Pulpit Plagiarism by Popular Preachers

Here are two popular preachers doing an unfortunately all-too popular thing in preaching the same sermon.

HT :: Ray Van Neste, Purgatorio, & Joe Thorn

Update: Here’s the deal. Tadd Grandstaff plagiarized Craig Groeschel’s sermon, in particular the sermon illustration. Listen to this audio to hear his first attempt at apologizing, and then listen to his second apology.

That’s cool that Tadd finally apologized, but this does not minimize the seriousness of the error and the philosophy of preaching underneath all of this.  Southern Baptist pulpits have become auctioned off to the best sermon with the coolest graphics and the catchiest sermon series.  Pulpit plagiarism is akin to ministerial pragmatism.  Sermons are being preached that compromise the integrity of the preacher that carry the promise of better results.  God-called preachers tethered to the sacred text should not be bartered off this way.  The call to preach simply should not be up for sale.

However, that is not to say that we do not learn or benefit from the writings or sermons of other people! We all benefit to some degree or another from being taught by other people.  Yet the burden of the preacher is to carry the weight of the sermon in his own bosom, having labored over the text of God’s Word himself.

Update 2: Craig Groeschel on plagiarizing pastors: “On LifeChurch.tv Open, we don’t require attribution for resources that people download and use. We don’t need credit nor desire it. . . . It isn’t plagiarizing if you’re given permission.”

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31 Comments on “Pulpit Plagiarism by Popular Preachers”

  1. Joe Lee Says:

    Hilarity and lugubriousness.. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. JGray Says:

    Who are these guys?

  3. Guillaume McDowell Says:

    My question: Why has this practice been condoned/ encouraged/ abetted/ tolerated by SBC luminaries such as Adrian Rogers and James Merritt??? The world is watching, and as Jesus said, a tree will be known by its fruit. Jesus also cursed the fig tree that did not bear fruit. Let the reader understand.

  4. Mike Leake Says:

    So what happens if someone decides to ask the speaker (I don’t dare say preacher) a few follow up questions about their story afterwards? Are these guys travelling preachers or are they actually staying at a place and living someone else’s story? Wow, I’m amazed…is their own conversion story not good enough?

  5. Guillaume McDowell Says:

    My guess is these are the types who are too important to do visitation or otherwise interact with hoi polloi. There are other church staff for that, after all. There are plenty of pastors on pillars in this convention.

  6. Gavin Says:

    These guys are Craig Groeschel and some other guy:)

    I don’t think the plagiarism of the story is that heinous. It’s that the story is being told in first person, as if it actually happened to one or both of them.

    Why not just present the same scenario as “the sort of thing” that happened to a lot of kids at VBS back in the day?

  7. JGray Says:

    Great question.

    Some would argue that those sermons “work”. Now, I’m not sure what they mean by that, but I think I’ll have to disagree with the pragmatic argument.

    I guess it centers around what it means to “preach”.

  8. Mike Leake Says:

    You want to see something ironic….did a little research on Craig Groeschel and found his blog. Check out the article from a couple days ago:

    http://swerve.lifechurch.tv/2009/02/26/try-not-to-step-across-the-line-2/#comments

    It’s about authenticity. Now, granted he could be the guy that this story is original with and the other guy is the poser. Or perhaps both are posers. I just found this a tad ironic…or rather sad.


  9. One of the preachers, Craig Groeschel is the teaching pastor (not sure of the title) for Life Church. So yes, he preaches in his own church on a regular basis.
    While from the video it is obvious that these two men are telling the exact same story and even using many of the same mannerisms, the video does not tell us who copied who or if they both took the story from 1001 Sermon Illustrations. Therefore, we cannot judge either of them.
    Hoi polloi, irony, or whatever we just don’t have enough information to say anymore than two guys told the same story.
    I tend to want to give fault for whoever originally created the video. The leave too many unanswered questions that ultimately leads to both of these preachers being unfairly judged.

  10. Guillaume McDowell Says:

    When someone like Craig Groeschel intentionally makes all his sermon materials available for anybody to use free of charge, he is indirectly giving aid, comfort and tacit encouragement to plagiarizers. Those who peddle “complete sermon solutions” for a profit, in my opinion, commit the heinous sin of Simony. Even if Groeschel is the plagiarized party, he is not wholly guiltless in this sad affair. There is an excellent redux to be found here.

    • Jim Meldrim Says:

      Perhaps a little fact checking might be in order on your part my friend since Craig Groeschel is not one of those “who peddle…for a profit.” LifeChurch.tv spends literally thousands of dollars to give away the resources they produce. Check it out for yourself at http://www.lifechurch.tv/open.

