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Almost everyone has heard of writer’s block.

Writer’s block is a well-known reference to a lack of ideas upon which to expound. This loss of words is a secret fear that writers are likely to experience sooner or later. Did you know that preachers face a similar occupational challenge? Preachers are continually called upon to bring the word, not only on Sunday morning, but also at Bible studies, funerals, conferences, civic events, and the like. Is it any wonder that there are times when it seems they have nothing new, fresh or worthwhile to say?

Although most preachers would rather no one knew of this secret fear, this is an occasional (and sometimes recurring) reality of the preaching life. This unpleasant reality can be thought of as a mini burnout. Its cause can be traced to a loss of mental, emotional and spiritual energy. This situation occurs whenever the expenditure of one’s internal resources is greater than one’s replacement of them. The key to recovering from preacher’s block is to find ways to restore the expended energy. Having faced this situation a time or two, I want to offer a few suggestions.

Mental Solutions

  • Pay attention to the message that your mind, body and spirit are sending you. Recognize that this mini burnout is a signal that it is time for some rest and relaxation. There is no need to feel guilty about needing a break. Even Jesus took time away from the demands of ministry.
  • Read a good book not related to ministry, perhaps a novel, biography, or an item on your favorite hobby. This type of reading not only provides a mental break, it is likely to contain ideas that can be filed for use at a later date.
  • Read a good book, an article or an essay on theology. It is easy to relegate such reading to the academic past. With all the demands on a preacher, it seems like a waste of time to read and digest the works of Schleiermacher, Barth, Herzog, Gutiérrez, or Weems. Yet, this type of reading stretches the mind and keeps the imagination sharp. It challenges the preacher and yields insights that may not be gleaned any other way.
  • Check the Internet for inspiration. The wise person intentionally seeks wisdom beyond his or her own, even on the Internet. While discernment is necessary, many websites offer thoughtful perspectives on an endless variety of topics. This could be the spark that gets creative ideas flowing again.
  • Check out a few light-hearted YouTube sites. Play some Internet games. My favorite is Mahjong. I’ve downloaded almost every (free) version I could find. I sometimes sit and play this game while I watch television. Somehow it lessens the guilt of doing something so mindless since I’m multitasking.

Emotional Solutions

  • Take a break. Spend some time outdoors, go to a movie or spend time with family and friends. Go for a drive. Take the scenic route. Look for anything that might have changed or that might be new. The change of pace will do you good.
  • Share your situation and talk it over (in person or by phone) with a friend who is also a preacher. This is a good time to remember that there are some things that only another preacher will understand. You won’t have a lot of explaining to do because a friend who is also a preacher most likely also has moments such as this. Be sure that this is someone who will encourage, inspire and hold you accountable.

Spiritual Solutions

  • Take a spiritual break. Take a “Prayer Walk” or a “Listening to God Walk.” Read a portion of the scripture that you haven’t read in a long time. Since the Bible is comprised of many books, one cannot expect to keep them all in the forefront of one’s mind. When was the last time you read Obadiah, Nahum, Philemon or 3 John?
  • Find a different way to pray. Pray in color. Write your prayers. Sing your prayers. Pray with the body. Exercise and pray. Dance your prayers. Draw your prayers. Pray in silence or aloud. Pray in a sitting, standing or prostrate position. Pray in the language of the spirit. Sing in the language of the spirit. Praying in new ways opens one’s heart, mind and spirit to God and to people.
  • Pray and trust that God will give you the words to say. On countless occasions, there is no prior warning or time for preparation. In these instances a preacher has to pray and expect that God will give the right words for the moment.
  • Spend some time alone, late at night or early in the morning, before daybreak. Light some candles, put on some good music, exercise, pray and meditate or just enjoy the peace and quiet. This is my personal favorite. At these times, I enjoy Christian jazz and yoga. For years, this has been an occasional event for me, but lately I’ve begun to make it a daily practice. It helps keep me grounded and refreshed on a regular basis. As a result, inspiration generally comes easily.

Remember, even Jesus took a break. Preachers who take time to integrate a few of these suggestions never need fear preacher’s block again. They will know what to do.

 

The Rev. Dr. Alphonetta Beth “Alfie” Terry Wines is a pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian. Throughout her ministry she seeks to encourage compassionate living through a deeper understanding of the biblical text. Wines received both the M.Div. degree in 2002 and the Ph.D. in Biblical Interpretation in 2011 from Brite Divinity School on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Ordained in 2008, she is an elder in the United Methodist Church.

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Charles Gordon

commented on Feb 21, 2013

Thanks for your encouragement in this article. It was refreshing for me.

Lafern Cobb

commented on Feb 21, 2013

Rev. Wines, you are a breath of fresh air gently clearing the room of a foul stale odor. I can't thank you enough for this article! Blessings!

