Friday, October 17, 2014

Preaching and Dry Spells

I have never had writer's block.  At least I have never had it in the stereotypical way.  My image of someone with writer's block is of a tormented, heavy-drinking genius tearing paper out of the typewriter, balling it up and inexplicably missing the waste basket next to the desk only to furiously start again.  That is how it is right?

I have never had this because, as a preacher, I work on a weekly deadline.  Journalists, I suspect, know what I am talking about.  The deadline--the risk of getting up in church and having nothing to say--clears the mind beautifully and means that something gets created in the time span given.  That said, there are times when sermon preparation is easy and it flows right along.  Then I am prompted to ask "where did that come from?"  However, there are times when the process takes forever, the weight of words is vastly heavy, and the result is never quite what I want.  When that happens I have a tendency to whine on Facebook and to my wife.  I am not proud.

Of course, environmental factors play a huge part in this.  Right now we are gearing up at church in a number of ways.  My job has changed, too.  We used to have an "Associate Minister for Religious Education."  Now we have a parish intern (and a good one, too).  This has meant different sorts of duties for me that need to be fit into an old job.  I have supervision, of course, which comes with various trainings.  I am much more involved in our Religious Education program for the kids.  As a long-term pastor I am now taking on more responsibility in areas of congregational life that I was previously less involved in.  We are adding programs--like Pub Theology--while trying to maintain old ones--like Philosophers' Club.   My kids are at particularly parent-heavy ages.

What this has meant is that the actual cycle has been been broken up a bit.  During dry spells, sermon writing becomes a task that is wedged in between administering the discretionary account, getting caught up in a spontaneous (but important) conversation, sending emails, running programs, and whatever else needs doing.  The problem is, however, that inspiration can't really be scheduled.

For a good preaching ministry there must be a steady pattern of " again...preach again" that runs in the background seven days a week.  When this stream is flowing steadily and well, worship is invested with the spirit and has spirit in the moment.  If not, then the process is more like a person looking for the car key.  There is a lot of wandering, swearing, self-doubt, and foolish relief at its final discovery.  To fix this problem there needs to be down time.  There needs to be tasks not of the "required" kind but of the kind that call to you.  Non-deadlined creativity helps.  It doesn't even need to be all that good.  I use music, photography, and writing in a weblog that no one reads unless I write the word "ukulele".

Anyway, these spells pass and the stream runs again.  I have enough faith to believe in that!  However, my thoughts go out to all those people--pastors and others--who use their creative gifts for the common good.  This is a difficult and busy period. On Sunday one of the "pillars" of the church said, "I do not envy those pho preach in times like this." Here's praying that your stream doesn't run dry, that you find a way to break up the jams, and that you are able--not matter how hard the task--to keep on creating what this world needs and requires.

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