      If someone is guilty of plagerizing in the pulpit then perhaps this is more of an issue of integrity with the speaker not the source that he used.


  11. From what I’ve found, Groeschel is original. The other guy is Tadd Grandstaff, and he’s the one who plagiarized Groeschel’s story.

    Here’s some info:
    http://christianresearchnetwork.com/?p=9378


  12. Guillaume,

    For clarification, are you against any sermons being made available for free on the internet or are you meaning all the sermon materials (i.e., series, graphics, ppt, etc.)?

  13. Guillaume McDowell Says:

    Although sermon audio can be abused, it does not lend itself to this practice quite as much as manuscripts in .pdf or .doc, bulletin inserts, ppt, etc. Sermon audio on the internet = okay by me. Thanks, Tim, for the chance to clarify that before the world misunderstands me.

  14. brian Says:

    any homiletics teacher will tell you that a first person illustration is more moving and powerful than a second person account…..yet, I don’t know that any homiletics prof would encourage stealing, pretending, and lying..

    whether one of these men are guilty or not, it does happen, preachers have even been in the audience and heard someone else tell a story about their own kids, in first person

  15. Jeremy Writebol Says:

    My homoletics prof at Moody used to tell us not to use personal illustrations in our sermons because, “you’re really not that interesting.” I have found that to be good advice to help keep Christ the main person in my messages.

  16. Todd Pruitt Says:

    He is apologizing for the lesser offense. Forgetting to cite a source, while sloppy, is radically different from stealing a man’s story (word-for-word) and telling it as your own. “It’s burned in my memory.” This is a lie and nothing less.

    Careers have been ended for this sort of thing.

    Your point about this sort of thing being tied to pulpit pragmatism is spot on.

  17. mattknight Says:

    I think Craig Groeschel and his church intend to do others a service (and largely succeed at it) by providing their resources for free. I’ve heard many a preacher give others license to use their material, and that’s a good thing. We ought not be miserly with the things (gifts, messages, blessings) God gives us.

    All that being said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to make use of these resources. I believe it was Adrian Rogers who said, “If what I preach fits your gun, then shoot it. But use your own powder.” I can certainly appreciate the use of someone else’s illustrations, but to tell someone else’s story as if it had happened to you is dishonest. Just tell it and give them credit, or get your own stuff. As has been said, personal stories are more powerful anyway.

  18. Melissa E. Says:

    Plagiarism is one thing–that story is downright dishonesty in the pulpit! A disgrace. Why? Couldn’t he have just said, ” I heard a preacher the other day telling this story…”?

  19. sam Says:

    There are many disturbing issues at hand:

    1. The biblical qualifications of a pastor to be above reproach. Rehearsing a lie in preparation of delivering a sermon and then delivering the lie in multiple services. This is disturbing and one would have to wonder if Tadd has lied in other sermons that he has delivered but was not caught in a lie like he has been in this one. That is why a pastor is to be beyond reproach because it brings his integrity into question and can ultimately hurt the cause of the Gospel.
    2. Pastors today seem to want to redefine what “plagiarism” is. here is a good article:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/2006/1623_What_is_plagiarism/

    Again, a pastor should cite his source regardless of whether the original author gave permission or not to use his sermon. In the academic world if I write a paper and sell it and give the buyer permission to pass off my work as his, it does not excuse the person should he get caught. Pastors should have more integrity than the world in this area. The expectation of most congregations out there is not that the pastor download a sermon and then pass it off as his own. AND pastors are reaping praise and financial gain from these as well and all the while remaining quiet as to the practice that they are engaged in.
    3. The sermon series in which Tadd LIED, and lets call it what it is, was from November. Tadd only apologized AFTER he was caught. Would Tadd have apologized if he was never caught? Would he out of conviction, confessed to his congregation if not for being exposed for lying? AND in both “apologies” Tadd never did fully acknowledge his sin before the congregation whom he sinned against. Tadd only said he didn’t cite his source. When in fact, he LIED. He should have been completely open with his congregation about his sin. Tadd never used the words, “I LIED”.

    Where is the belief in the power of the Holy Spirit through preaching of the Gospel? Tadd just finished a series called, “Bringing Sexy Back”.

    This whole integrity and lying issue is just another by-product of sermon plagiarism. And why people need to denounce this shameful practice and stop rationalizing, justifying, and enabling other “pastors” to engage in it.

