Dealing With Preacher’s Block

I'm struggling with writer's block right now(Creative Commons image by Jose Betancur on flickr)

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 a 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 anddigest 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 You Tube 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.