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ALPB => Your Turn => Topic started by: John_Hannah on July 07, 2021, 08:19:29 AM

Title: Sermongate
Post by: John_Hannah on July 07, 2021, 08:19:29 AM
From today's Times; I don't know what to make of it, myself.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/06/us/sermongate-plagiarism-litton-greear.html
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Norman Teigen on July 07, 2021, 08:37:59 AM
Conclusion:

"What is certain is that the temptation to crib on Sunday mornings is not new. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin wrote of his admiration of a young Presbyterian preacher much respected for his preaching, which was apparently delivered extemporaneously. When a doctrinal dispute erupted in the congregation, however, an adversary recognized that a passage delivered by the preacher had been lifted from an uncredited source.

"Franklin stuck by the plagiarist. “I rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by others,” he wrote, “than bad ones of his own manufacture.”
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: D. Engebretson on July 07, 2021, 08:54:18 AM
From today's Times; I don't know what to make of it, myself.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/06/us/sermongate-plagiarism-litton-greear.html

And the dust-up has revealed a dirty little secret of the preaching life: Many pastors borrow from one another in the pulpit, and the norms around the practice are fuzzy at best.

I'm sure it happens.  But how extensive such a practice is the article does not establish. Years ago I know that it was customary for pastors to rotate pulpits during midweek Lent using a published series of sermons they mutually chose. But now with the internet and so many sermons readily available on so many sites, it's hard to know who is using what.

I would think that parishoners would know if a sermon 'sounds' like their pastor.  We all have a 'style,' for lack of a better word. 

But simply preaching someone else's sermon as if it is your own is not only ethically wrong, it is laziness on the part of the preacher who does not want to wrestle with the text himself and do the hard work of preparing a sermon that speaks specifically to his congregation.   
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Charles Austin on July 07, 2021, 09:04:57 AM
Some very prominent preachers been nailed for plagiarizing Sermons or parts of sermons.
Plagiarism of any sort is despicable. Anyone who does it, when caught, should lose their pulpit.
One may, of course, use ideas or phrases from another, but only with proper attribution and citation.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Keith Falk on July 07, 2021, 09:20:33 AM
And it isn't difficult to give credit...


"As i was doing sermon prep this week, I came upon these words from John Doe, who said things much more beautifully/clearly/eloquently than I. Doe wrote, '....'"

Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: pastorg1@aol.com on July 07, 2021, 10:04:39 AM
Scripture addresses the preacher existentially. If the preacher avoids this Kierkegaardian “offense” and instead makes something up from someone else’s life, the preacher is a coward, and a lazy coward.

Peter (Just do you job) Garrison
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: D. Engebretson on July 07, 2021, 10:30:01 AM
Some very prominent preachers been nailed for plagiarizing Sermons or parts of sermons.
Plagiarism of any sort is despicable. Anyone who does it, when caught, should lose their pulpit.
One may, of course, use ideas or phrases from another, but only with proper attribution and citation.

I realize my fellow pastors probably laugh at my tendency to often extensively footnote my manuscript. But these are printed, made available in the narthex, and also mailed to several people who are unable to attend church. One shut-in even mails it to her son in a prison in another state. So I treat them as public documents. But in speaking one can also verbally cite a source as Pr. Falk notes. 
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Jim Butler on July 07, 2021, 11:02:09 AM
I've been blessed to have sold a Lenten series to CPH for publication in  _Concordia Pulpit Resources_ as well as a couple of sermon studies/full sermons for that periodical. I was honestly honored and humbled when pastors from across the country called and emailed me questions about the series. (For some odd reason, CPR didn't include the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday sermons from the series but said they were available from me. I got a lot of requests for them. I also sent them all of the original Word docs to make it easier for the pastors to write their sermons.)

But those are sermons that are published with the understanding that others will be making use of them. In this case, it appears that the new SBC president was lifting sermons that he found elsewhere and was preaching them as his own. That, I think, is much more troublesome. About twenty or so years ago, there was a pastor near me, who had the same first name, who took several newsletter articles that I wrote, covered over our church's heading, and republished them as his own. I found that very irritating and unethical. I finally took to printing my article with colored paper to put a stop to it.

Interesting topic to discuss!
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Jim Butler on July 07, 2021, 11:52:36 AM
Here's an interesting take:

https://theweek.com/culture/1002322/southern-baptist-plagiarism-scandal
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on July 07, 2021, 03:25:29 PM
I've used illustrations I've heard from others, putting things in my own words, way, and application. That seems rather commonplace. Lifting whole passages word-for-word seems odd. Perhaps he is suffering from creative burnout, which is a real problem if you're presenting all the time. I prepare two sermons each week and have done a lot of writing over the years, so I sympathize but would not encourage lifting passages that way.

I was listening to a podcast about an Evangelical congregation the other day. The speaker talked about inviting guest preachers to "preach their best sermons." That might be a luxury of non liturgical sermon preparation where you are not creating something new week by week but building a stock of repeated presentations. Local preachers don't enjoy that luxury.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Paul Peckman on July 07, 2021, 03:27:45 PM
A homiletics professor critiqued sermons by a student:  "Your sermons are good and original.  The only problem is:  the parts that were good were not original and the parts that were original were not good."
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Charles Austin on July 07, 2021, 04:18:13 PM
By the way, I have a sniffer dog nose and eagle ears, and I believe I can tell when the sermon has been recycled from an earlier year, sometimes from years ago.
The sermon may be all right, but it lacks a certain contemporaneous tone or reference. So if you’re going to recycle old sermons, don’t just recycle them, completely rewrite them.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on July 07, 2021, 04:36:06 PM
I recall a speaker stating that Concordia stopped publishing Concordia Pulpit because they discovered that pastors were preaching those sermons as their own rather than use it as a resource to help them write their own sermons.