  20. Matthew Johnson Says:

    I wonder if Groeschel understands that the issue isn’t taking a manuscript or outline and preaching it as if it were one of your own, or that “it isn’t plagiarizing if you have permission” – it’s not about plagiarizing at all. It’s about telling a story as though you have lived it which is called “lying”. Groeschel cannot give permission for that event in his own life to be told by someone else as if it happened to them because it wouldn’t be true.

  21. Jared Says:

    My understanding is not that Groeschel and LifeChurch give permission to use Craig’s first person stories as if they were one’s own, but rather, they provide the sermon points, graphics, videos, resources, etc. so that churches may use those.

    The raw material is what they have permission to use, perhaps even the illustration concepts. But I don’t believe this includes encouragement to lie about things that haven’t actually happened to you.

  22. Jared Says:

    Also:
    While I think it’s extremely gracious for Craig and LifeChurch to insist attribution for using their work is not necessary, I think it’s pretty shady for those who use it not to attribute it anyway.

    My 2 cents.


  23. Jared,

    I agree with both comments. However, I disagree with Craig’s understanding of plagiarism and his passive approach to an ethical issue regarding ministerial integrity. While it is a gracious thing to allow others to benefit from all the resources, it could also be considered unwise in providing the stuff to those who cannot resist the temptation to copy, plagiarize, and abdicate the sacred desk. No?

  24. John Says:

    Tim –

    You said:

    “it could also be considered unwise in providing the stuff to those who cannot resist the temptation to copy, plagiarize, and abdicate the sacred desk. No?”

    No it isn’t. Blaming Groeschel for making his material available to others is just foolish. Piper has posted the transcripts of all of his sermons for the past 30 years online. Is he encouraging plagarism? Or is he merely providing a valuable resource to others?

    JD


  25. John,

    Please read my comment again. I said it was *unwise.* I didn’t assign blame to him, at least not in the manner you assigned. Regarding Piper and Groeschel on plagiarism, perhaps juxtaposing their own words on this subject matter would be helpful.

    Desiring God :: What Is Plagiarism

    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/2006/1623_What_is_plagiarism/

    LifeChurch.tv on Plagiarizing Pastors

    http://swerve.lifechurch.tv/2008/07/21/plagiarizing-pastors/

  26. Robert Angison Says:

    Well the sad thing about this is there isn’t any recourse for the congregation that was abused other than getting up and walking out.

    I believe in a contextualized ministry to reach people with the Gospel. Yet too many young ministers are taking the idea of contextualization and making it about a certain “look” “sound” or “image” and are neglecting the responsibility of the Gospel.

    While my ministry doesn’t use graphics or specialized content from providers like Lifechurch.tv I do believe that the media presented through their ministry is good and helps churches. That said I find it dubious to buy sermons from (supposed luminaries) or even copy first person illustrations that aren’t your life experience.

    It seems that Pastor Grandstaff has made a large error. If we check many of his other sermons we might find more “citation issues.”

    All the more we need to seek the Gospel first and coolness…well…way down the list.

  27. covnitkepr1 Says:

    These preachers should read 2 Corinthians 2:17 (NASB)

  28. Ken House Says:

    I confronted my pastor about his sermons. I have been suspect of the content. I know him very well and I knew these were not his sermons. I researched his sermons on the internet and it wasn’t hard to find most of them. Several were word for word except for some of his personal illustrations. He became pretty angry. Now it looks like I may be the one with the problem.

  29. Frustrated in Pawnee Says:

    I led my family to recently leave a church where there was/is pervasive pulpit plagiarism, as well as other deception. The ‘other deception’ led me to choose not to confront him, though I did carefully engage two deacons and a staff member with the evidence. The essentially chose the ‘go along to get along’ route. Their lack of leadership in this issue was just as stunning as the pulpit plagiarism and other deceit. I’m not a deacon, and we have no elders. Had I chosen to confront, I would have been dealt with the same way Ken House was.

  30. Frustrated in Pawnee Says:

    Also, the ‘official response’ from LC and Groeschel is disturbing. Comments above hit on the issue, but I’ve looked at the Groeschel response (which is identical to the Rick Warren response) with some insightful analogies. Analogy #1: The friendly bank teller tells you to take the bag of money on her desk. She won’t tell. Her ‘permission’ does not immunize you from theft charges. Analogy #2: (sadly occurs in the Old Testament and in 3rd world nations). The destitute father gives up his daughters for prostitution in order to pay debts. His sale etc does not forgive the purchaser from his sin. Bottom line: Wink wink nod nod in the spirit of sharing does not mean the recipient pastor should not study for himself and should not mean he does not need to give attribution.


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