I heard an interview recently with the prolific author, Nora Ephron.
When asked how she can write so much and have so many ideas, she said something like, "I don't believe in writer's block. After all, a piano has only 88 keys, but is music limited?"
Like writers, musicians, and other creatives, preachers also have to generate ideas week after week.
And staring at the 26 letters on the computer keyboard can feel as intimidating to preachers as staring at those silent 88 keys must feel to a composer.
Sometimes, even when we've done all the "right things"—we've read the texts, searched the commentaries, and bent our heads in prayer—the sermon deadline approaches and we have nothing to say. We feel "blocked."
In fact, with Holy Week and Easter hard on our heels, we might be already wondering what we'll pull out of our hats this year.
But when I read about overcoming creativity blocks, there seems to be a common thread: momentum.
Sermon writing is an art, not a science. There's no formula or seven-step action plan that will work for every preacher, and no preacher will be served consistently by a favorite technique.
But what nearly always works is the feeling of getting started, of getting somewhere, of making progress. In other words, momentum.
What Stops Momentum? The Roots of "Preacher's Block"
Perfectionism puts us on edge as we wait for the perfect message, the perfect words, the perfect illustration, the perfect ending, the perfect opening line.
We even sometimes insist we have the perfect cup of coffee, ambiance, book, music, and the perfect time to get our rear ends in the chair to write.
Perfectionism keeps us in fear-mode, focused on what we don't yet have rather than trusting that the due diligence we have applied to our sermon prep, our prayer, and the presence of the Holy Spirit is already enough.
Misunderstanding of Divine Inspiration
Yes. Of course we rely on the grace of the Holy Spirit to show us the sermon message and give us the words.
But maybe we have the wrong impression of what that means.
Experience may have fostered the impression that we're dependent on a capricious Spirit who is indifferent to our deadlines, a Spirit who tosses a few crumbs of ideas at random times, content to watch whether we'll discover them in time.
We assume we must find the crumb and then run to our desk to write it down before the idea flits away.
But who's waiting on whom?
Are we waiting on the Holy Spirit? Or is the Holy Spirit waiting on us?
Maybe depending on the Spirit to show up with an idea before we ever sit in our chair and put hands to keyboard is faulty. Perhaps the Spirit is depending on us to show up, open up, and write up—regardless of mood or "inspiration."
How to Create Momentum: Start Writing
You're sitting at your computer. The screen is blank, and you don't know what to say. What do you do?
Write something. Anything!
Write about how you feel at the moment.
- How do you feel about needing to write a sermon?
- How do you feel about the fact that nothing jumps out at you in the text?
- How do you imagine the characters felt when they needed a word from God and didn't hear one?
- How do you feel about the possibility of not producing a great sermon? What are the consequences? Will God love you anyway?
Write about how you feel about the characters in the story.
- Are they likable? Infuriating? Intimidating?
- Would you like to have dinner with them?
- If they came to dinner, what questions would you ask them? What would you want them to ask you? What would you want them to ask your congregation?
Write about what you believe. This text might confirm, trouble, or reverse what you believe about God, the church, and/or the world.
- What are those things?
- What do you believe about God that is revealed here? What do you believe about the church?
- What do you believe about the world and God's redeeming grace and longing for justice?
Write about the character of God you see in the text.
- Does God come across as paternal or maternal?
- Omniscient or still figuring it out?
- Do you want God to behave the way you see in the story? If so, why? If not, why not?
Write out the beautiful or revelatory language you found in your sermon prep.
- Did you find a really cool line in a commentary or poem? What struck you about it?
- Go further and write more. How does it relate to the text?
Once we have words on the page, we see we've accomplished something. Then it gets easier.
Once we've started, we probably find some thoughts on the screen we didn't know were hiding in our heads. A ghost of a sermon emerges from those 26 keys.
Now we have some direction.
Now we have a little momentum so the sermon task doesn't feel quite so daunting. We've started, and continuing becomes the path of least resistance.
Maybe the Spirit is just standing next to our office chair waiting for us to show up to work.
Maybe "Preacher's Block" is actually not knowing how to jump off the starting blocks.
After all, it's not as if the Spirit hasn't given us plenty of material to work with. Rather, we get bogged down by perfectionism or a false belief that we have to wait on the Spirit.
Create momentum by jumping off the starting blocks: just start writing.
Write anything to get going and let the Spirit push you the rest of the way.
WonderinG if this idea would work for you?
Join our 5-day Sermon Boot Camp(s), and discover what happens when you set aside a designated time for sermon prep and get to work—whether you feel inspired or not.
How does it work?
- Meet us online one hour a day (3:00 p.m. EST) for five days
- Enjoy the camaraderie of colleagues and the guidance of a BsP mentor as you write your sermon in real time
- Learn a clear, organized process for finding and defining your sermon message—a process you can use week after week
- Finish your sermon by Friday with less stress and more joy
We're offering two weeks of Boot Camp to help you get your Holy Week and Easter sermons written efficiently and effectively during this busy church season.
Join us for one and get 20% off the second.