One of the complements I received from a homiletics professor at Luther Seminary was that my "notes" are not sermons. (They are 3-4 times longer than my sermons.) I hope that they will spur a theme that the users will then turn into their own sermons.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dan Fienen on July 07, 2021, 04:44:27 PM
I recall a speaker stating that Concordia stopped publishing Concordia Pulpit because they discovered that pastors were preaching those sermons as their own rather than use it as a resource to help them write their own sermons.


One of the complements I received from a homiletics professor at Luther Seminary was that my "notes" are not sermons. (They are 3-4 times longer than my sermons.) I hope that they will spur a theme that the users will then turn into their own sermons.
Perhaps those who were involved in the decision could give greater insight. I recall at the time that Concordia Pulpit was discontinued and Concordia Pulpit Resources was begun that input from the users of the resources were sought. I gave my input that a sermon outline would be more useful to me, as well as the text study and other articles that were included.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Jim Butler on July 07, 2021, 07:09:04 PM
I recall a speaker stating that Concordia stopped publishing Concordia Pulpit because they discovered that pastors were preaching those sermons as their own rather than use it as a resource to help them write their own sermons.

I asked the former and current editors of Concordia Pulpit Resources why the change was made. They said that the reason was that they did not want only sermons; they wanted sermon studies as well. When I submitted my material for two Sundays in Epiphany a few years ago, I could not just submit two sermons, I had to "show my work" as well. In fact, the editor sent me a template for my submission. I was to fill it all out.

In addition, the current format allowed for book reviews, articles on preaching, etc. which the old Concordia Pulpit did not allow for, being in book format.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Charles Austin on July 07, 2021, 08:54:48 PM
Now as to the topic. I believe and was taught that a sermon ought to be textual, that is, based on a text for the day, contemporary, that is about today, and directed at the actual people who will be in those actual pews the Sunday the sermon is preached.
Plagarizing or using a "canned" sermon, it seems to me, just cannot do those things.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: John_Hannah on July 07, 2021, 08:59:12 PM
Now as to the topic. I believe and was taught that a sermon ought to be textual, that is, based on a text for the day, contemporary, that is about today, and directed at the actual people who will be in those actual pews the Sunday the sermon is preached.
Plagarizing or using a "canned" sermon, it seems to me, just cannot do those things.


Most wise, Charles. Thanks for this.

Peace, JOHN
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dave Benke on July 09, 2021, 08:56:19 AM
I recall a speaker stating that Concordia stopped publishing Concordia Pulpit because they discovered that pastors were preaching those sermons as their own rather than use it as a resource to help them write their own sermons.

I asked the former and current editors of Concordia Pulpit Resources why the change was made. They said that the reason was that they did not want only sermons; they wanted sermon studies as well. When I submitted my material for two Sundays in Epiphany a few years ago, I could not just submit two sermons, I had to "show my work" as well. In fact, the editor sent me a template for my submission. I was to fill it all out.

In addition, the current format allowed for book reviews, articles on preaching, etc. which the old Concordia Pulpit did not allow for, being in book format.

I prepared sermons for The Concordia Pulpit.  I received reports of hearing them preached word for word without attribution from folks around the country.  So that was happening.  And I served as the COP representative on Concordia Pulpit Resources for a time, which allowed me to hear the history of the entire sermon and sermon prep use in the LCMS.  The Concordia Pulpit was initiated specifically because there were many congregations which had pastors good at many things, but preaching was not one of them.  So the cry went up for better preaching preparation and sermons.  And the Concordia Pulpit was then to be used as a guide for sermons on texts.  But - for many - it became the sermon in a box, preached directly.  So not only could you go to an LCMS congregation and have the same liturgy, texts and hymnody, you could hear the same sermon.   Uniformity taken to the next level.

During my vicarage, one of the members was a relative of the long-time pastor there, who had passed away.  He recounted that his uncle had a sermon for every Sunday in the church year, and recycled them each and every year, when the one year lectionary was the only lectionary.  He said, "I was very fond of Uncle X's sermon for the 26th Sunday after Trinity.  Loved to hear it every year.  It was a beauty."

So much for the 35 hours spent every week in sermon preparation.  Reminiscent of class lectures back in the prep school days say in history class, where the superannuated prof. used the same notes from the 1930s, including the perils of Nazi Germany.  We students took it as a good sign, because at least the Nazis were viewed as the bad guys.

Which brings up recycling your own material, or opting not to.  I have definitely heard sermons delivered by pastors new to their current call which were taken from the past place.  In one case, the illustrations were all about the orange groves and harvesting citrus, when in the geography nary an orange tree was within sight for 600 miles or more.  I have a "treasure trove" of the sermons I wrote in full manuscript from the early days.  Not really usable 40 plus years later - a) I'm at the same church (!), but b) nobody at the same church is there from that time, but c) I'm not the same guy when it comes to preaching itself.

