Thinking Out Loud

July 25, 2016

Should Local Church Sermons Have Footnotes?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:11 am

PlagiarismTo what extent should the average local church pastor list all his/her sources and provide annotation for all his/her slides?

This is a recurring question in our house because, online as we are, we often recognize things preached as owing to particular websites or books.

Typically, in a pre-internet age, the pastor was expected to spend “one hour in study for every one minute in the pulpit.” I knew a few pastors who met this expectation, or at least came very, very close. Their studies were filled with commentaries, lexicons and a variety of great books. For them to pause to mention every source would severely break up the flow of their message. It was a given that not all the content was their own, but was the culmination of a week of study.

Today, people sit in the pews fact-checking with their phones, and looking for the source of unique phrases. Plagiarism, in the church at least, is a crime punishable by embarrassment and censure.

What if there isn’t a list of footnotes because great bulk from a single source was copied and pasted wholesale into their sermon notes? “That’s a lot of material to borrow from a single source without attribution;” I said to my wife after lunch the other day. Why not at least direct the congregation to that source in the event they wish to follow-up with further study?

Furthermore, what if the minister/pastor/preacher was hired on their ability to compose great sermons on their own? What if that 30-minutes-equals-30-hours rule is still the general expectation? Doesn’t that make the wholesale borrowing a more serious situation?

What say you?



  1. I’m old fashioned on this and think original sermons built on a foundation of Biblical/theological studies should be the norm. As a peacher I rarely listen to or read the sermons of other preachers except when on vacation. And rather than “footnote”, will sometimes say something like “Biblical scholars think . . . ” etc. If you read the same ideas enough times in different commentaries it becomes part of your own knowledge base anyway.

    Comment by Clarke Dixon — July 25, 2016 @ 7:54 am

  2. I had a pastor fully admit to me that he borrowed a sermon largely from James MacDonald. How fortunate for him that the internet age was upon us. Was the sermon good? Yeah, his spin or take was great and we learned a lot. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing in the same way that a cover-artist makes a song ‘his/her own’ and everyone benefits. But as for footnotes, I think that everyone should be Berean in their attitude. If someone hears something that they like in a sermon, and makes them feel really good about their thoughts or themselves, maybe THAT should, in fact, act as a motivator to have one’s itching ears checked for bugs, if you get my meaning.
    ~ F.R.

    Comment by Flagrant Regard — July 25, 2016 @ 1:55 pm

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