Can I Preach Your Sermon?

Title: Can I Preach Your Sermon?
Category: Preaching Issues
Subject: Plagiarism
Can I Preach Your Sermon?

There are legal and ethical issues related to preaching someone else’s sermon(s). However, one must realize that much of what preachers publish, whether in book form or on the internet, is specifically made available for other preachers to use in study and in their preaching. A number of books that I have purchased through the years have a note in the introduction stating clearly that any preacher may feel free to use the material in the books as his own.

Of course, this does not mean that a preacher can tell a first person story from someone else’s life as if it happened to him personally. An incident from my ministry cannot be shared by another pastor as if it happened to him. Duh? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know better than to do that in your preaching or writing. And, using someone’s sermon without permission and preaching it as your own is potentially illegal and certainly unethical.

Dr. Franklin Kirksey is one of our authors on PastorLife. He shares interesting and inspiring sermons and illustrations. He has also written an outstanding book on preaching entitled, “Sound Biblical Preaching,” which has been endorsed by dozens of outstanding preachers, teachers, professors, etc. You can find his book at I highly recommend it. It is among the very best books I have ever read on preaching God’s Word. Dr. Kirksey sent the following notes of interest on the subject of using sermon material prepared by others. I thought you would find these worthy of note, since they were sent by an outstanding preacher and the statements were made by some marvelous men of God:

Dr. David A. MacLennan explains, ‘You may be overscrupulous about using other men’s ideas, but most men could confess that if they were not debtors both to Greeks and barbarians their homilies would have a more gossamer thinness! Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), who eschewed plagiarism, said, ‘I am the biggest thief in England but I defy any man to catch me at it!’ Using the insights gained by other minds, and their illustrations, may not be to any degree dishonest. For our comfort we can recall that perhaps nothing we ever say is all our own. But as the late Principal John Oman of Westminster College, Cambridge, said in that compendium of wisdom for preachers, Concerning the Ministry, ‘there is a difference between finding a nugget and appropriating a bar of gold.’” David A. MacLennan, A Preacher’s Primer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950), pp. 86-87

That peerless British Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, reportedly said, “Don’t worry about originality brethren. Christ never claimed it. He says, ‘The words that I speak are not mine, but His that sent Me.’ The Holy Spirit did not claim it, for it is written, ‘He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak.’ In fact, the only original thinker and speaker in the Bible is he of whom it is written, ‘When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own’”. One day in his study Charles Spurgeon pointed a friend to shelves loaded with the works of English Puritans and said, ‘I have preached them all.’

Neil E. Jackson, Jr., shares in Doing the Impossible, "I don't believe there is a preacher alive who totally preaches sermons that belong to him. Nearly every sermon is an accumulation of thoughts from other preachers he has read or heard. Nothing is wrong with that process since it many times gives validity to the idea, strengthens it, and certainly broadens the listener's mind. Use other preachers' messages." Neil E. Jackson, Jr., Doing The Impossible: Motivating yourself and others for the maximum [Foreword by Lloyd Elder / Introduction by Harry Piland] (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1985), p. 92

Revivalist Vance Havner writes, "Don't worry about using second-hand material. One of our evangelists used to say, 'When I started out preaching, I said I'd be original or nothing. I soon found out that I was both!'" Pepper 'n Salt (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966; reprinted by Baker Book House, 1983) p. 69, cited by Dennis J. Hester in The Vance Havner Notebook © Copyright 1989 by Baker Book House. Database © 2006 WORDsearch Corp. [End of notes from Dr. Kirksey.]

Dr. Kirksey sent the quotes above to point out that PastorLife is an honorable and effective tool for helping preachers share sermons with one another. You will note that preachers from the past were willing to “borrow” from each other in order that they might prepare and preach God’s Word more effectively. Credit should be given for materials that carry a copyright, and it is important to have permission from a preacher before using his unpublished material freely. Unless otherwise noted, material on PastorLife is available for your use.

Years ago I shared a sermon with a preacher friend of mine. He asked if he could preach it and I said, “Yes, sure you can.” I moved away from that area not long after sharing that sermon with him and did not see that preacher again for many years. By chance, I met him in a hospital hallway in North Carolina years later. What a reunion we had that day as we talked about our early days in college and ministry. Then he reminded me of the sermon I had given him. He said that he had preached that sermon in over 100 revivals. Then he said, laughingly, “I always gave you credit. I didn’t tell the church I got it from you, but after I preached it, I always thanked the Lord that you shared it.” We both had a laugh about that! Did I care that he had used that sermon as his own for all those years? Heavens no! I was thrilled. The message was first prepared to bring glory to God and to bring people to God. The fact that the sermon had continued to do that through the voice of another preacher brought me great joy.

Plagiarism is stealing. Sharing, however, is not only legal, it is to be desired. I appreciate those men of God who share material with us at PastorLife with the intent that others will be inspired to preach God’s Word, bring God glory and help people know and walk with the Lord.

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor