You’ve heard of writer’s block, right? The blank page just stares back at him–and nothing. The ideas have dried up. Inspiration and motivation have taken a vacation.
Do preachers ever get preacher’s block? Sadly, they do. They look at the Scriptures from which they are to preach, and nothing comes. Few things are more frightening or discouraging. Even expositors, who know from which book and passage they shall preach, have those holy and inspired words look back at them and sense little movement, little excitement, little… anything! What should a preacher do? I’ll list off a few things.
First, take a spiritual inventory of your personal relationship with Christ. Are you still communing with him in prayer and study of Scripture even if it’s not directly tied to your sermon? Are you only in the Scriptures because you are compensated for doing so? Jesus is not simply your job–He’s your Lord and Savior. It’s good to take a spiritual inventory to (1) see if you are in Christ, and (2) evaluate your relationship and your engaging in the spiritual disciplines.
Two, once you’ve prayed, get away from distractions. For the preacher and pastor, this may mean getting away from the office or getting out of the house. “The office? That’s where all my books and commentaries are.” And… your point? Go to a coffee shop, find a quiet spot, and clear your mind. I go up to a local eatery called Corner Bakery here in town. Other times, I find a small hidden room in the church. Once a year, I check into a hotel for a couple days, leave the TV off, and just decompress. I’m thankful for our Colorado Baptists that have a camp in Monument called Ponderosa. Pastors can take a night or two free of charge to get away, either by themselves or with their family. You may have some places like this near where you live. Ask around. You’d be surprised. And your congregation would be grateful.
Thirdly, read meaty works on the subject or the passage from which you preach. Tread lightly here. You could find yourself standing behind the pulpit, preaching Edwards or Spurgeon or Keller or Piper or Warren. Some do go so far as to preach other people’s sermons, salving their conscience a bit by giving full attribution. Fellow pastors, they called you as their pastor to feed the sheep. We already have an Edwards, Spurgeon, Keller, Piper, or Warren. Go and drink from the fountain of the Spirit, but recognize that the Spirit has given us theological and pastoral giants on whose shoulders we may stand. They may shake out the scales from your homiletical eyes.
Fourthly, ask yourself if you’re trying to be too creative or clever. Are you taking the Word and its power for granted? Are you saying to yourself, “Yes, I know the Word is there, but if I just had that zinger, that one-liner, that illustration, then this sermon would have power!” While illustrations and the like are, as Spurgeon said, like windows that shed light on the Scripture, the true power lies in the Word, which will accomplish all that God seeks it to accomplish” (Isaiah 55:11-12). Maybe you need to back off your cleverness and get back to the pure preaching of the Word.
Lastly, talk to another pastor about this. He may be on staff with you, he may be a fellow pastor in the area, he may be a mentor from days gone by. God has given us friends who have journeyed this path as well. You’re not alone. Pray together with them. Share with them. Ask their advice about a passage. Or talk about something completely unrelated. You can overthink yourself into a corner.
What are some things you’ve done to break the preacher’s block?
One thought on “What to Do When You Get Preacher’s Block?”
I believe that too many evangelical preachers rely heavily upon their own personal walks with Christ and often subject their parishioners to their own readings and struggles. I would recommend that a keen balance between using a Lectionary and personal and corporate discernment. For example, the readings for this Sunday based on the Revised Common Lectionary were: 1 Samuel 1:4-20 and 1 Samuel 2:1-10 • Daniel 12:1-3 and Psalm 16 • Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25 • Mark 13:1-8.
A combination of several of these or even just the Gospel reading would have made for a great passage especially given the attacks in Paris and the current cultural and political climates of the day.
Too many evangelicals have gotten away from preaching the word of God and instead preach on books that talk about the word of God. It is “milk.”
I am encouraged that you write about having others speak into you and retreat is helpful. I would simply add that we can understand what more of the Church universal is reading and preaching on a particular Sunday and join along with them.