“Where do you get your ideas?”
This is the second most frequently asked question I have encountered during my writing career−second only to: “How much money do you make?” I used to find it strange that prospective writers would be so desperate for tips on getting ideas. My cynical and unspoken response to that would be, “If you don’t have anything to say, why try to write? If you have no ideas, put down the pen, walk away, and no one gets hurt. Save a tree and yourself a lot of bother and frustration.”
It took me awhile to understand what people struggle with is not so much finding something to say as it is finding a new way to say what they want to say.
If this doesn’t describe the preacher’s predicament, I don’t know what does. It’s not that we’re looking for new things to say, at least I hope not. We are not charged with the task of creating new theology or developing new religious spin-offs based on Christianity.
As preachers, we already know what we want to say. We have been given the message that we are to deliver. We echo the words of Paul in Corinthians, “For I received from the Lord what I handed on to you.”
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to confront a blank computer screen every week. Even if we know what we’re supposed to say, the problem is finding different ways to say the same thing. That’s not easy.
In trying to decide how to say what we have to say, we are buffeted between two cross currents in our culture. On one hand, we live in an entertainment culture. Too often, the congregation becomes the audience, looking to the pastor for entertainment, amusement, and novelty in his or her “act.” The need to say something in a different way can turn into the need to perform. On the other hand, we live in a rerun culture. Studies have shown that a significant percentage of TV viewers actually prefer reruns to originals. Similarly, there are congregation members who want to hear the same thing in the same way each week. Any deviation will be viewed as heresy.
What’s a pastor to do?
For the preacher who is comfortable in the rerun culture, I guess I have nothing to offer. There’s no need. Just keep doing what you always do.
For the pastor who is a frustrated standup comic or a Garrison Keillor wannabe, I don’t think we should be having this conversation.
For those who believe the Word is living and active and seek to use the gifts God has given them to:
- inspire with fresh insight
- open eyes with unimagined perspective
- challenge people to break through boundaries and experience the grace of a God who makes all things new
Being asked so times over the years about where my ideas come from aroused my curiosity to the point where I spent a considerable amount of time studying the issue.
Next month I’ll try to distill some of what I learned in my years of stalking the wild idea.