Dave Benke
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Charles Austin on July 09, 2021, 09:45:41 AM
Bishop Benke:
The Concordia Pulpit was initiated specifically because there were many congregations which had pastors good at many things, but preaching was not one of them.

Me:
Why were these guys not weeded out in seminary?
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: D. Engebretson on July 09, 2021, 09:55:20 AM
Bishop Benke:
The Concordia Pulpit was initiated specifically because there were many congregations which had pastors good at many things, but preaching was not one of them.

Me:
Why were these guys not weeded out in seminary?

I am now on my fifth summer of teaching preaching for an alternate ed program for the seminary.  The students come in a wide range of talents - and potential.  I dare say that if we "weeded out" those we felt at the time were not that good at preaching there would be a lot more empty pulpits out there, and maybe a lot of lost opportunities to teach and mentor those lacking in skills.  I would rather help them improve and grow, which is what consumes 10 weeks of my life each year.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dan Fienen on July 09, 2021, 10:36:50 AM
My father, who was not a pastor nor had pastoral training, was elder at the small mission congregation which our family helped found. (By that time I was no longer living at home but attending college when they started the mission congregation.) For a number of years they did not have a pastor of their own and the local pastoral situation meant that they could not have a pastor come and do services each week. So if fell to my father as elder to conduct services (without communion) when they did not have a pastor. He purchased the Concordia Pulpit each year and read/preached the appropriate sermon out of that. Not optimal, but it got them through that period.


My parents also related to me how one Christmas their preacher delivered an excellent Christmas sermon. (This was not during the period that their church had no pastor.) It was moving and illustrated with touching anecdotes from the preacher's childhood. The only problem was that they had heard that same sermon, complete with the same anecdotes from the preacher's childhood a couple of years previous from a different pastor, one whom they knew well enough to assume had actually written the sermon. It had been published in Concordia Pulpit. Needless to say, it was not nearly as effective for them recycled by a different preacher.


Some years, for various reasons, when I have been gone on vacation rather than getting a supply preacher, the elders in my church have done the service. I would provide them with a sermon to read, often from Concordia Pulpit. One year when I had set that up, the elder asked if he could write his own sermon to preach and have me approve it. He had long fancied that he could have made a good pastor had he gone that way. I said fine. Several weeks later, as the Sunday I would be gone approached, he came to me and admitted that writing a sermon was harder than he thought and could I supply him with one. I learned a couple of things from that elder. One, perhaps sometimes we preachers make preaching look too easy. And I also learned to beware people who think that they would have made a good pastor and then judge you on how you differ from them.


My own preaching style is more extemporaneous. For years I have very rarely actually written out a complete sermon. I study for the sermon, make sermon notes and outlines, and rehearse in my mind the progression of ideas and illustrations that I'll use. So simply reading a sermon, from Concordia Pulpit or another source, is for me not only not a temptation, it isn't even an option.  Even back in the day when I did two services a Sunday, I would not preach exactly the same sermon twice. That is just my style and it works for me others probably not so much. From Concordia Pulpit and later Concordia Pulpit Resources I could get ideas, approaches, illustrations, even basic outlines, but I always made the result my own. I have always considered material put out as preaching helps, such as Concordia Pulpit and Concordia Pulpit Resources fair game. They are meant to be used.


Some of my style I attribute to my high school days when I was on the school debate team and generally debated on the negative side. Debating negative you did not walk into the room knowing what you would say, you would be familiar with the material, but not the specifics. So I learned to think and talk on my feet.



Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dave Benke on July 09, 2021, 11:16:44 AM
I like the theological position on the pastoral ministry that includes all aspects of what a pastor does.  The addition of the template on the personality make-up of those who seek to enter the pastoral ministry has been in my estimation helpful.  The bell curve is tilted toward the more introverted/studious end of the spectrum - public speaking normally is not on top of the skill-set for that personality group. 

Does this mean a bunch of pastors can't preach?  Not at all.  But they will tend to have a more academic approach to the sermon, will have a harder time with free-wheeling it (not all bad!), and may read the sermon more than preach it. 

The LCMS model is that the content of the sermon, the Gospel center, forms the dynamic of preaching - not moralizing or using the law as a club absent the Gospel.  I used to preach at pastorally vacant parishes and did so in most of them - if there's a debit, it should not be that the people haven't heard the Gospel.  But sometimes the folks had not heard that comfort.  It could be that it was delivered as pro forma, but mostly it just wasn't there.  That, then, would be bad preaching - not the debit of "personality plus", but the loss of the love of Christ which constrains us, forms us and carries the Body of Christ through thick and thin. 

I ask a few people for their thoughts on whether I'm on point whom I trust to be honest.  That's easier in a sense after being at one place for so long.  So those folks let me know if I'm straying from the point, or missing the point, or off on a story-telling tangent.  Extroverted preachers and preachers long in the tooth have trouble in that way.  Somebody has to evaluate.  Another person who can be counted on for an honest eval in many cases is the spouse. 

