Popular Marriage Author Calls Out Dallas-Area Megachurch Pastor for Alleged Plagiarism

By Josh Shepherd
josh howerton
On March 27, 2022, Josh Howerton, lead pastor of Lakepointe Church in Rockwall, Texas, preaches to congregants. (Video screengrab)

Popular dating and marriage author Sheila Gregoire is accusing Dallas-area megachurch pastor Josh Howerton of plagiarizing other well-known pastors in a sermon this spring.

On Thursday, Gregoire, host of Bare Marriage podcast and author of The Great Sex Rescue, released a podcast that analyzed Howerton’s March 27 sermon on marriage. Howerton serves as lead pastor of Lakepointe Church, a multi-site megachurch based in Rockwall, Texas which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

“In eight minutes of the sermon that I analyzed, (he) had five pithy sayings—and four of them I found sources for other than him,” said Gregoire. In clips from his March 27 sermon, which has recently been removed from YouTube, Gregoire reveals alleged plagiarism of four prominent evangelical pastors: Andy Stanley, Steven Furtick, Rick Warren, and Mark Driscoll.

In a sermon clip, Howerton said: “If you’re single and wanting to find and attract a good spouse—let me say it like this, and this is a mouthful. Become the person the person you’re looking for is looking for.”

According to analysis conducted by Gregoire, the last sentence Howerton states is used 23 times in The New Rules of Love, Sex and Dating, a 2015 book by megachurch pastor Andy Stanley. It also appears on the back cover of the book.

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This is one of a dozen specific examples that Gregoire cites of verbatim quotes or similar wording between Howerton’s sermon and the text of Stanley’s book. Gregoire published a brief video that compares the sermon video with book excerpts, side-by-side.

In his March sermon, Howerton also said: “Whoever you idolize, you will eventually demonize.” Disgraced pastor Mark Driscoll, known for his lead role at now-shuttered Mars Hill Church, has used versions of this phrase for many years, including an example cited from February 2017.

Two other megachurch pastors, Rick Warren and Steven Furtick, are also seemingly quoted in the sermon without being cited. “When two halves enter a marriage, they don’t make a whole—they make hell,” preached Howerton. In a 2018 sermon, Furtick had the same set-up and zinger. Howerton also used a phrase seemingly from Warren without attribution: “Marriage does not create new problems in your life; it reveals the issues that were already there.”

The Roys Report reached out to Howerton via email and his executive assistant replied that he was “unavailable today.”

About six hours following that response, Howerton published a 1,900-word blog post titled “On Sermon ‘Plagiarism’” in which he expands on an earlier Twitter thread (see below) with examples and context. “Because they have a heart to help, almost every pastor tells other pastors to use anything from his sermons that’ll help them,” Howerton wrote on Friday.

At one point he responds to critics who’ve accused him of lying and “passing off info” as if it was his. “To this I say ‘lol’ and ‘haha,’” stated Howerton, using a smile emoticon. “It’s only a lie if a preacher *actually lies* and specifically takes credit for something he knows he didn’t create.”

Gregoire responded on Saturday morning that defending the use of others’ words without citation seems to reinforce “image management,” rather than evidence humility. “The congregation thinks you came up with that yourself,” she wrote in part. “You are giving a false image.”

Plagiarism: ‘Kingdom’ mindset or paternalism?

Howerton, who has been preaching for over 15 years, recently addressed issues of plagiarism, including in a lengthy Twitter thread he posted last year.

In one of 18 tweets, Howerton stated: “A church-sermon is not an academia-dissertation or a book/journalism-publication. We’re not preaching to make ourselves look good, sound smart, or sell something proprietary. We’re preaching for life-change and to grow the kingdom.”

scot mcknight
Scot McKnight, Ph.D. (Courtesy Photo)

In her podcast, Gregoire invited Professor Scot McKnight of Northern Seminary to address issues of plagiarism, a topic about which he has often written. She asked him about the verbatim line seemingly quoted from Stanley’s book.

“That’s a pretty clever line,” said McKnight. “(It’s) very clear that that was taken from Andy Stanley. If the person does not cite where he or she got that line, that’s inappropriate because that’s a thematic line to a sermon that is clever beyond clever.”

On March 16 of this year, about a week prior to delivering the sermon from which Gregoire cited examples of plagiarism, Howerton tweeted a question.

He asked: “How do you clarify in a sermon that a statement / idea didn’t come from you when you got it from someone you don’t want to attribute by name because it would come off as an endorsement and you don’t want to point your people their direction?”

In the podcast, McKnight commented on this specific question in the context of that sermon.

