Most pastors would probably say that preparing for and delivering Sunday’s sermon, something that a large majority of people would claim to be terrified or possibly even completely incapable of doing, is actually usually the easiest part of their job. Pastors do what they do because they love to study and preach the gospel, not necessarily run deacons and elders meetings, discuss budgets, hire and fire staff members, and respond to the next round of complaining e-mails from members who always have a better idea than the pastor. So to them, locking themselves in their office with nothing but a Bible and a blank Word document is heavenly.
But that doesn’t mean it always comes easy. I mean, fifty-two weeks a year, Sunday after Sunday, the next sermon always arrives seven days later. Never later, never sooner. (Oh wait, I forgot about Wednesday night! Ahhhh!!!!) And sometimes the well simply runs dry for the next topic, or scripture, or illustration, or whatever. But you are far from alone. Preacher’s Block is a serious issue that affects four out of five pastors today (and the fifth one suffers from habitual lying).
Yes, I agree with all the other pastors, writers, and self-help gurus who have their detailed lists of ways to garner inspiration: nature walks, scripture reading, conversations with God, taking part in an activity that temporarily distracts your mind, exercise, sleeping. It’s all good and all effective. Your next idea is closer than you think, and you usually need to simply get away from the computer and distract yourself for a while in order to get it.
But I’d like to challenge you with the notion that your next idea . . . is one you had already. The question is, did you write it down when you got it?
You know when you see or hear something on TV or in a movie that gives you an idea for a gospel parallel? Write it down.
Do you ever read something in a book or hear something from another pastor or speaker that gets your tail wagging about a sermon idea? Write it down.
Are you ever alone in your car when a great ice breaker or joke or illustration comes to mind that would work great in a sermon one day? Write it down.
Have you ever been reading God’s Word and the Spirit spoke to you in a familiar passage in an all new way that you wish you could share with your congregation right then, if only that was the passage you were preaching on this week? Then say it with me:
Write. It. Down.
Keep a notepad and pen handy. Or a notes app on your smartphone. Or e-mail or text yourself. Or even leave yourself a voicemail (and don’t forget to tell yourself to have a great day!).
Whatever the idea, wherever you are, however you do it, get that great idea documented somehow. But you’re not done. No one wants piles of torn pieces of paper in their desk drawers, or e-mails archived away where you will never remember them, and sticky notes all over their car dashboard. They all need to be filed away in a single box or drawer: the “idea box” or “idea drawer.”
But you’re still not done. Who wants to rummage through an “idea box” of five hundred sheets of paper to try and find that one idea you thought you had once that had something to do with Jonah . . . or was it Joel? Jehoshaphat? No, you need to classify every idea/topic/joke/illustration you write down. And classify each one under as many topics that apply: scripture passage/theme/illustration type. However many ways you may want to revisit it again later.
So now next Sunday when you’re stuck coming up with your sermon about the parable of the prodigal son, go to your idea box. Do you have anything under Luke 15? How about the prodigal son? How about forgiveness or grace? Whatever the Preacher’s Block situation, if you take the time to write down, categorize, and file away these different ideas that come to your mind in the oddest of times, after a while, you will more than likely have a wonderful encyclopedia of ideas to help get you past the next blank computer screen.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Want to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.