One of the greatest challenges of pastoring is coming up with something fresh to say to the same people week after week.
As a pastor, I’ve been preaching for over 30 years. Over 4,000 messages. For many years I would regularly run out of things to say – or, more accurately, new ways to reinforce the same foundational truths - but Sunday was coming whether I was ready or not.
If you’re a preaching/teaching pastor, you know the Saturday Night Dread. The “what am I going to say this week that they haven’t all heard 100 times before?” panic.
It still happens to me occasionally, but it doesn’t happen as much as it used to, because over the last three decades I’ve learned a few tools that reduce the pressure and make Preacher’s Block a little less frequent.
What To Talk About?
The main issue in Preacher’s Block is coming up with a subject. An idea valid enough to be worth saying, but fresh enough to keep people’s interest.
That’s easy when the audience is new. Or when you’re new to them. But when you’ve been at the same church for years, even decades, you can’t keep saying what you’ve said before – even (especially) if you’re reinforcing the same foundational Bible principles you’ve taught dozens of times.
Over the decades I’ve discovered a handful of tools that help in this task. They’re not the “right” way to preach and/or prepare. They’re some tools that work for me. And maybe they’ll help you, too.
1. Preach In A Series
Yeah, I know. This is not exactly a new idea. But of all the ways to reduce the “what am I going to preach about?” panic, this is the best one, by far.
By preaching a series, you can reduce the number of times you need to decide what to preach on from 50 per year to 12 or fewer per year.
Plus, people like knowing where things are going. The congregation can follow your train of thought better when you lay down principle after principle over several weeks, instead of jumping from subject to subject every Sunday.
Preaching in series also gives you the chance to plan longer in advance. As you’re preaching one series you can be studying for the next series and brainstorming ideas for the series after that.
2. Prayerfully Go Where The Passage Takes You
Over the last few decades I’ve learned to trust God’s Word more.
Here’s what I mean. For too many years, I started my sermon prep time with a pre-set idea of what I wanted to say. Then I’d find supporting passages for that premise. My premise. Not necessarily the passage’s premise.
I wasn't trusting God’s Word to speak to me. I was asking it to speak for me instead. (What Bible scholars call eisegesis, instead of exegesis).
I try not to do that any more. Now what I do is take the next passage in the series and sit with it for a while. I read it, pray over it, study it, meditate on it… and I write down everything that I find in it.
This method accomplishes two goals. First, it puts God’s Word back in charge of the process, not me. Second, it takes the pressure off me to create something new. I’m a discoverer, not an inventor.
Finding what’s already in the Bible passage is so much better than trying to make the passage say what I want it to say.
The best teachers are good learners. This process helps me be better at both.
3. Pre-Announce Next Week’s Passage Or Title
Every week for over 25 years I supplied two things for the bulletin – the title for this Sunday’s message and the title or passage for the following Sunday’s message.
This helped in two ways. First, it forced me to think at least a week in advance about the message. This reduced the Saturday Night Scramble significantly. Second, it gave the congregation a sense of place. It told them where we were heading, so they could follow along better.
4. Keep An Active Devotional Life
I wrote about this in a previous (and surprisingly controversial) post, Why I Don’t Go to the Bible to Find Sermon Material. That article has been re-posted and commented on in several other blogs, so I won’t go over the details again. But here’s the essence of it.
As pastors, we need to resist the temptation to treat the Bible as sermon material. It must always remain God’s Word to our own souls first. If we do that, God will speak to us through it. And when he does, we can take what he has said to us and pass it along to others.
This keeps us growing in our faith, passionate about God’s Word and (not surprisingly) far less likely to run out of great material to share with others.
5. Don’t Worry About Rhyming Or Alliterating Sermon Points
This was the subject of another previous, and also somewhat controversial blog post that has also been reposted in several other places. So I won’t go into detail on this one either. You can read all about it in 5 Reasons to Stop Making Your Sermon Notes Rhyme.
In short, rhyming or alliterating sermon points has two downsides: First, it doesn’t feel honest to younger generations, it feels fake. Second, it takes a lot of time and energy to come with the rhyme or alliteration – time and energy that would be better spent producing great, real-life-applicable content.
Think about it. How many times has a major part of our Preacher’s Block been trying to come up with the right word that starts with the letter “E”, so the sermon points will spell out G.R.A.C.E?
Rhymes or alliterations have a place – especially in Cornerstone Content you want people to remember easily. But most of the time you can drop this unnecessary brick from your load. You’ll feel less stressed, work more efficiently and preach better, too.
6. Know And Follow Your Body Clock
Everyone has physical rhythms of life that work for us. There are times of the day, the week, the month and the year when we are at our best – and other times when we’re at our lowest.
As ministers, we owe it to ourselves and others to know what those times are. To keep ourselves spiritually, emotionally and physically fit. And to put time in God’s Word when our mental, emotional and spiritual clocks are best suited for it.
I don’t think well when I’m tired. No one does. So I do most of my writing and studying early in the day. But I’m hungry to be replenished at the end of the day, so I do most of my reading then.
Your body clock isn’t the same as mine. Get to know and follow the rhythms of life that work best for you.
When you do that, you can prepare better, preach stronger and have a greater impact on the people God has called you to bless.
Copyright © 2019 by the author or Christianity Today.
Click here to read our guidelines concerning reprint permissions.