The sermon deadline is approaching way too fast. Your temples tighten and stomach clenches.
You get your coffee, read the lessons, and open a new document on your computer: white screen, blank page, blinking cursor.
Where are the words? Where are the ideas? What are you going to say?
Where do you even start?
Close the bible. Shut down the computer. Sip the coffee. Breathe.
And now, pick up a pen.
Grab a piece of paper. Turn on some music. Slip off your shoes.
It's time to play.
Doesn't this feel different?
The question What am I going to say? creates pressure. Builds tension. Raises stress. If the answer is not forthcoming, you panic, worried that if the words aren't coming now, they many never come.
But start with play, and the atmosphere shifts palpably. You are here to discover. To explore. To experiment. What might you find? What will emerge?
Do you feel the difference?
One focuses on production. The other on process.
One requires answers. The other simply asks.
One shuts down the full resources of the mind. The other opens them.
If you've only ever started your sermon prep with gritted teeth, we have an invitation for you. It's time to try a new way: begin with play.
How? We'll get to that.
But first, let's convince your logical left brain why letting your right brain have a turn at the wheel might get you to your destination more effectively.
Play Relaxes Us
We're better thinkers when we're relaxed.
Writing sermons can be stressful, and unfortunately, our minds don't know the difference between the stress of a blank page and the stress of a being chased by a bear.
If cortisol is released, our fight or flight instincts are activated, and thinking shuts down.
Obviously, this hyper-focused survival state does little to help us preach a sermon that matters.
Ask any creative what they do when they feel stuck. They'll tell you they play.
They may not use that word, but they'll tell you they go for a walk, take a nap, make some tea, work in the garden, read someone else's words, doodle on the edge of their agenda..
They give their mind space to work out the problem while engaged in another, usually enjoyable, task.
Creative play, even for just a few minutes, helps us remember the fun of creating, of making something new, of fooling around with shapes, colors, ideas, words.
It eases us into a workflow without the panic of production so that we're enjoying the process, not fighting it.
Our sermon is a work of creation. Beginning with play invites us to enjoy the process so we can complete it with less stress and more joy, which ultimately results in a better sermon.
Play focuses us
Watch any child immersed in play, and you'll see deep concentration and total focus.
When we spend a few minutes getting lost in the sensory experience of holding a slick pen, feeling the slight roughness of paper, spreading colors, and immersing ourselves in music, we enter a different mental space.
Professionals refer to this state of mind as "flow."
We let go of demands, to-do lists, and the need to "produce" a "product" called a "sermon."
We become present to the task at hand.
Spending a few minutes engaging our physical bodies as well as our minds brings our whole preaching self to the task of creating a sermon.
Play opens the creative Wells of the brain
There is growing evidence to suggest that our most creative selves emerge when we coax them out with tactile experiences like pen, paper, and song.
Problem-solving becomes more fluid. Stories come alive in our mind's eye. New and unexpected connections form between the text and the wider world.
Plus, the more we exercise our creativity, the more facile it becomes.
Every creative endeavor—from dribbling a soccer ball, to singing an aria, to painting landscapes, to writing essays—becomes more adept and accessible the more we exercise it. The more regularly we show up to the well of creativity, the more readily our bucket fills with ideas and inspiration.
As preachers, entering sermon prep through the frame of play and creativity may help us envision the Good News in ways we and our listeners have not yet seen.
Approaching the blank page through creation may help us imagine God's will on earth as it is in heaven—increasing our capacity to connect passages, scenes, words, and ideas in ways we've never discovered before.
To help you experiment with how creative play might enhance your sermon prep and improve your preaching, we're inviting you to join us for this FREE Creativity Challenge!
Stop and Smell the Ink! 5-Day Creativity Challenge
Every day for five days, you'll receive a new exercise in your inbox.
When it's time for you to work on any aspect of your sermon:
grab some paper and gather your pens/colored pencils/markers
fill your mug
light a candle and start some music
set a timer for ten minutes
complete the exercise
This isn't about perfection or artistry!
It's about making yourself—your whole self—available to the Holy Spirit. It will prepare and renew you while the Spirit renews your congregation with the Word of God through you.
Try this new approach for five days and see what happens. You may be surprised at what shifts in your perspective, your prep, and your preaching!