“That’s an indication that you know what you’re doing, and you’re hiding from your congregation,” he said. “To me, (that) is paternalistic and patronizing, and it doesn’t trust your congregation to be able to make its own judgments. I find that reprehensible.”

Plagiarized insights and ‘celebrity image’

Several reported incidents of plagiarism have recently made headlines within evangelical circles.

Former SBC president Ed Litton allegedly preached some plagiarized sermons, and published works by pastors John MacArthur and Voddie Baucham reportedly included some misattributed or unattributed passages.

Andy Rowell, ministry leadership professor at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, commented on the podcast featuring Gregoire and McKnight. “As a preacher, using quotes and outlines from other pastors without letting your audience know is a breach of integrity,” he stated.

In a statement via email, Gregoire conceded that many prominent pastors “would say they don’t care” about being cited without attribution. “The bigger issue is the image of himself that Josh is giving to his congregation here,” she said.

Gregoire explained: “When you don’t share that you got this material from someone else, and then you share very insightful and pithy sayings, you give the impression that you are very insightful, and you are very wise, and you have really wrestled with this material . . . We have to walk with integrity.”

In the podcast, seminary teacher McKnight summed up his charge to pastors on this ethical issue. “If you are using the central theme of someone, cite it,” he said. “If you’re using their main points, cite it.”

Bare Marriage Podcast: ‘Pastors And Plagiarism’ – Sept. 8, 2022

Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.

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24 thoughts on “Popular Marriage Author Calls Out Dallas-Area Megachurch Pastor for Alleged Plagiarism”

  1. This is good publicity for both Ms. Wray Gregoire and Mr. Howerton. Maybe they’ll both grow their audiences following this Very Online dustup.

  2. Rabindranath Ramcharan

    Most of the sermon illustrations I hear on Christian radio have been used by multiple preachers and nobody seems to see it as a problem. But if anybody should be “calling out” preachers for stealing material, I’d have thought it would be up to the preacher whose material is being stolen to do it.

      1. “Become the person the person you’re looking for is looking for”

        That’s the creed of a negative sociopath or sith in star wars lingo. Btw I understand sociopath as spectral thing with the jedi on the opposite end of the spectrum. There is a fine line between a Jedi and a sith.

        There are serious negative issues in church its occupied by a particular odd type of person as a very large group.We have a name for them they are “normal” convinced they aren’t. Such a strange bunch easily manipulated by siths. With no realization the text is art.

  3. It is not only simple to say, “I read this great book by so-and-so and this is what I learned,” it also demonstrates spiritual growth and maturity. Josh Howerton is pretending he has it all, doesn’t learn from others, and that a spiritually mature person never needs to learn from others. It’s a bad example all around. And for Howerton to make a joke about it and pretend he’s going to be cancelled is showing more immaturity. He clearly doesn’t think he has anything to learn.

    1. I agree. It’s easy to say, “As So-and-so says, ‘What he said,’ …” instead of quoting others and not attributing. My pastor sometimes reads a passage out of a book or off his phone during a sermon, if he’s read something that he thinks would be edifying to the congregation.

  4. It is one thing to have an unattributed quote here and there. In two-thousand years of Christian preaching, no one is saying anything that has never been said. It is another thing to plagiarize an entire sermon.

  5. One of the issues here is that the big names whose words he used probably got them from elsewhere. Those big names do not deserve attribution, but in some cases the original sources do.

    Driscoll was well known as a larger-scale plagiarist. Warren I think was on record that he was happy for people to use his stuff, and that he used freely anything good he heard.

    When it comes to those sayings, I would use them and throw in a quick acknowledgement that I heard it somewhere else, but probably not credit my source unless I thought it was the original source.

  6. I’m left trying to figure out why these so-called pastors need to quote each other at all? How about some original insights? How about some in-depth study of the Bible? How about praying for wisdom and insight before getting up to preach?

    If you have to quote someone else all the time, why preach at all? God calls preachers to preach. He does not call them to regurgitate others’ ideas.

    1. “I’m left trying to figure out why these so-called pastors need to quote each other at all?”

      This is the root problem in modern preaching/churches, they are turning to other men to validate what they are preaching, not God’s Law or Christ’s ministry. Preaching with MMLJ/10 Commandments, as their foundation, would expose who they are and what they serve.

    2. “ If you have to quote someone else all the time, why preach at all? God calls preachers to preach. He does not call them to regurgitate others’ ideas.”

      Cynthia, there was a time when I subscribed to the same, but then thankfully someone challenged me to consider why has the idea of pastoring become a sacred cow construct to included weekly 45 minutes of monologue behind an orifice of God’s authority, otherwise known as a pulpit, while the listeners are gathered in rows all facing this mouthpiece?