Dave Benke 



Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dan Fienen on July 09, 2021, 11:30:08 AM
Back when I did a term a Circuit Visitor I counseled with a new pastor, second career man, fresh out of the Seminary. There were complaints about his preaching and I suggest to him that he try not writing out his sermons but rather prepare detailed sermon outlines to preach from. He found that helped him because, as he perceived it, when he wrote out sermons he still tended to write them as he did for his sem profs, not as well received in the congregation. That seemed to help him. YMMV


I have long thought that preaching is more of a performance art than it is a literary art.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Charles Austin on July 09, 2021, 12:47:42 PM
The next issue of Lutheran forum journal has as its theme: preaching. Now would be a good time to subscribe.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Randy Bosch on July 09, 2021, 02:24:31 PM
The next issue of Lutheran forum journal has as its theme: preaching. Now would be a good time to subscribe.

Preach it, Charles!
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: John_Hannah on July 09, 2021, 02:37:11 PM
The next issue of Lutheran forum journal has as its theme: preaching. Now would be a good time to subscribe.

Yes. Subscribe. Subscribe now!

Peace, JOHN
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Jim Butler on July 10, 2021, 11:10:52 AM

I prepared sermons for The Concordia Pulpit.  I received reports of hearing them preached word for word without attribution from folks around the country.  So that was happening.  And I served as the COP representative on Concordia Pulpit Resources for a time, which allowed me to hear the history of the entire sermon and sermon prep use in the LCMS.  The Concordia Pulpit was initiated specifically because there were many congregations which had pastors good at many things, but preaching was not one of them.  So the cry went up for better preaching preparation and sermons.  And the Concordia Pulpit was then to be used as a guide for sermons on texts.  But - for many - it became the sermon in a box, preached directly.  So not only could you go to an LCMS congregation and have the same liturgy, texts and hymnody, you could hear the same sermon.   Uniformity taken to the next level.


The only problem I have with this explanation is that the Concordia Pulpit was not the only Lutheran sermon series being sold. For example, my vicarage supervisor had several copies of Augsburg Sermons (published by Augsburg Publishing House). I remember he had me read a sermon for a Sunday in Advent that he thought was very well done. I also recall a Maundy Thursday sermon written by Alton Wedel entitled "He Took a Towel" that was masterful.

Then too LCA pastor Wes Runk founded CSS Publishing to print, among other things, sermons and resources for pastors. Most of the sermons were by members of the then LCA. My supervisor was quite fond of that company and purchased the entire set of sermons every year. I was surprised later on to discover that he took a couple of sermons from those books and preached them.

Most of the time I find using other people's sermons to be very hard; the style is too different. I might use a theme, an outline, sometimes the only thing that's the same is the title.

Thanks for the discussion.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: therevev on July 12, 2021, 10:25:09 AM
I read the lectionary texts, study my congregation, and try to find a crossroads of text and life that will help people see the road less traveled that Jesus takes to reach us with grace. When I look at 1517 or workingpreacher.org I will sometimes find a hook or handle that I find especially helpful. I am not lifting a story or anecdote but I am gaining from their wisdom on the text. When I find an outline or structure, the line between my work and the work of another becomes difficult to divide. The text for Ezekiel 2:1-5 that was a couple weeks ago is an example. I determined I would preach on the phrase, "Thus says the Lord." I looked up that phrase for some artwork. I clicked on a link and it took me to a sermon that Spurgeon had preached. He had four reasons why this phrase is important for the preacher, church, community, and seeker. I ended up liking that those four vectors for looking at this phrase. I did not quote Spurgeon in the sermon or credit him, but I did use those four spheres of listeners. I was reluctant to reference the sermon because after he works through those four spheres he then becomes very political about ongoing church controversies of his time and has a large critique of infant baptism.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Michael Slusser on July 12, 2021, 11:40:03 AM
I read the lectionary texts, study my congregation, and try to find a crossroads of text and life that will help people see the road less traveled that Jesus takes to reach us with grace. When I look at 1517 or workingpreacher.org I will sometimes find a hook or handle that I find especially helpful. I am not lifting a story or anecdote but I am gaining from their wisdom on the text. When I find an outline or structure, the line between my work and the work of another becomes difficult to divide. The text for Ezekiel 2:1-5 that was a couple weeks ago is an example. I determined I would preach on the phrase, "Thus says the Lord." I looked up that phrase for some artwork. I clicked on a link and it took me to a sermon that Spurgeon had preached. He had four reasons why this phrase is important for the preacher, church, community, and seeker. I ended up liking that those four vectors for looking at this phrase. I did not quote Spurgeon in the sermon or credit him, but I did use those four spheres of listeners. I was reluctant to reference the sermon because after he works through those four spheres he then becomes very political about ongoing church controversies of his time and has a large critique of infant baptism.
Sounds good to me.

Somewhere along the line I was told to distrust what I am planning to say if it is completely original.

Peace,
Michael
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dave Benke on July 13, 2021, 08:22:50 AM
I read the lectionary texts, study my congregation, and try to find a crossroads of text and life that will help people see the road less traveled that Jesus takes to reach us with grace. When I look at 1517 or workingpreacher.org I will sometimes find a hook or handle that I find especially helpful. I am not lifting a story or anecdote but I am gaining from their wisdom on the text. When I find an outline or structure, the line between my work and the work of another becomes difficult to divide. The text for Ezekiel 2:1-5 that was a couple weeks ago is an example. I determined I would preach on the phrase, "Thus says the Lord." I looked up that phrase for some artwork. I clicked on a link and it took me to a sermon that Spurgeon had preached. He had four reasons why this phrase is important for the preacher, church, community, and seeker. I ended up liking that those four vectors for looking at this phrase. I did not quote Spurgeon in the sermon or credit him, but I did use those four spheres of listeners. I was reluctant to reference the sermon because after he works through those four spheres he then becomes very political about ongoing church controversies of his time and has a large critique of infant baptism.


