By Craig Thompson
I try to not get caught up in the “who has a harder job?” debate. Many people lament the challenges of pastoral ministry, but I try to focus on the joy of being paid to study God’s Word.
Nevertheless, one of the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry is the responsibility to have a sermon prepared every single week. For most pastors, preaching is their greatest joy. It certainly is mine.
However, it’s also daunting to know you have to have the equivalent of a term paper ready to “present” before a gathered congregation every week.
The challenge of studying, reading, and writing every week can often lead to writer’s block. And I imagine pastors struggle in different aspects of the sermon.
Maybe you battle with practical application or careful exegesis. Maybe you struggle to “land the plane” with a strong conclusion. I wrestle the most with finding useful illustrations.
Regardless of where you struggle, here are some suggestions to help you finish your next sermon or writing project during those times when you hit a wall.
1. Take a walk or go for a run.
If you’re stuck, go outside for a walk. Spending time around nature has a way of re-orienting our thinking. Likewise, exercise often stimulates our subconscious in a way that allows our brains to connect dots we might otherwise miss in the middle of our work.
I’ll often lace up my running shoes and look over the main ideas of my sermon right before I head out the door for a run. Running alone outside takes away other distractions and allows me to work through my sermon in my head. This usually results in illustrations, application, or even structural changes I hadn’t considered.
2. Talk it out.
If you work in an office with other staff, talk to them about your sermon, especially about the areas of it where you’re having problems. If you don’t have other people in your office, find a couple of people you can call and talk through your sermon problems with over the phone.
The act of saying words out loud will help you overcome writer’s block. Other times, it may be that the person you’re talking with can provide insight you hadn’t considered.
3. Grind it out.
Sometimes you just have to push ahead. It may be that what you produce will never make it to the pulpit on Sunday, but by grinding forward in the hard times, you may be able to piece some things together.
Just as blind squirrels sometimes find acorns, pastors with writer’s block sometimes stumble upon good ideas when they simply commit to the writing.
4. Go to your tools.
Yes, in seminary you were urged to write your own sermons and to only turn to your tools as a sort of last resort. I agree with this—most of the time. But, Sunday is always coming.
If the cobwebs won’t seem to clear, run to your commentaries, books of sermons, or a familiar website. Maybe the ideas of others will jog something and help you move forward.
5. Take a break from preaching.
If you haven’t found something to preach by Saturday night, you can’t just call an audible. However, if you’re running into brick walls week after week, it’s possible what you really need is a vacation.
Let someone else preach to you, rest your brain, allow the Holy Spirit to bring you refreshment through worship and the Word, and watch as God clears your mind for more effective preaching.
Preaching is fun, and if you only do it occasionally, it can even seem easy. The real challenge of preaching isn’t writing two or three sermons; it’s writing two or three sermons a week for years on end.
The effort to be faithful to the Scriptures and relevant to your hearers can feel overwhelming and difficult. But, when writer’s block comes on and threatens to rob you of the joy of preaching, remember, He who called you is faithful.
Every sermon need not be a home run. Be faithful and trust in the power of the Word of God. The Lord will never allow His Word to return void.
CRAIG THOMPSON (@craig_thompson) is the husband of Angela, father of four, and senior pastor of Malvern Hill Baptist Church in Camden, South Carolina.