Eventually every preacher gets stuck where Moses spent some time. In the desert, going nowhere, staring blankly at sheep.
Fortunately it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I recall Haddon Robinson warning a gaggle of green wannabes that sermon prep can become dull and mundane. “Like hammering doghouses together on an assembly line.”
The next time you’re staring blankly at the monitor or rummaging the Internet in desperate search of an idea it’s time for a little self-assessment. Chances are you’ll find your drought started in one of four areas: your circumstances, how you cultivate creativity, conflict in the congregation or you’re sensing the approach of your ministry’s closure.
Four questions should help you dial it in.
Circumstance: Am I managing well?
Circumstances will drain us if we grant them control. Sure, we all have stretches of extraordinary demands we have to power through. But if that typifies your ministry its time to ask yourself a hard question. How good are my management skills?
- Do I manage time well (email, web browsers and telephone off) when I’m studying?
- Am I doing what can (and should) be done by others?
- Do I invest time in people who will leverage the ministry?
- When was the last time I said no?
Remember the 80/20 rule: 20% of your activity produces 80% of your ministry results. So find the 20%, focus on those few things and let the rest slide.
Creativity: Am I in a rut?
Pastors are creative. They love working with ideas and flourish on arranging them in new ways to produce innovation (or progress, at least). But creativity needs to be cultivated lest you pump that reliable well dry by drawing from it too often.
Don’t think you have a creative bone in your body or thought in your head? Fear not, creativity can be learned. The research is in and its good news.
The good news is that creativity training that aligns with the new science works surprisingly well. The University of Oklahoma, the University of Georgia, and Taiwan’s National Chengchi University each independently conducted a large-scale analysis of such programs. All three teams of scholars concluded that creativity training can have a strong effect. “Creativity can be taught,” says James C. Kaufman, professor at California State University, San Bernardino.
Try something different to get the creativity flowing again:
- Resolve to go a whole month without consulting a single commentary
- Before you start writing anything make at least 25 fresh observations about your text. Lean into the passage. (ask the Who? When? Where? Why? How? questions)
- Develop a habit of observing the text closely. Read it carefully, thoughtfully, with pencil in hand.
- Schedule a specific day given entirely to research and sermon prep. This is far more effective than working it in where you can.
- Find a “brainstorming partner” who will talk through the preaching text with you.
- Meet with a sermon prep team who will help you sharpen your preaching ideas and clarify illustrations and application.
- If you rely mainly on one sermon style, switch to another and master it.
- If need be, hire a coach.
- READ MORE AND DIFFERENT STUFF! Creativity thrives in an environment of constant input.
- Caveat: Know when you’ve gone too far or when you need to slow things down a bit. If the guy walking point gets too far out in front of the rest of the squad they often mistake him for the enemy!
You owe it to the Lord that you not make his Word boring to people who listen to your sermon. You owe it to the people you shepherd to be the most effective communicator you can. You owe it to your ministry to continually cultivate creativity for the long haul.