      After many years of research I have concluded with others (in the minority) that this artificial construct is why the church environment has been so toxic and damaging…giving blogs like this one plenty of examples of abuse to cover.

    3. “How about some original insights?”

      Coming up with pithy memorable sayings and sentences is hard. It’s a talent that few people possess. That’s why even after 400 years, Shakespeare is still by far the most quoted writer in history.

      Far easier to coopt them from elsewhere, especially when Google does all the work for you.

  7. As a pastor, I have taught from up front for years. It’s actually very easy to use a thought/statement you learned from someone who you don’t want to publicly endorse. You simply preface a statement with “Someone once said it like this…” This clearly communicates that the thought/idea did not originate from you. If someone contacts me after a message asking about the source of a specific thought/idea/phrase, I can easily give it to them with a disclaimer of “I don’t endorse everything from this person, but here’s who said that.”

    1. Exactly. Or you can simply choose not to quote it, and come up with your own formulation loosely based on the original quote. The English language offers up so many different ways of saying the same thing, and it’s fun to experiment.

  8. Christopher Hanley

    Plagiarism doesn’t create new problems in your life; it reveals existing issues. And lol and haha? Those sound like the know-it-all guy in Dilbert. “Take the L.”

  9. Through 25 years of sermon prep and pastoring a large church, my motto was “when better sermons are written, I will preach better sermons!” I read sermons, subscribed to sermons, bought sermons and used anything I could get my hands on. Nobody preaches original thoughts for 25 years. Thank goodness this was pre-google.

  10. I think the central problem here, beyond the pride of celebrity pastors, is that in certain branches of the body of Christ, the people worship SERMONS more than they do Jesus Christ. The wonder of the Christian walk is not getting your ears tickled with clever and wise sounding sermons. It is having a personal relationship with Jesus that transforms who you are and how you think. There is a discipleship process that if skipped leaves people as baby Christians. This is not about entertainment, but transformation into the One’s image. The idolatry is substituting entertainment and cult of personality for the actual process laid out in the scriptures on how to become more Christlike. It does not happen by hearing lectures, but by following the Persons who made you. If you love Jesus you will practice His commandments. But people are lazy and look for shortcuts. Hence the worship of Christian lecture instead of the Trinity.

  11. I guess Josh plagiarizes Paul and other authors of the Bible every week? We all read books and say things from what we read without giving “credit”. I think the central problem here is passing judgment on someone you don’t know.

  12. Storm in teacup.
    Casual quotes of ‘quips’ are just normal conversation, else we’d be telling each other we are plagiarising the first person who put ‘and’ between two words. I guess Shakespeare used ‘and’. Am I plagarising him?

    1. Normal conversations aren’t organized speeches in front of large congregations, and they aren’t monetized, as sermons often are these days — at least the ones that end up drawing most attention when it comes to plagiarism accusations.

      In any case, Shakespeare’s works are public domain, so plagiarism isn’t an issue. And even if you tried to pass off his work as your own, his plays and sonnets are so well know you’d quickly be facing public ridicule for trying.

  13. At least half of the quotes cited are versions of memes that have been passed around the SBC from preacher to preacher for decades. In most cases, it’s almost impossible to trace them back to the original sources. Maybe every preacher should just issue a statement acknowledging that much of what they say is not original, that it is derived from formal and informal “research” (Rick Warren’s term). Howerton freely acknowledges that he borrows material from other preachers. Most preachers do. Does this mean that they are proud or lack integrity? I don’t know; the Lord will have to judge their motives, just as he will judge the motives of their critics.

    1. I still maintain my point: A gifted preacher will come up with unique takes on the Bible every..single..time.

      Too much emphasis on, “Read this Christian book” rather than “Just go and read God’s Word” has led to a plethora of poor, failing, and irrelevant preaching. Indeed, some preaching is simple repetition week to week and does not lead to the kind of spiritual growth God calls for. This same pattern can be seen in the kind of Christian music currently being spewed all over the place. The message repeats itself over and over and over….

      I say no. The Bible is the greatest gift in the world. It is new every single morning. The Holy Spirit reveals new ideas, new takes, new messages every day. The old hymns of the church had it right: Words have meaning.

  14. Plagiarism has been a significant problem in our churches for years, this is just another example.
    We would never allow such copying of work in our schools. As a Christian school tech director, I have set up plagiarism checking software for our teachers of older students to use (Google Originality Reports). Guess what, it is the SAME software used by PUBLIC schools! Turn It In is another common product used. The purpose of the software is partly to look for cheating, partly to instruct students in proper and original writing, and proper citation of material used.

    – Greg B.

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