The eighth commandment (Exodus 20:15) given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai states, “You shall not steal.” When we think about this command our minds generally go towards acts of such as shoplifting, robbery, identity theft, and other types of stealing. It seems fairly simple. Donʼt steal. Our people know what this means and what it looks like, so case closed. Right?
Few of us pastors wrestle through the eighth commandment the way we should, though. In our profession, we are always interacting with ideas. We read books, blogs, tweets, hear sermons, lectures, and conference messages. Then we have the task of standing up each week to preach to our church. If we are not careful, our sermons can be an act of sin. How so? When we communicate ideas that are not our own, but present them as if they are, we are stealing. As pastors, we are often the biggest violators of the eighth commandment.
How Does This Happen?
I donʼt have statistics to back my next claim, but I believe a large majority of pastors are violating the eighth commandment every week. I do not think it is always done intentionally, but I think it happens. Everytime we communicate someone elseʼs thought or idea without citing them, we steal.
It can happen when reading commentaries, searching google, scanning Twitter, or listening to our favorite pastorʼs sermon on the subject. We hear something we think will be helpful to the sermon, and we use it. Unfortunately, we often fail to cite the source where we got the idea. Is this important to do? Yes. I know the people whose ideas weʼre using did not invent the truth. I know that all true is Godʼs truth. But when we take the thoughts of someone else and do not attribute it to them, we are stealing.
Does this matter? I think so. Why? Ask yourself this question: why donʼt I cite the source when Iʼm using someone elseʼs thought?
I think there a few answers: First, we want people to think we came up with the thought. This is about pride. We want people to think we are profound and filled with amazing wisdom. This is stealing. Second, we may not want to give the impression we are using a lot of other peopleʼs stuff. This is also pride. And it is fear-based. As pastors we do not want to appear lazy, especially in our thinking. For this reason, many fear citing other pastors, authors, and leaders in their sermons when they are using their ideas. It certainly doesnʼt mean we arenʼt using other peopleʼs ideas, we are, weʼre just not giving them credit. Again, this is stealing.
What Should We Do?
First, letʼs go out of our way to cite the sources and people who we get ideas and thoughts from and use in our sermons or blogs. If we are tempted to present the ideas as our own, simply because we want to appear profound, letʼs soul-search our pride and repent. When you read or hear something that you know youʼre going to use for a message, write down who said it and where you heard it. If you canʼt remember, when you share the idea in your sermon, say, “I read the other day…” or “I heard a pastor once say…” This way, though you may not remember the source, you donʼt try to pass off the thought as original.
Second, if it is fear of appearing too reliant upon other peopleʼs ideas and not producing enough of our own, then letʼs either help our people understand the usefulness of learning from others or letʼs spend more time wrestling through texts and reflecting. The choice is yours, but continuing to not cite ideas should not be a choice.
If we see or hear other pastors stealing ideas and thoughts without quoting sources, letʼs lovingly and privately rebuke them. We need to call each other to higher accountability. Letʼs labor to credit the sources that have been helpful to us. A part of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us is crediting them when we use their work.
A Concluding Charge
Some people may dismiss this post and say it is not a big deal. Some may even argue that quoting and citing too much may become a distraction in the sermon. Perhaps you are right. So maybe we should rely less on other peopleʼs ideas or make our sermon notes with citations available to others. The idea is to be above reproach, which is one of the qualifications for even being a pastor/elder (1 Timothy 3:2).
Pastors, let us be men of integrity. We do not need to steal other peopleʼs thoughts and ideas in order to make ourselves appear wise or profound. Letʼs cite our sources. Give credit to the men and women whose thoughts help you understand Scripture and love Jesus. We do not want to find ourselves sinning in the act of preaching. Letʼs repent of sin and quit being the biggest violators of the eighth commandment.