Good work! 

At a recent gathering, I opined that with the online viewing option and attendance differentiation based on how long people want to be in an indoor room, the old maxim of stating the theme, stating three points to be made, four at most, making them in whatever way is appropriate, and restating as the wrapup is a working model that Lutherans can readily take through the Law/Gospel framework.  A person listening said that the pastor bringing her wedding message (!) began by stating that he had 8 points for the couple.  8.  It's a wedding message.  The happy couple was not so happy. 

Way, way back in the day at the Senior College, the English and Speech departments taught the theory of beginning, middle, end.
A sentence should have a beginning, middle, and end.
A paragraph should have a beginning, middle and end.
A theme in the message/document should have a beginning, middle and end.
The message/document should have a beginning, middle and end.

My personal gripe is -
false endings.

"Finally...."  "and in conclusion....." "so at the end..."  "as I conclude this message...."  "let me bring it home..."  "Lest I forget..."  "as we conclude we are reminded...(a whole new direction is taken)..."  Please, just say Amen and get off, brother.

Dave Benke



Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Charles Austin on July 13, 2021, 09:30:45 AM
Beloved spouse, when we were attending church where the pastor tended to have false endings, would ask me when we  left “how many endings in that sermon?” She said she can sometimes tell by the deep sighs I would emit as things moved to an end, and started up again, then ended, then started.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Daniel Lee Gard on July 13, 2021, 09:56:56 AM
Samuel Johnson is credited with saying, “Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dan Fienen on July 13, 2021, 10:27:21 AM
I can remember as a child some Sunday dinner reviews of the sermon for that day. "The pastor sure missed some good opportunities to say, "Amen.' "
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dan Fienen on July 13, 2021, 10:37:45 AM
In my senior age, I think that I am preaching sorter sermons than I did when younger. I average between 13 and 15 minutes, occasionally but rarely as much as 18. This past year I have also become more aware of the length of my sermons. I am in charge of processing the raw recorded footage of service for posting on line. That includes dividing the service into three segments, Opening and Readings (from opening announcements through the sermon hymn), Sermons, and Prayers (the rest of the service after the end of the sermon). So I can easily see the length of the sermon.


I upload the service recording to Vimeo and email links. Internet service out here in the hinterland is sometimes slow so it seems advantageous to divide the service into more easily downloaded segments for viewing. After all, as VP Harris so kindly pointed out, here in rural America we don't even have easy access to Kinko's (not that even city dwellers have been able to use Kinko's for some years, they having been bought out.)
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: peter_speckhard on July 13, 2021, 10:47:12 AM
A sentence should have a beginning, middle, and end. I've never liked that theory because it doesn't help. Are struggling students turning in sentences with no beginning, middle, or end? Not really. They're turning in sentences and paragraphs with bad and/or unrelated beginnings, middles, and ends. The real difficulty with prose is flow. What connects the beginning, which is by definition there even in the worst sentence, to the middle, which is also by definition there? Does the ending make some point worth making that flows from the combination of the beginning and the middle? Or is it simply the last few words that happen to be there?

An aspiring artist asks, "How can I draw a good portrait?" He receives the response, "A good portrait has a top, a middle, and a bottom." Or, "Young composers, hearken to me: to write good music, be it a commercial jingle or a symphony, you need to make sure it has a beginning, a middle, and an end." Wow, that really clarifies things for me! The writing theory of beginnings, middles, and endings has always struck me as akin to the joke about Michaelangelo saying be began with a block of marble and then chiseled off everything that didn't look like David. True, in a way, but hardly helpful. You can't hand a manuscript back by saying, "I'm sorry, this paper has no beginning." Of course it does. It just has an abrupt, unclear, or boring beginning. Fixing that is not a matter of saying it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The paper also has a middle, possibly a redundant, contradictory, or irrelevant middle, but a middle nonetheless. Again, it doesn't need a middle, it needs a worthwhile middle.

Of course, I get the point being made by the whole "beginning, middle, end" theory of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and works. But addressing disorganization this way leads to overly-formulaic speeches. Sometimes an abrupt ending drives a point home, other times several rephrasings and repetitions drive it home. Sometimes a good beginning sounds like launching into the middle and picking up a story as though it is ongoing. "Fred was hanging for dear life, clawing at the rim of the canyon, when he realized..." Other times telling people what you're about to tell them works better as a beginning. "I'd like to tell you about how important it is to realize that every day may be your last. To do so, let me first offer you the example of Fred and the day a near death experience opened his eyes to..." But to recommend a beginning, middle, and end does little more than advise the speaker, "First, starting talking. Then, keep talking. Lastly, stop talking. See? Making a speech is easy!"   

Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dave Benke on July 13, 2021, 10:55:57 AM
I can remember as a child some Sunday dinner reviews of the sermon for that day. "The pastor sure missed some good opportunities to say, "Amen.' "

Great stuff.  I've always wondered what produces that instinct to tack on the second through fifth ending.  I still don't have an answer that makes sense.

