I know pastors who have been fired for it. I have seen quarrels over it.
Plagiarism in the pulpit.
Pastors who download sermons and then deliver them to their folk.
Now to put this in context - when I was training for pastoral ministry I remember someone teaching us that when time is short and you're stuck you can do a lot worse than to find a sermon outline from Spurgeon or Whitefield, take the skeleton and put your own flesh on it. This was WAY before we had access to the internet, of course.
Many years ago I remember buying a commentary on a particular book of the Bible and being surprised to find structures, approaches, illustrations, sections that I remembered hearing just a few Sundays previously from the preacher in my church.
Not only that, but in my early days in Deeside when preaching through Acts I found one particular book so helpful that I wrote to the author and told him, confessing that much of what I said depended largely on the spade work he had done.
That's not really what people are talking about, though. My use of this guy's book - well I couldn't just take his text and read in in an animated way and pass it off as my sermon. That would never work. He was a different character entirely from me, his church was different from mine and there was a whole process of bringing God's word through me to his people that needed to happen.
As for intellectual property, creativity, rights etc - I really hope that we couldn't care less about all that. I'm not an artist and although I do occasionally try to think, I don't consider myself to be an intellectual, either. Nothing flatters me more than those odd occasions when people have told me they've used my illustration or whatever. Great!
Though I need to inform you that I have patented the Davey Blue Peter flowerpot illustration - it is available to use at a cost of £1.50 per sermon delivery or £15.00 for a lifetime licence.
I've been stewing on this for a long time. I've heard people express their concerns about all sorts of issues:
What is our pastor doing if he isn't studying the word and praying ready to preach?
What about the rights of the famous preacher to be known as the origin of the message, shouldn't he be acknowledged. (Incidentally what could be more tiresome than systematically acknowledging all the people who have helped in the preparation of a sermon?)
I was lost in a morass of "Why do we care so much about this? We aren't artists!"
Until I remembered back in Deeside when we used to run Christianity Explored a lot.
I LOVED the Rico Tice videos. He's so nice, funny, sensible, clear, helpful, direct and likeable.
I YEARNED to use the videos for our Christianity Explored groups.
But our folks said no. "We want to hear you", they said. (I know! They were mad!)
So I'd take the Christianity Explored talks and strip out all the references to Rico's posh upbringing and the illustrations from boarding school, Rugby and Australian beaches and instead put in my illustrations and my background and stuff. Mark, our assistant in those days, did the same.
And that's what people wanted. And what they probably needed. Because Rico wasn't their pastor or evangelist. We were. They didn't live in the West End of London. They lived in the scrag end of North Wales. And they needed God's truth to be conducted to them through us and through our personalities.
When you download the latest offering from Tim Piper and deliver it verbatim, then you're short-circuiting that, circumventing it, by-passing something that is really important.
And I think that thing is that your folk need to hear God's truth coming through you - through your mind, through your heart, through your life-experiences, through your personality, through your relationship with them, through YOU.
So I'd say, preachers, use whatever help you can. But don't forget that your people need to hear you, not Stuart C J Lucas.