4 Kinds of Support Preachers Miss When They Work in Isolation

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As congregational leaders, we cannot receive the support from the communities we lead in quite the same way our members can.

We cannot vent about a staff member’s challenging work habits with folks in our congregation.

We cannot seek wisdom from a parishioner about how to counsel another church member through a confidential crisis.

Nor can we talk through a professional opportunity at a different church with our parishioners.

Such disclosure would not serve our congregations—and may even hurt them. Professional and personal boundaries are necessary for healthy service and relationship.

Unfortunately, as a result, many preachers feel they’re on our own. And that’s not healthy.

It’s not healthy for our spirits nor the development of our craft.

Preachers need to be part of a church community as much as parishioners do.

So where can preachers find the community they need? Other preachers.

Consider these 4 occasions when preachers need other preachers.

Creativity Desert: How Do I Offer Something New?

Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10.30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea. 
—Steve Jobs,  Business Week 2004

Preachers are one of the few (and perhaps only?) “performing artists” who create fresh, complex, nuanced content every week—without coaching or editing or a team.

  • Journalists, authors, and writers of everything from t.v. shows to billboards to radio spots have editors, writers’ rooms, and creative teams.

  • Public speakers work with coaches and speech writers, honing their presentations until they just put the speech on “repeat.” They coordinate with conference leaders and other speakers to offer experiences designed to help their audiences learn and grow.

  • Even musicians who riff on the spot are drawing on decades of work with teachers/instructors, where they developed musical tools they can mix and match with ease thanks to countless hours of repetition and practice. And often, they play in a group or band where one person’s riff leads to another’s improvisation, creating something newly inspired every time.

As preachers, we proclaim the same Good News every week. We enter this Good News from different passages of Scripture, but those of us who’ve been preaching for a while have been through these texts several times already.

Finding new ways to proclaim Christ crucified and risen—so that the words do not merely settle into the familiar patterns our listeners are anticipating—can be challenging.

But thinking outside these patterns is far more difficult—maybe even impossible—alone.

Creativity does not happen in a vacuum. It comes from encountering new ideas, having new experiences, and then making new connections so that a text or concept comes to life in novel ways.

Other preachers can provide this creative inspiration:

  • Over and over, I hear how valuable preachers find it to discuss the coming week’s Scripture with other preachers (we’d love for you to join us FREE on Mondays at noon CST for our Live Lunch-Hour Lectio on the RCL gospel passage)

  • Listening to other preachers’ sermons can help us internalize the way they effectively use rhythm, volume, anecdotes, or other strategies to keep listeners’s attention

  • Providing constructive feedback to others can make us more conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of our own work

If your sermons feel stale and you’re wondering how to improve them, find a group of other preachers and just start talking about your sermons: the Scriptures, your speaking strategies, liturgical ideas you’re implementing in your services.

You’ll be amazed at the difference this single shift will create.

Practical FeedbacK: Will you Check My Work?

We need each other to check our work.

We need to read each other’s manuscripts, critique recorded sermons, offer suggestions, and occasionally say the hard words, This won’t preach.

Sometimes we walk into the pulpit confident about our message—but something goes awry.

The message doesn’t connect. People are fidgeting. They don’t make eye contact as they leave the church. And we have no idea what just happened here. We need to help each other sort what went wrong.

Other times, we need to hear what we did well and why our sermon was so effective, listeners were moved to tears.

Sometimes, we just need to hear that what we offered was enough.

We also need to offer each other encouragement: you can do this hard thing.

Every. Single. Sermon.

Pastoral Dilemmas: What Do I With This?

I’ve had a lot of conversations with preachers lately who wonder what do do with:

  • listeners on the opposite side of the political fence from the preacher

  • tough Gospel lessons (“If you remarry it’s adultery!” “Sell everything you have!”)

  • recent national events

  • a negative email from a parishioner

  • being judged by other preachers that the only “authentic” sermon is one preached without notes (with which I adamently disagree—just sayin’)

  • being part of the #MeToo survivors: should they disclose?

A preacher’s life is a fulfilling one. What’s better than sharing Good News all the time? At the same time:

The Good News isn’t always welcomed by listeners.

The Good News is harder to identify in some Gospel texts than others.

Figuring out how to offer Good News in a way that lowers defenses (rather than raising them) is really tricky (and we don’t always get it right).

Preaching is downright vulnerable—so it hurts to receive unkind emails or feel judged that our sermons don’t “measure up” to others’ standards.

And…and…and….

Getting reality checks from colleagues—those who know how hard this really is and those who have received the same kinds of wounding comments—normalizes events like these and keeps them from growing out of proportion.

Plus, it just plain helps to ask for advice sometimes. Sometimes we need to ask someone we trust, “What would you do?”

Even if we don’t accept the advice, the very act of voicing our worries and concerns to someone who “gets it” shares and lessens the load.

Personal Crises: Who Will Support me?

There are times when life is heavy.

A tragedy. A diagnosis. A rupture in relationship.

If we’re going through a hard time personally, we may need a spiritual director and therapist.

We might also need someone who knows how hard it is to preach in the midst of our own personal turmoil. If we have to keep something private, especially when the lessons hit close to home, it can help to process the sermon with another preacher—and know they are praying for us while we’re preaching.

This need came up among several divorced and remarried preachers when the Gospel lessons addressed divorce.

For many, it was helpful to have a place to share with other preachers the challenges of this particular text:

To openly discuss the lessons—their context, intent and interpretation—with other preachers.

To share sermon ideas and solicit feedback for how a message might be received.

To process fears and concerns about how listeners might judge a divorced or remarried preacher.

To know someone else would be praying for them that week—and would follow up after to see how it went.

To receive the Good News from each other in the places they were still experiencing shame or grief.

Some days in the pulpit are harder than others. We’re always exposed, and some Sundays the question we have to ask is how much exposure can we endure?

Having colleagues who know it’s going to be a tough Sunday, who pray for us, and who check in afterwards can be enough to get us through the morning.


Develop Your Preaching Community

At Backstory Preaching, we are committed to providing this type of support for each other.

We recognize the importance of our mission to preach the Gospel. And we recognize how much we need other preachers who understand the demands of preaching.

We’d love for you to get a taste of this community in one of our offerings.

The Collective

  • Weekly preaching support.

  • Scripture discussion with other preachers.

  • Sermon feedback.

  • A place to share challenges, quandaries, and questions.

  • And more.

Come see how preaching in community can help you navigate your call with greater joy, confidence, and support.


FINAL CALL!

THE BSP MENTORSHIP

January 16th to June 30th, 2019

Applications close Wednesday, October 31st.

You’ll establish life-giving preaching processes and mindsets while improving your craft so sermons genuinely connect with your listeners.

With the support of a mentor in a small, dedicated group of like-minded preachers, you’ll discover how different your vocation feels when you’re preaching in community.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to revitalize your preaching life