Dave Benke
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dave Benke on July 13, 2021, 10:58:35 AM
A sentence should have a beginning, middle, and end. I've never liked that theory because it doesn't help. Are struggling students turning in sentences with no beginning, middle, or end? Not really. They're turning in sentences and paragraphs with bad and/or unrelated beginnings, middles, and ends. The real difficulty with prose is flow. What connects the beginning, which is by definition there even in the worst sentence, to the middle, which is also by definition there? Does the ending make some point worth making that flows from the combination of the beginning and the middle? Or is it simply the last few words that happen to be there?

An aspiring artist asks, "How can I draw a good portrait?" He receives the response, "A good portrait has a top, a middle, and a bottom." Or, "Young composers, hearken to me: to write good music, be it a commercial jingle or a symphony, you need to make sure it has a beginning, a middle, and an end." Wow, that really clarifies things for me! The writing theory of beginnings, middles, and endings has always struck me as akin to the joke about Michaelangelo saying be began with a block of marble and then chiseled off everything that didn't look like David. True, in a way, but hardly helpful. You can't hand a manuscript back by saying, "I'm sorry, this paper has no beginning." Of course it does. It just has an abrupt, unclear, or boring beginning. Fixing that is not a matter of saying it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The paper also has a middle, possibly a redundant, contradictory, or irrelevant middle, but a middle nonetheless. Again, it doesn't need a middle, it needs a worthwhile middle.

Of course, I get the point being made by the whole "beginning, middle, end" theory of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and works. But addressing disorganization this way leads to overly-formulaic speeches. Sometimes an abrupt ending drives a point home, other times several rephrasings and repetitions drive it home. Sometimes a good beginning sounds like launching into the middle and picking up a story as though it is ongoing. "Fred was hanging for dear life, clawing at the rim of the canyon, when he realized..." Other times telling people what you're about to tell them works better as a beginning. "I'd like to tell you about how important it is to realize that every day may be your last. To do so, let me first offer you the example of Fred and the day a near death experience opened his eyes to..." But to recommend a beginning, middle, and end does little more than advise the speaker, "First, starting talking. Then, keep talking. Lastly, stop talking. See? Making a speech is easy!"   

I would say the theory - beginning, middle, end - is the foundation.  If you don't think that structure, you can't relax it.  I am one of the more relaxed guys in that regard because my sermons are conversational, and often involve response from the listener during the message.  But - formless is not the way to go, and the function of enjoying 15 minutes with the Word follows that form, which is a difference between preaching and bible study.

Dave Benke
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dan Fienen on July 13, 2021, 11:22:52 AM
I was fortunate to study homiletics under the great late Dr. Gerhard Aho. He instilled in us an appreciation for a good outline for our sermons, a Lively Skeleton as one of his works called it. With a good outline a sermon is not just a bunch of good ideas, illustrations, aphorisms, and anecdotes more or less stuck together, but a structured whole. Perhaps this is where Pr. Benke's beginning, middle, and end is headed. With an outline in mind, the preacher knows where he is headed in the sermon. The beginning can be more than just a starting place, but be chosen with the destination in mind. The middle can be a structured progression to lay out, in an orderly and sensible fashion, the heart of the matter. And the ending ties it all together, rather than just being a final ramble, attaching whatever comes to mind.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dave Benke on July 13, 2021, 11:30:58 AM
I was fortunate to study homiletics under the great late Dr. Gerhard Aho. He instilled in us an appreciation for a good outline for our sermons, a Lively Skeleton as one of his works called it. With a good outline a sermon is not just a bunch of good ideas, illustrations, aphorisms, and anecdotes more or less stuck together, but a structured whole. Perhaps this is where Pr. Benke's beginning, middle, and end is headed. With an outline in mind, the preacher knows where he is headed in the sermon. The beginning can be more than just a starting place, but be chosen with the destination in mind. The middle can be a structured progression to lay out, in an orderly and sensible fashion, the heart of the matter. And the ending ties it all together, rather than just being a final ramble, attaching whatever comes to mind.

Agreed.  Gerhard Aho - top shelf.

Dave Benke
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Charles Austin on July 13, 2021, 11:58:30 AM
There is an article in an upcoming issue of Lutheran forum journal that addresses some of these and other points on preaching.
Now would be a good time to subscribe.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on July 13, 2021, 12:40:09 PM
I've stated in the last few years that writing a sermon is deciding what not to say. If one has done the proper homework (biblical exegesis, contemporary issues, needs of the congregation,) there's way too much stuff for one sermon. More than once I've looked at a paragraph I've written (I use a manuscript,) and concluded, that really isn't on topic or help the theme, and delete it. (I can't say that I often do that in this forum. :) )


The use of a manuscript helps me know how long the sermon will be. I also began printing up copies of the sermon. I began this when an elderly lady, who was hard of hearing, asked if I could do that. She said, "What I hear of the sermons is really good, but I I don't hear all of it." (She also always sat in the back of the church.) Printed copies has also allowed people to pick up sermons for weeks that the missed attending worship. One lady grabs one before the service and follows along, writing down notes.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: peter_speckhard on July 13, 2021, 12:47:51 PM
A sentence should have a beginning, middle, and end. I've never liked that theory because it doesn't help. Are struggling students turning in sentences with no beginning, middle, or end? Not really. They're turning in sentences and paragraphs with bad and/or unrelated beginnings, middles, and ends. The real difficulty with prose is flow. What connects the beginning, which is by definition there even in the worst sentence, to the middle, which is also by definition there? Does the ending make some point worth making that flows from the combination of the beginning and the middle? Or is it simply the last few words that happen to be there?

