As I look back over the past thirty-one years of local church ministry, there were many times I walked into the pulpit wishing I wasn’t preaching that day. Between the endless days of meaningless meetings, visits to the hospital, phone calls to shut-ins and other unmet congregational needs, my soul was dry as Ezekiel’s bones (Ezekiel 37:3). Yet again I had not made time for the self-care, the spiritual preparation and the Sabbath time that I needed to be able to share the Good News of the Gospel to my congregation. I knew what I needed to do, but I never made it a priority. Until I discovered the difference between preaching without attending to my inner life and preaching as one who did, my sermons were rote, facile, and dry. I needed to refill the well.
Refill the well.
As goes your prayer life goes so goes your preaching. If you are not taking time for regular devotions, you are not caring for your relationship with God in a way that sustains and inspires. Refill your well through prayer, study of the scriptures, meditation and the regular use of devotionals. Use such prayer books as A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, The Book of Common Prayer, The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, Benedictine Daily Prayer, or Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbrian Community. Each provide a different but traditional Christian prospective of prayer. Change up your devotional routine to keep it fresh by trying new forms of prayer. Make it a priority to pray first thing in the morning, before your day officially begins. When I’m really working at filling the well, I pause in the middle of the day to pray. I read scripture using the lectio divina method as a way of opening up God’s Word in new and interesting ways. I also found that taking a walk, whether around my church or in the neighborhood is always good for my soul.
Participate in a sermon planning collective or group to stimulate ideas can help.
Regularly schedule retreat time for the planning of sermon series. Take time away from your ministry setting to have concentrated time with friends and colleagues to talk through creative themes, successful series and possible new concepts that will encourage your congregation and intrigue worshippers to return time and time again. Remember your colleagues need encouragement as much as you do and you can be a balm for each other’s sin sick souls. As Paul told the Romans, “may we be encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:12).
Create a feedback loop for your preaching.
Many clergy invite faithful congregational members to participate in a weekly feedback group. They ask them to listen closely on Sunday morning and then bring suggestions as to how the sermon might have been improved. You may want to give them a form ahead of time to fill out that gives you specific information. Send the weekly text and theme to them before you preach. Use a set format of questions for your feedback sessions. Ask specific questions that will help you consider alternatives that you did not choose in preaching the text. Whatever way you choose to use a feedback loop you will sense encouragement and prayerful support from your congregation in ways you never realized.
Above all, be encouraged. Even the best preachers of our time find their well dry from time to time. When you are feeling tired and depleted and the words are not coming as readily as you would like, do a self-check. Get back to your devotional routine. Spend time in prayer. Take a walk. Go on silent retreat. Know that when your inner life is sustaining your weekly discipline of writing and preaching, you will find yourself enjoying your role as preacher because your well is full and your inner life fulfilling.