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There are times in every pastor’s life when he simply gets in a rut in sermon preparation. He knows the passage he selected for preaching as far as the preaching points. He understands how it connects to the modern audience. Yet, when he sits down to actually put it all together in sermon form his creativity is nowhere to be found. He is stuck in introduction idea waste land. We all know that once we get passed the introduction, the rest is easy (assuming we have done the initial exegetical legwork).
So, how to get out of a rut is the question at hand. We know what the rut is. We have all been there. Some of us have “lived” there far longer than we ever thought we would. So, is there a way out? Are there any GOOD suggestions related to how to get out of a rut? Well yes (if I may be so bold), allow me to share a few methods to help with rut disposal .
How to Get Out of a Rut: Get Out of the Study
I talk about this concept in detail in Crossing the Homiletical Bridge but for this article let me just make this a challenge for you. So many pastors and preachers think that the only place to prepare a sermon is in a designated office (like the church study or perhaps a home office). And there is certainly nothing wrong with having a regular place. But when you are in a rut in creativity, perhaps a change of environment is exactly what you need.
Grab your laptop, Ipad, or just a legal pad and head out. Tell your secretary (if you have one) that you will be back in a few hours. Head to a place where people are. Starbuck’s is a good place because other people are there working as well. As you see them clicking away on their keyboards it just may trigger your imagination or even better, give you just the introductory thought you are looking for. If Starbuck’s is not your thing then maybe a park or a mall is. I used to love to hang out at the mall and just watch people. Boy would the illustrations unveil before me as I watched people do their thing. I would grab a cup of coffee and sit on a bench and the ideas would flow. Then I would race back to the office to finish the “masterpiece.”
Hey, when the question “how to get out of a rut?” is prominent in your world, break your office routine and pattern. Get out of that place where you are surrounded by hundreds of dead tbeologians (books) and go somewhere where LIFE is happening. I believe you will be glad you did.
How to get Out of a Rut: Call/Skype a Pastor Friend
Usually we have pastor/preacher friends. They, of course, are in the same game as we are. When “how to get out of a rut” is the question of the hour, perhaps a call or a Skype visit to a pastor friend is just the ticket. (side note: if you don’t have Skype or don’t even know what it is, do us all a favor and get in ’90s with us – the world has passed you by). Contacting a pastor friend sometimes is all it takes because he may just have a great idea to get you started.
I have a good friend, in fact my best friend from seminary, that I would talk to from time to time when I was in a rut. He was always happy to share a thought or two. Interestingly I never used his ideas BUT his ideas always pointed me in a direction. Not that Brent’s ideas were bad, they weren’t. They were great, for HIM! But they were awesome idea-starters for me. Plus it was just good hearing from him as he was in another part of the country.
So, perhaps you should get face to face with a pastor friend over Skype. Perhaps a call is just the way to settle the issue of how to get out of a rut.
How to Get Out of a Rut: The Sticky Note Method
This may seem like busy work and somewhat pointless, but don’t push it away just yet. The idea is to grab that yellow sticky note stack on your desk and jot down every idea you can come up with in 30 minutes. Make it a game or a challenge to jot down as many as you can within the time frame. Just for fun get some of your staff in on it, if possible. Tell them the sermon concept and turn them loose.
Take each note and stick it to the wall. If the staff helped you, dismiss them and tell them later which idea you selected. If it was one from a staffer, reward them in some way (double cheez from Mickie deez). If there were no staff involved, just look at all the ideas you jotted down and start taking down the eliminated ones. Typically within an hour you will have the issue settled.
This approach can turn the burden into a blessing. It may seem strange but it will reveal to you that you really do have ideas within you and all around you.
How to Get Out of a Rut: Do Something Else
Sometimes we just need to realize that it is no sin to not prepare the message in the present moment. If you have always prepared at a certain time, hey, maybe that’s the problem. A change of pace and routine is never really a bad idea. Business executives, when faced with major corporate issues and are low on ideas, are always advised by consultants to change their routines and patterns. For example, take a different route to work even of it is out of the way and takes more time or perhaps go in 2 hours earlier than you have to. The idea is to do something different to break the pattern and to generate a new level of creativity.
It is the same for pastors and preachers (or anyone for that matter). Just give yourself permission to put it off just for now. Head to the driving range and imagine each ball is a problem member and smack them with a 460cc driver. You will chuckle and start to unwind a little. And perhaps the perfect idea will come to you as you slap Dave the deacon over 275 yards. I may be suggesting the extreme, but probably not. Break your pattern, if only for a season. I believe you, and your members, will benefit from it.
I hope these few ideas have helped you answer the question of how to get out of a rut.
~ Tony Guthrie, Ph.D. ~
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