Please raise your hand if you have ever felt burned out on preaching . . .
Look around and you will see that you are not alone. I know that many preachers hit a wall at some point and really have to power through the weekly process of preaching. When that begins to happen more and more often, the practice begins to weigh heavily on the preacher and burnout ensues.
You just can't get up the energy to prepare anything and the entire experience begins to take a turn for the worse. Not only does one's preaching cease to be a joyful expression of one's call, but the transformation and healing that should be supported by the art of proclamation wains for the preacher and the congregation.
Like most of faith, there are no easy fixes. Sorry.
Still, here are a few tips that I might be so bold as to offer. I have been a solo weekly preacher for nearly 17 years and these are a few things that I have tried that seem to give me some respite from the pressures that come with preaching. None are particularly profound, but simple reminders of the care we must take as we approach the privilege of preaching the Word.
1. Share the pulpit:
This is one of those, "Well, duh!" points. One of the best ways to avoid burning out is simply to NOT preach as much as you are now. Sharing the pulpit -- especially during times when you are still at church -- is one of the best ways to expose a congregation to a different voice, lift up new issues and generally get folks out of the pattern that the only "real" way to hear the gospel preached is through "our" preachers.
2. Take your vacation:
While I do think it is important to be present during worship and NOT preach, it is just as important to step away from the setting in order to refresh and re-energize one's mind and body. Do not go on vacation only to get back on Saturday in order to preach on Sunday. Too many pastors with good intention but lousy precedent-setting act as if things will not go well if he or she is not there. This is simply not true; if it is true, then the leadership model needs to be examined. A tired pastor, in body and spirit, does more harm than good not just to the preaching moment but to the overall health of the church.
3. Be transformed:
As soon as preaching turns into a "job" or a "chore," you run the risk of closing yourself off to the transformation you can experience through your own preaching. I have always found that my best sermons are ones where I felt like I learned something in the preparation and proclamation.
4. Mix it up:
Give yourself permission to try preaching in different ways. However you preach now -- behind a pulpit, walking around, heaving words, etc. -- try something different to keep yourself and the congregation on your collective toes. Walk around, use a hands-on activity, ask questions, wear something different, install a zip line* . . . whatever. ;-)
5. Series and Lectionary:
I have found that switching between preaching a sermon series and following the Revised Common Lectionary forces some creativity of thought and practice. When the week-to-week details may start to get a little boring, I have found that trying a series on a topic or theological concept shakes things up just enough to get me engaged again.
6. Leave them wanting more:
Often we put too much pressure on ourselves to be profound and to end each sermon on some grand hermeneutical climax. I can think of a few folks who are amazing preachers who espouse wisdom and grace with each sermon, but most of us are not that gifted. While every once in a while God will gift us with a gem, most of us fail miserable when we try to hard to be awesome. What if you simply left folks with a question to ponder along with an invitation to keep talking? Frame the Scripture, lift up the issues and then admit that you have no idea where to go next and who knows what may come of it all.
7. Find others to think with:
In today's world, there is really no excuse for NOT finding a place where you can gathering with other preachers for support, resource-sharing and encouragement. Whether online or in person, having other preachers who might share a new insight into the Scripture or commiserate with you about about the struggles of the preaching process is invaluable.
8. Think "body of work":
When it comes to avoiding burnout, one of the most important things to do is to see the preaching moment as only one part of the work that most pastors do at a church. Combined with pastoral care, education, administration, etc., preaching is just one more way to engage with the congregation about the nature of faith and God's calling on our lives. While the congregation may sometimes overly focus on preaching as the overriding measurement of the effectiveness of one's pastoral leadership, it is important not to buy into this way of thinking. Pastoring is so much more than preaching.
Again, there are no quick fixes, but I hope that these help you.
Preach on preachas!
*If you do install a zip line, please let me know.