saying something that is in family). I am not sure that I believe that I have ever had an original idea in my life, but I try to be careful not to borrow ideas from others. At some level I think that we would all be lying if we didn’t admit that our own ideas rely heavily on mentors, teachers, experience with others and research. I am also not sure that our modern/postmodern obsession with fair use and copyright laws should be what guides us homiletically when it comes to the importance of conveying truth. I am not for stealing sermons (I personally think that it shows an incredible lack of curiosity on the perp’s part). Yet, I am not sure that it is as sinful an offense as most. I have a hard time getting too worked up over it.

  15. I myself do not post sermons. I believe that they are truly contextual – written and discerned in a certain context of time, place, people, circumstances (thanks Hank). That’s God’s word – living, breathing, growing, going…

    I have however wandered over other’s sermons and images, etc…and when moved will use some images. If I use something that is “word-for-word” or exact, I generally try to contact the person and get permission. If I use an idea or image, I generally note that in the text (eg – “While reading a sermon on this same text one pastor, Pastor so-and-so pointed to…”)

    Credit is due along with simple collegial respect, so word-for-word “borrowing” without permission I find quite depressing and rude. But in the end it is supposed to be God’s word, which is a word for all – so if you hear something in my preaching that grabs you for your context, your people, your time run with it – but be sure to give me a nod, buy me a beer the next time we are at a hockey game, or tell a friend that you found a great image in a sermon I wrote.

  16. I often post sermons… not always because they make for long blog posts (I script) but sometimes if there was a good response (however we define that) or if I would like some comments (I am a probationer in Church of Scotland doing my final pre ordination training).

    I am glad people post sermons because I like to Google a topic/Bible verses as part of my sermon writing preparation to see what other people have preached … I find that inspiring and often I find helpful illustrations.

    Great blog btw found it by accident… will stop by again.

  17. Sad update- Since my earlier post here, the second preacher mentioned seems to have stopped visiting by blog. Guess he likes this site, too! Well, bro, if ya see this one, know I love ya!

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