Keith B

commented on Feb 21, 2013

Our job is to preach the word....not always have something fresh to say. Our inspiration comes from the text.

David Buffaloe

commented on Feb 21, 2013

interesting - but a Pastor? 1 Timothy 3:1-2

Joseph William Rhoads

commented on Feb 21, 2013

Pray in color? Pray with your body? Dance your prayers? What do these even mean? kb and David, you see, this is the natural consequences of disobedience to 1 Timothy 3:1-2.

Keith B

commented on Feb 21, 2013

Joseph.....agreed. She should ask for her money back on that MDiv and PHD

Ricky Freeman

commented on Feb 21, 2013

I agree with kb. Our job is not to come up with something fresh and new. We are simply to preach the Bible message. It's not about our ideas, it's about God's word. We should restrict ourselves to being messengers of God's word.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 21, 2013

@Joseph, how is any of this a consequence of disobedience to 1 Timothy 3:1-2?

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 21, 2013

@kb and Ricky, so when you preach, I'm assuming that you simply stand up and read straight from Scripture without adding any of your own words. Is that correct?

Bill Davis

commented on Feb 21, 2013

Thanks for an excellent article--both practical and inspirational. May God continue to anoint you, and bless others through your ministry.

Minister Sanders

commented on Feb 21, 2013

Preaching has become entertainment. We need to stop scratching itching ears and deliver the Word of God, Straight, No chaser. When you pray and ask God through the Holy Spirit to give you insight into his word, he will always give you something fresh from his Holy Word, for in Philippians Paul tells us that God will supply all of our needs Amen!

Keith B

commented on Feb 21, 2013

@Bill....I get my ideas and inspiration from the text. It is then my job to flesh that out and teach the congregation what it says. I've never had Preacher's Block....except when I was trying to decide what topic to preach on. That's why it's easier to just go through a book verse by verse. Try using a lectionary if you must.

Matthew Craig

commented on Feb 21, 2013

I love how Jesus was able to choose creative examples to clearly communicate God's word. As a preacher I find inspiration in the word, and want to communicate what it says so it is understood clearly. My Creativity is important when it comes to putting things in terms people can understand - especially people who didn't grow up in church

Joseph William Rhoads

commented on Feb 21, 2013

1 Timothy 3:1-2 makes it clear that only men, who meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-2, are to be the pastors of a church. Other passages indicate that women are not to exercise authority over or teach men in the church. When you depart from this clear teaching, it makes it easier to depart even further from orthodoxy, for example "pray in color" or "dance your prayers" whatever those things are supposed to mean.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 21, 2013

@kb, if you've never had Preacher's Block, then consider yourself very lucky. Keep in mind, though, that this article was not written for you! This article was written for those who HAVE had Preacher's Block. And if preachers are anything like writers, I suspect that most have experienced it at one time or another. So, if there are preachers who do experience Preacher's Block, and an idea or two from this article happens to be helpful to them, why does that bother YOU?

Keith B

commented on Feb 21, 2013

@Bill.....I've been working on my sermon for John 11 today. I am trying to figure out how I'm going to approach it. But I am not "blocked" and trying to find something new and fresh to say. The topic is already decided -- it's the Gospel. Not a topic I come up with.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 21, 2013

@Joseph, ah, I see. This horse has been beaten to death on this site in the past, and I personally see no prospect for any sort of edification from rehashing this debate; so I have no plans to go there. You are free to express your position, others are free to express theirs; and if we can manage to leave it at that, I think it would be for the best. I will say this, on an unrelated note: I don't know how you can possibly dismiss something as unorthodox when, as you have twice admitted, you don't know what it means. I think it is irresponsible and intellectually lazy to render judgement on something without first having taken the time and effort to understand it. I've had seventeen-year-olds in my English literature classes write book reviews that make your same argument: "I didn't understand Shakespeare's Hamlet, but I think he was full of it." Needless to say, they don't do very well in my class. I expect much more from someone who is, presumably, an educated pastor.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 21, 2013

