Four Ways to Get Unstuck in Your Sermon Writing without Simply Working Harder
To misquote a recent blockbuster: “Dread it, run from it, writer’s block still arrives.” The original quote was about destiny and today’s post is about destiny too.
Destiny, in this sense, is about the inevitable. Every preacher goes through periods where they feel like they are running on empty.
You rack your brain trying to get some kind of breakthrough.
You lay awake at night mulling over the details of your topic trying to find the perfect introduction.
You wrestle with your sermon outline and find it becomes increasingly confusing.
You are working hard but, despite this effort, you remain stuck.
You are looking for some kind of traction that will allow you to move forward but, like the car stuck in the mud spinning its tires, working harder is not always the solution.
Sometimes you need to step away from the grind and try a different approach to getting unstuck.
In this post, we are going to look at 4 things you can do to break through your writer’s block and get unstuck without working harder.
We are trained to think that working harder will lead to outcomes we want. We are told that if you want to get something you have to make an effort, you have to be more, do more, and find some way to achieve through your diligence. But in preaching this isn’t always the case. Preaching is a mix of human effort and an outpouring of divine grace. When we find ourselves empty, unsure, and stuck, we have more options than simply relying on our own ability. We can turn to God in prayer.
The preacher who prays connects their efforts to the divine effort and gives their work into God’s hand. It is here where the preacher finds solace, peace, and direction for their preaching.
The rhythm of the contemporary church is steady. Sunday is always coming, and the preacher must always be creating, thinking, inspiring, and working toward the next sermon. Even still, the preacher must rest. God did after six days of creation and you should when you find yourself stuck. Taking a break is the quickest way to relieving the pressure of a sermon that isn’t coming together.
The preacher who rests when stuck will return to their work with fresh eyes.
3. Employ the “Shower Principle”
The Shower Principle comes from an episode of 30 Rock. Alec Baldwin’s character is stuck, and instead of focusing on the problem he is practising his putting game. He explains the Shower Principle refers to “moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand–for example, when you’re showering.” Essentially, by not focusing on the problem and focusing on an inane task (like showering, or putting) you allow yourself space to be inspired.
I’ve experienced this in my academic work. Early in the writing process, I was confused and struggling to articulate the connection between one author’s work and what I was trying to argue. I wrote and wrote and got nowhere. I eventually gave up and started riding on my exercise bike. Almost immediately, I gained surprising clarity and my thoughts, which had been convoluted and messy, were suddenly clear and concise. I wouldn’t be surprised if we all have experiences like this and if you do, please share in the comments if/when you have experienced this kind of clarity.
The preacher who engages in intentional distraction will create an opportunity for inspiration to occur.
4. Talk to People
Sometimes it feels like preaching is meant to be a surprise, but it’s not. Yes, we should be looking to inspire and refresh timeless truths. But that doesn’t mean that the preacher has to function in a vacuum. In fact, some of my best sermons have become such because I talked about my ideas with another person. One of two things is bound to happen: first, as you try to explain your sermon you will find yourself naturally overcoming some of the barriers you couldn’t overcome as you worked in private. Second, you will find that your friends, family, and congregants have something to say about your topic that will spur your sermon onto greatness.
The preacher who is stuck should talk to people about their sermon. Share your ideas, try to explain your thoughts, and listen to what people say.