Pastoral Advice — Perhaps An Unwitting Admission

I recently found out that my senior pastor’s sermons are mostly plagiarized material from He doesn’t just use a line here or there. He uses sermon outlines and dozens of paragraphs. And he doesn’t cite anything or anyone, but acts as if it is all his own. What should I do?

Ben, California


Every so often, the candor of a writer & pastor speaks rather loudly and lucidly.  Such candid comments are often dismissed when coming from lay members who address pastoral wrong-doing  — They are “sowing discord among the brethren.” [1]

Such is the case in a recent article written by a pastor about “sermonic plagiarism.”  It was a response to “Ask A Question.” and reprinted.  The article is a rather revealing commentary on pastoral misconduct and what to expect when you address it!

Every so often, the reality of what one suspects and expects when calling out pastoral misconduct is frankly addressed and unsheltered — may be unwitting.

While I disagree with some of the advice (see points 1, 2, 3 below) about confronting “sermonic plagiarism,” the article is an unexpected and free-spoken commentary on what to expect when addressing the wrong-doing of leadership.

The writer’s commentary on local church ministries and pastors may be unintentional blunt, since it is often unacknowledged when spoken by lay members.  Few writers are willing to be so plain-spoken about pastors, leaders, elders, and church officials.


Let me address some of the “answer points” made in the article . . . .
(The quotations can be read in their full context with this link)

. . . . . 

“I think you are free to start by confronting him privately (see Matt. 18:15). But I also think you are free to speak with one of the other pastors first. . . Whether or not you begin by going to him privately or not,”

Apparently, it has been now deemed discretionary to personally confront wrong-doers, at least when it comes to sermonic plagiarism.  It appears that personal confrontation is no longer the first and necessary advice, at least in this scenario!  You are now welcome to talk to others before speaking to him and finding out the facts (which is finally the writer’s advice in point number three).

“Whether or not you begin by going to him privately or not, you eventually need to go to the other pastors.  Hopefully, he’ll want to do that. But even if he resists, you should.”

I understand, “if he resists.”

But if it is resolved — confessed and repented — you should still talk to others, regardless of the resolution.

Even if there is what is deemed a “consistent pattern” (which is another whole issue), it’s unrecoverable!  Alert others about the wrong-doing of which they have no clear or direct knowledge?  Spread the knowledge of the sin, not cover the sin.

That’s a new biblical principle.

Let’s apply that principle to other areas of ministry wrong-doing.

  “In your conversation with him and with them, give him the benefit of the doubt and start with questions.”

This is the writer’s number three point! It is remarkable (worth remarking) that the article would not start with assessing the nature of wrong-doing. It should have been the first stated step and the first step argued in the article. The first step that ought to come to mind is, find out the facts — what, why, how often, how honestly repentant.

You are dealing with a pastor’s whole life, his family, and the families of others in the church!

“I hate to say this, but expect initial resistance or at least excuse-making. If he has been doing this for a time, his heart has become a little hard, and his first response may not be his best and final response. Give it prayer and a little time. If he is guilty, hopefully he’ll soften.”

This might be the most candid and revealing part of the writer’s advice.

  • expect initial resistance
  • a little hard
  • hopefully
  • he’ll soften
  • if he resists you
  • the other pastors circle the wagons around him and say that you’re making mountains out of molehills.
  • maybe they even threaten your job.
  • confronting both the senior pastor and/or the elders
  • assuming he and they still resist
  • [be] certain the evidence clearly points to pastoral lying and stealing.

What a commentary on what to expect!

You are not saying that this advice is aimed at what you believe to be the expected or typical scenario and pastoral response to confrontation — are you?

Surely, your advice is for the irregular, the anomaly, the few, and far between exceptions.

 If there has been a consistent pattern of this, I do think he should permanently step down.”

There are no personal steps to recovery other than resigning and leaving the ministry, at least for a meaningful period of time — when it comes to sermonic plagiarism.

Even if there is what is deemed a “consistent pattern” (which is another whole discussion), it’s deemed as unrecoverable when only you and the pastor have personally discussed and addressed it!

Does “consistent pattern” include all areas of sermonic preparation and presentation? That might be a very precarious road when it comes to pastors using ideas, materials, illustrations, outlines, points, quips, stories, wording, et al.

“even if there are voices in the congregation that want to smother everything over with words of forgiveness.”

Yes, the acknowledged and candid reality is that others will want to cover it up because relationships rule far more often than principle.

“Should your senior pastor and/or his staff respond by downplaying sin or covering it over, I fear the rot at the top will slowly trickle down into the life of the congregation in all sorts of unseen ways in the years to come. It will not be a healthy church.”

Again, this must be advice for the anomalies.  Pastors, staff, elders don’t downplay or cover up wrong-doing.  And surely, the use of the word “rot” is an over-reach, hyperbole, extreme word usage to describe a church leadership situation. –( tongue in cheek).

No, covering, downplaying, slowly trickles down, unseen ways, rot-toxic really happens.

. . . . .

A rather revealing assessment of what happens when ministry leaders, pastors, elders, deacons, staff, officials, board members engage in wrong-doing, and someone tries to address it.

At the end . . . .
You may get stabbed, and the wrong-doer claims that he is the one bleeding! [2]

1. No, the discord may be because of the wrong-doing/wrong-doers.

2. That quip is not mine!  It is a modified quip, but there was no attribution —

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