Culture At Large

Don't be so original!

Andy Rau

Do we worry too much about being original and innovative in our sermons, messages, and evangelism efforts? That's what Steve Sjogren suggests in a recent essay that encourages Christian leaders to be less original and more effective:

We need to get over the idea that we have to be completely original with our messages, each and every week. In my mind there is a tremendous amount of pride (let's call it what it is) when we insist on being completely original as communicators. In our desire to give "killer messages" we are dishing out something far less. (Hat tip: Christdot.org.)

His suggestion is that Christian leaders lighten up a bit about "plagiarism" and encourage each other to re-use or adapt other leaders' material for their own evangelism and discipleship purposes. Sjoran notes that Rick Warren (and Sjogren himself) not only permits, but actively encourages the re-use of his sermons and writings by other pastors.

We've talked about sermon plagiarism before at TC; what do you think of Sjogren's piece? Is it time for most pastors to stop pursuing the holy grail of "originality" and make better use of tried-and-true "second-hand" sermons and messages? (And while Sjogren is talking specifically about sermons here, it might be worth expanding his ideas to encompass other outreach efforts--books, movies, music, etc.)

I like where Sjogren is going with this, but I can see some potential complications. One obvious issue is the matter of copyright law: an individual Christian author might not mind if you use his sermons in your Sunday service, but what if the company that published his book of sermons does mind? I've read about musicians who personally don't care if their fans trade MP3s of their music--but if their record label doesn't agree, what's the right thing to do? I've mentioned this before, but I really feel that if Christian leaders are serious about making their material freely available to other pastors, the church needs to develop or adopt some sort of Creative Commons-like license to cover such "re-usable" material.

Secondly, I think we need to be careful that in encouraging pastors to use already-existing material, we don't inadvertently stifle original thought and writing in the church. Sjogren isn't downplaying the value of originality--he's just suggesting that truly original communicators are few and far between. A fair enough observation, but let's be careful that we don't unintentionally discourage pastors from drawing on their own personal expertise and instinct whenever it's appropriate.

That said, I think Sjogren is onto something with his broader point that we spend too much time and energy trying to present the Gospel in new and exciting ways, and not enough time drawing on techniques and messages that have already been proven effective. What do you think?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church