An aspiring artist asks, "How can I draw a good portrait?" He receives the response, "A good portrait has a top, a middle, and a bottom." Or, "Young composers, hearken to me: to write good music, be it a commercial jingle or a symphony, you need to make sure it has a beginning, a middle, and an end." Wow, that really clarifies things for me! The writing theory of beginnings, middles, and endings has always struck me as akin to the joke about Michaelangelo saying be began with a block of marble and then chiseled off everything that didn't look like David. True, in a way, but hardly helpful. You can't hand a manuscript back by saying, "I'm sorry, this paper has no beginning." Of course it does. It just has an abrupt, unclear, or boring beginning. Fixing that is not a matter of saying it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The paper also has a middle, possibly a redundant, contradictory, or irrelevant middle, but a middle nonetheless. Again, it doesn't need a middle, it needs a worthwhile middle.

Of course, I get the point being made by the whole "beginning, middle, end" theory of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and works. But addressing disorganization this way leads to overly-formulaic speeches. Sometimes an abrupt ending drives a point home, other times several rephrasings and repetitions drive it home. Sometimes a good beginning sounds like launching into the middle and picking up a story as though it is ongoing. "Fred was hanging for dear life, clawing at the rim of the canyon, when he realized..." Other times telling people what you're about to tell them works better as a beginning. "I'd like to tell you about how important it is to realize that every day may be your last. To do so, let me first offer you the example of Fred and the day a near death experience opened his eyes to..." But to recommend a beginning, middle, and end does little more than advise the speaker, "First, starting talking. Then, keep talking. Lastly, stop talking. See? Making a speech is easy!"   

I would say the theory - beginning, middle, end - is the foundation.  If you don't think that structure, you can't relax it.  I am one of the more relaxed guys in that regard because my sermons are conversational, and often involve response from the listener during the message.  But - formless is not the way to go, and the function of enjoying 15 minutes with the Word follows that form, which is a difference between preaching and bible study.

Dave Benke
Agreed that the structure has to be there even to allow for variations and that the structure doesn't have to show or be overt in order to be doing its job. The speaker can improv or digress as long as he knows where he is going with it and it is worth taking people there. My point is that "beginning, middle, end" isn't really a structure, it is a statement of the obvious that describes bad works as accurately as it describes good works. Nineteen pages of stream of consciousness ramblings about the squirrel out the window have a beginning, middle, and end.

I think the structure needs to be stated with something more specific like Invitation+thesis (that's the beginning-- why should the listener care about the topic and what is the speaker's point about that topic?), argument+examples (that's the middle-- does the listener understand the point and is he convinced of the truth of the point?), and application+summary (that's the end-- what practical difference does the point make in the hearer's life, followed by a short recap for the sake of retention.) Depending on the length, the "so what"/application could be a separate, fourth section before the summary.

Granted, such a structure doesn't apply to all writing, certainly not fiction, but it does apply to speeches of any sort. This kind of structure is actually helpful in trying to transform a bad sermon or speech into a good one. The question is not whether it has a beginning, but whether the beginning it has invites the hearer to care about what follows and has some point to make. As for the middle, yes, it might be full of examples and anecdotes, but is this or that example merely a cute story, or does it help people understand the point via illustration?

You can skip straight to the thesis for shock value and then backtrack to introduce the topic more thoroughly. "Abraham Lincoln was the worst president we've ever had! Now, I know many of you may be offended by that thesis, but when you consider all the presidents and they various ways they're responded to the particular challenges of their respective eras, perhaps what shines through most consistently is..." That is a beginning that reverses the standard order of Introduction/thesis for effect. To be a good beginning, though, it would still have to invite the listener to care about the topic and thesis, which it can best do by foreshadowing the application/summary.  In a five page manuscript, what needs to be on page 1 is the invitation to care about the topic and the thesis. What needs to be on pages 2-4 are supporting arguments and examples, and what needs to be on page 5 is some kind of application and summary.

Fwiw, I think Invitation is a far more helpful header than Introduction. "My report is about George Washington," is a bad introduction to the topic. "We can only understand where we are by knowing where we've come from, and some of the most important but often invisible aspects of our society, things we have long taken for granted but continue to do so at our peril, stem from precedents set by the genius and wisdom of our first president," introduces the topic in a way that at least tries to invite people to care about the topic. When it comes to sermons, I think the danger for pastors is to take for granted that people care what we have to say. They should care, of course, but they often need a little help. "For my sermon today, I would like to take a closer look at the parable in our Gospel reading..." presupposes that everyone is awaiting with bated breath. And if they really do "hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it" they probably are. But a lot of people aren't there. If the preacher is using a manuscript, that introductory sentence is not worth typing out. Children writing book reports with a minimum word count type out such sentences. "Jesus hid three beautiful gems in a seemingly simple story," introduces the topic in a way that invites people to care and keep listening. 
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on July 13, 2021, 01:07:31 PM
In my senior age, I think that I am preaching sorter sermons than I did when younger. I average between 13 and 15 minutes, occasionally but rarely as much as 18. This past year I have also become more aware of the length of my sermons. I am in charge of processing the raw recorded footage of service for posting on line. That includes dividing the service into three segments, Opening and Readings (from opening announcements through the sermon hymn), Sermons, and Prayers (the rest of the service after the end of the sermon). So I can easily see the length of the sermon.


