Thursday, August 30, 2012

Overcoming writer's block with the help of others

Every pastor has struggled with it - the blank page. No words are more difficult to write sometimes than the first words. I was looking over some notes from a conference I went to a while back and came across these notes taken from a lecture by Anna Carter Florence:

Writers block is rarely about being blocked, usually it has to do with being empty. If your spouse locks you out of your house, the problem isn't the door.

At first glance, I get a little defensive when I read these words. Nobody likes  to be told the problem is with them. We'd rather think that there is simply a problem with method or technique. Change our technique and we'll be well on our way. I'd rather not admit that I have times of emptiness.

Over time, though, I've come to realize that this is more true than I'd like to admit. I've come to realize, there will be times of emptiness for every preacher. If you prepare a Sunday sermon and at least one Bible study a week with just a few weeks of vacation each year, you are creating nearly 100 sermons a year. That's a high demand on one's creativity. For some of us, it's just more than we can generate. Trying to tackle that volume all on our own will lead to seasons of emptiness.

Dr. Florence's advice, fortunately, was not to put more pressure on the preacher by telling them to just dig a little deeper. That advice feeds into the myth that one person is capable of being the one voice a church needs to hear from all year long. I just don't believe that anymore. Churches should hear from multiple voices. Some churches are picking up on this and moving towards a team approach to preaching.

For those of us in churches that still follow a more traditional pattern of hearing from one voice most of the time, Dr. Florence suggests that the preacher learn to draw from more sources than one's own brain during the sermon preparation process. I don't mean simply copying another's words or thoughts. I mean something more akin to group work. At the conference, we did exegetical and homiletical work with small groups of other ministers. It's amazing how this encouraged the creativity in all of us.

I've occasional borrowed this method of overcoming emptiness by reading an upcoming text in staff meeting and allowing the other staff to speak of what they see in the text or even how they might preach the text. I also have a pastor's group I meet with regularly and we've occasionally done something similar. In each instance, I have left the group setting with more ideas on how to preach a certain text than I ever would have had on my own. I've also felt sermon preparation has moved towards being a church activity and not simply something the pastor does all by himself.

What do you think? Do you agree with Dr. Florence that writer's block is a result of emptiness? Also, do you ever attempt to prepare sermons with someone else? How has that worked for you?

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