@kb, again, if you don't get "blocked," wonderful! Give thanks to God for your good luck, and remember that this article is not for YOU. It was written for those who aren't as lucky as you are, and who may be helped by it. From the comments section, it does appear that those for whom it WAS written are being helped. Shouldn't that be a cause for REJOICING, rather than for criticizing? Anyway, I wish to say something concerning the idea of having something "new and fresh" to say. Saying something "new and fresh" does not mean saying something unbiblical. Surely you are familiar with the story in Luke 24 of Jesus talking to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The story tells us that Jesus, beginning with Moses and continuing through the Prophets, explained to them how all of these texts pointed to him. Now, the disciples had heard all of these stories and texts many times before, I'm sure. But when they heard these stories told by Jesus, you better believe that it was new and fresh to them! Jesus retold them the story of the OT in a way that they had never heard before. And the end result was that "their eyes were opened" and they were able to see Jesus for the first time for who he really was. And if you read the rest of the NT, you will discover that the followers of Jesus did the same thing. The apostles in the book of Acts, and Paul in his epistles, retold the story of the OT in a way that people had never heard before, with the result that people believed in Jesus as the promised "Messiah", the anointed one, the King of all creation. So, if this is what Jesus and the preachers and writers of the NT did, why should contemporary preachers not follow the same example. See, the purpose of having something new and fresh to say is not be original or novel or to add to the word of God. The purpose is to confront and correct our old and mistaken ideas of what the story says.

Bob Fry

commented on Feb 22, 2013

Good article till I got to the end, yoga and Jesus do not go together.

Joseph William Rhoads

commented on Feb 22, 2013

@Bill Williams. You're right. I judged "praying in color" before I understood what it was. So I looked it up. I now know what it is. And I now can judge it. Thank you.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 22, 2013

@Joseph, I'm happy to hear that. One of the marks of intellectual maturity is the ability to understand something before evaluating it! Enjoy your weekend.

John E Miller

commented on Feb 26, 2013

I'm surprised that an article such as this is taken seriously by those to whom the word of God is not only precious but carries supreme authority. "Bill Williams" I would respectfully comment on two matters in your post. Luck plays no part in the life of a believer. As far as I am concerned someone who is indwelt by the Spirit of God has no call to either bless or curse "his luck" because it does not exist.He/she is a child of he omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God and that God has called Himself Father. As far as the teaching of Jesus to the disciples following His resurrection is concerned, careful study of the scriptures shows that it was that event that radically changed their understanding of all His previous teaching. Two events revolutionised the lives and hearts of Christ's followers, the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. These two essential truths, and in the case of the second an inward experience, separate the child of God who has been born again from those who approach the Christian faith from an academic point of view or oppose it

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 26, 2013

@John, I appreciate your comments. Allow me to offer a response. First, I get what you're saying, but don't read too much into the phrase "good luck." It's just a saying, but rest assured that I believe fully in the omnipotence, the omniscience, and the omnipresence of God. Kb claimed that he's never experienced Preacher's Block; and from my experience from the world of writing, that is very rare. I simply suggested that he be grateful to God that he had been blessed that way, and that he not be too critical of an article that was not written for people like him in mind, but that was apparently helpful for those for whom it WAS written. I hope that clarifies that point. Second, I agree with you completely about the impact that the resurrection had on the disciple's understanding of Scripture. Keep in mind, though, that in the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, which is the story I was specifically referencing, the disciple did not yet know that Jesus had been raised from the dead. It was only AFTER Jesus had retold them the story of the OT in a "fresh and new way" that their "eyes were opened" and they witnessed the resurrected Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are necessary in the Christian life. But these do not take the place of the telling of the Biblical story that is done by preachers. Remember that earlier in Luke, Jesus had said, "If they do not believe Moses and the Prophets, they will not believe even if someone rises from the dead." He was speaking this parable to the religious leaders, and of course he was speaking of himself. This is why Jesus never appeared to those who had opposed him. They were convinced in their own interpretation of the Scripture, so much so that even if they HAD witnessed the resurrected Jesus, they still would not have changed their mind. Because the disciples WERE open to hearing the story in a new way, on the other hand, they DID witness the resurrected Jesus. My point to kb was simply that there are many in the pews who listen to a sermon and they THINK they know what the Bible says, but some of it may very well be wrong, or at least incomplete or unbalanced. The purpose for finding "new and fresh" things to say when preaching is because every generation must rediscover the story of the Scripture for themselves, and strip themselves of the "doctrines of men" that are constantly attaching themselves to God's word. I hope this clarifies what I wrote. One final point: I noticed that you put my name in quotation marks. I mentioned this when we first had this conversation, but in case you missed it or you forgot, my real first name is Michael. You are free to call me that if you'd like. Although you have no way of knowing, of course, if that really is my name, or if it's Bill Williams, or any other name I happen to put. Just like I have no way of knowing if your name really is John E Miller. But that's fine because it doesn't matter either way. In this kind of forum, we just have to take each other at our word, and let our comments stand on their own merits, not on the combination of letters that appears above the comment. I don't know why you have this obsession with knowing my name; but believe me, even if you knew my full name, it wouldn't make any difference in terms of my comments. I am just as obscure as anyone else on the internet. Unless one is well known and one's name is easily recognizable, it just doesn't matter. If you don't like that I comment under the pen name "Bill Williams," tough. I don't know how to change the name on my account. Just call me Michael if you want, and let's move on. Have a blessed day!

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