I upload the service recording to Vimeo and email links. Internet service out here in the hinterland is sometimes slow so it seems advantageous to divide the service into more easily downloaded segments for viewing. After all, as VP Harris so kindly pointed out, here in rural America we don't even have easy access to Kinko's (not that even city dwellers have been able to use Kinko's for some years, they having been bought out.)

Just took some averages of my last five sermons, curious about the lengths. Average was a little over 15 minutes. But one Sunday was only about 10 minutes---a communion Sunday. The longest sermon was 18 minutes.

This past Sunday I preached from Amos 7. In the message I briefly explained the use of a plumb bob and line. Afterward one of the members commented that he already knew what those were. (I didn't need to explain them.) In contrast, one of the women thanked me for explaining what they were because she did not know! I think this pretty well illustrates how differently people hear our messages. Thank God for empathetic hearers who are patient with their preachers and one another.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dave Benke on July 13, 2021, 01:25:41 PM
Fwiw, I think Invitation is a far more helpful header than Introduction. "My report is about George Washington," is a bad introduction to the topic. "We can only understand where we are by knowing where we've come from, and some of the most important but often invisible aspects of our society, things we have long taken for granted but continue to do so at our peril, stem from precedents set by the genius and wisdom of our first president," introduces the topic in a way that at least tries to invite people to care about the topic. When it comes to sermons, I think the danger for pastors is to take for granted that people care what we have to say. They should care, of course, but they often need a little help. "For my sermon today, I would like to take a closer look at the parable in our Gospel reading..." presupposes that everyone is awaiting with bated breath. And if they really do "hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it" they probably are. But a lot of people aren't there. If the preacher is using a manuscript, that introductory sentence is not worth typing out. Children writing book reports with a minimum word count type out such sentences. "Jesus hid three beautiful gems in a seemingly simple story," introduces the topic in a way that invites people to care and keep listening.

I think you're right.  Invitation is a good word/concept, encouraging active participation. 

Then there's exculpation - this is why it wasn't your fault.  Then re-culpation - sorry, it was your fault.  Mea culpa. 

Dave Benke
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Norman Teigen on July 14, 2021, 10:20:33 AM
A retired Baptist minister's letter was  published by the Times:  "When serving a church whose congregation included theological scholars, I wrestled with whether, or how, to identity the sources of my references without punctuating my sermons with verbal footnotes.  Seeking. the counsel of one of the scholars, I was told, 'Most people don't mind learning that their pastor has read a book.' "
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dan Fienen on July 14, 2021, 11:09:17 AM
One could in introducing a factoid mention in passing the book or speaker that is the source. Not a full bibliographic reference but an indication of where it came from.


When I use illustrations or anecdotes from sermon resources, I will frequently say something like, "I read a story that . . ." or "a pastor was . . ." or something similar. One should never pass of the experiences of others as ones own.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on July 14, 2021, 01:42:51 PM
A retired Baptist minister's letter was  published by the Times:  "When serving a church whose congregation included theological scholars, I wrestled with whether, or how, to identity the sources of my references without punctuating my sermons with verbal footnotes.  Seeking. the counsel of one of the scholars, I was told, 'Most people don't mind learning that their pastor has read a book.' "


While, like Dan Fienen, I note when preaching that something came from another source, without giving verbal footnotes; but I do put footnotes in the manuscript so in future years, I will know where the quote came from. The footnotes also appear in the copies that are available.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dan Fienen on July 21, 2021, 02:34:19 PM
Another benefit that I have found in using sermon helps, like Concordia Pulpit Resources, Concordia Pulpit, or prepared sermon outlines from the seminary journals, is that because I have preferred ways of approaching texts and constructing sermons, I can get into a rut. Looking and learning from others how they approach a text can give me fresh insights and approaches. Helps keep the sermon from being just the same old thing.
Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dave Benke on July 21, 2021, 02:55:27 PM
Another benefit that I have found in using sermon helps, like Concordia Pulpit Resources, Concordia Pulpit, or prepared sermon outlines from the seminary journals, is that because I have preferred ways of approaching texts and constructing sermons, I can get into a rut. Looking and learning from others how they approach a text can give me fresh insights and approaches. Helps keep the sermon from being just the same old thing.

Excellent point, Dan.  The other part of it is that (as one who has preached in one location for a long, long time), people are used to what you preach being preached in a certain way which is your certain way.  When you deviate, they either go
thanks for changing - about time, or
please don't do that again, I like the other way

When I did sermons through outlines on slides/powerpoint for a month, the reaction was "thanks, but please go back to your conversational style."  Huh.  I kind of liked the specificity of the powerpoint, but went back to my old ways.

Dave Benke

Title: Re: Sermongate
Post by: Dan Fienen on July 21, 2021, 03:11:24 PM
I have striven to use a conversational style for all that I typically use some sort of outline to make sure I don't just rambflues. get all the important points in. One of my early inspirations was watching Johnny Carson monologs for his relaxed presentation and handling flubs.