Whenever we create something, we are faced with the need to overcome resistance. Preachers face two kinds of creative resistance. Sometimes that resistance is from outside (like emails from parishioners who have mixed feelings about the sermon); but sometimes that resistance is from inside (like procrastination, fear of rejection, avoiding confronting our own sin that the passage names, or lack of focus).
Amidst either type of resistance, we can often feel that our greatest enemy is the blinking cursor or the blank page, reminders that Sunday is coming, and we still have a long way to go. For more verbal sermon-creators or extemporaneous preachers, it is the mental blank at the end of a sentence. Or the feeling this “just isn’t going anywhere,” when you try to speak the sermon into being. Either way, the pressure to preach and the dead end in creativity come together in an oppressive emotion as the clock ticks.
When the feeling of overwhelm hits, here are a few tips that can provide relief for you while also jump starting the battery on your sermon process. :
- Change the scenery: [Picture: Change of Scenery] Sermons tend to take shape differently depending on where we create them. If you typically work on your sermon in an office, take a couple hours in a coffee shop, or our in nature, or take a drive on a long stretch of road, and talk (out loud) about how the passage connects with you and with your context. Have lunch with leaders and residents from a rescue mission, or a shelter nearby, and listen to the stories of those you eat with. Preaching is about the Bible; but the preachers’ “sermon material” is human life, because the Bible is about God’s interaction with human life. Engage more life, and you’ll find a richer definition of the message of Jesus.
- Root it in Relationship: Sermons have to do with relationships–with the way real people live their everyday lives. This is why sermon preparation isn’t meant to be done in isolation. Talk with someone close to you (a friend, a preaching partner, a mentor, or your spouse/significant other) about:
- What you found compelling about this passage, or what troubles you with it
- What the passage calls for from its hearers
- Obstacles that keep you–and others–from living out the implications of the passage
- How this passage is authentically “Good News” for those who hear.
- Try the Pomodoro Technique: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has long been a great method for getting an effective workout; the Pomodoro technique takes those same principles–high intensity work, followed by a period of less intense work–and applies them to the creative process. Set a timer for 25 minutes, during which you’ll type, sketch, and work on your sermon continuously; then (for 5 minutes) do something else that seems unrelated to preaching. If you naturally tend to procrastinate, this will give you dedicated windows to work hard, while also offering set times in which you can pick your distractions back up again. If even 25 minutes makes you want to procrastinate, set the timer for 15 minutes. For a preaching preparation schedule that is broken down by 15 minute “jump-starts” see Practicing the Preaching Life chapter 6.
- Revisit a meaningful worship experience: Engage a written prayer that’s been meaningful for you; listen to a specific song that’s given you life; listen to (or read) a sermon from a preacher who has demonstrated a Gospel life before you. Preaching is worship. At its best, sermon-writing is also a worshipful act. If you’re feeling “stuck” in writers’ block, re-engaging a worshipful experience can reconnect you with the purpose and meaning of your preaching. After your worship experience, try preaching extemporaneously about the goodness of God you see in the passage.
- Study the scripture until you find something new. Many times preachers are stuck in their sermon process, not because of a lack of creativity. They are stuck because of a lack of content. Our content does not emerge from creativity. It emerges from biblical content. When we do not see anything new to us in the text, we do not have the intellectual energy that comes from fresh insight. If you find yourself stuck in the sermon process, and the first four suggestions are not working, ask if you are lacking creativity or lacking content. Force yourself to apply #3 (intense work for a limited time) to your biblical study rather than your ‘sermon writing.’ Keep pressing yourself into the Bible until something new-to-you emerges that challenges your soul.
Here are a few other resources that help engage the creative process and systemically overcome writer’s block:
The Write Stuff: Crafting Sermons that Capture and Convince by Sondra Willobee
Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley
Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Unforced Rhythms by Gwen Jackson
focusatwill.com (this is a music service that provides tailored music that propels you toward focus)
© 2020, Ethan Linder and David Ward
Ethan Linder is Pastor of Hospitality, Collegians, and Young Adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and the Editor of The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development writing staff.
David Ward is Professor of Homiletics at Indiana Wesleyan University and the general editor for WesleyanSermons.com. He is also the author of Practicing the Preaching Life with Abingdon Press.