Menu Close

Tag: Public Speaking Skills

Dear Pastor, Thou Shalt Not Steal

thou shalt not steal

Note: I originally wrote this post seventeen years ago. It has been updated, corrected, and expanded.

Many Christians are surprised to learn that their pastors use the material, outlines, and sermons of others when preaching. Years ago, Polly and I, along with our children, visited more than 100 Christian churches. (Please see But, Our Church is Different!) We heard a variety of preaching, ranging from atrocious to outstanding. We also heard a number of stolen or adapted sermons. In our experience, Rick Warren was the favorite preacher to steal from. I find such behavior scandalous.

In 2005, we attended a church for about three months led by a pastor who morphed into Rick Warren every Sunday. The dead giveaway was his liberal use of numerous Bible translations — a classic Warren trait. I suspect I was the only one who knew the source of this preacher’s sermon. One man gave a glowing testimony one Sunday regarding the pastor’s wonderful sermons. I wanted to stand up and shout, “AMEN, thank God for Rick Warren.”

Why is there such a problem with preachers stealing the material of others? I believe the problem is threefold:

  • First, many pastors are lazy. The ministry provides great cover for men with poor work habits.
  • Second, a number of pastors feel threatened by the smooth, well-produced sermons of megachurch/TV preachers. They know their church members listen to these slick communicators, and they are afraid of falling short in comparison.
  • Third, there are many pastors who should not be in the ministry. God equips whom He calls, and it seems that some men and women lack basic speaking/preaching skills. They try to cover it up by stealing the material of others. I have heard far too many sermons that lacked in any semblance of order or content. I was the assistant pastor of one church where the pastor’s thrice-weekly sermons were downright awful. This man couldn’t even make a basic sermon outline. He attended the same college as I did, but evidently he wasn’t paying attention in speech/homiletics class. Either that, or he simply didn’t have the requisite skills necessary to be a competent public speaker. I tried to teach him how to make an outline, but “learning” from a 20-something greenhorn (he was in his 40s) proved impossible.

I preached a few sermons out of a book of outlines when I first started preaching, but since that time, the 4,000 sermons I preached were my own. Good, bad, or indifferent, the sermons I preached were the result of my own work. I read the work of others. I profited from commentaries. But, at the end of the day, my sermons were mine. I believed then and still do today, that it is unethical to use the work of others; to preach sermons or give speeches that belong to someone else.

In July 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I was 26 years old. The church began with 16 people — four of whom were my family — in an old, dilapidated storefront. Our rent was $100 a month. A few months later, we moved to the Landmark Building — a huge two-story building that used to house a farm co-op. We rented the upstairs of the building for $200 a month. We would remain here until we bought an abandoned Methodist church building for $5,000, five miles east of Somerset.

In the fall of 1983, I had my sister’s pastor from Montpelier, Ohio come to our church to hold a revival meeting. This man was the new pastor of the first church I worked for after I left college, Montpelier Baptist Church.

As was my custom, I asked this man of God what his plans were for the week. He said to me, “what would you like me to preach? I have numerous sermons of other people I have memorized. How about Greg Dixon’s sermon, The Sinking of the Titanic?” I was shocked by his question. I told him, “That’s okay. Just preach what the Lord lays on your heart.”

I knew preachers used the materials of others, often without attribution, but to preach another man’s sermon verbatim? How lazy can you be? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

I realize that I am an atheist, and have little credibility among preachers these days, but I still believe that so-called spokesmen for God should use their own work. (And yes, I have seen similar laziness in mainline churches. We heard numerous sermons in mainline churches that were nothing more than pastors reading word-for-word from the lectionary.)

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser