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Hitting Your Creative Peak

5 tips for healthier sermon prep.

Hitting Your Creative Peak

Several years ago, I was in the Boston area visiting the seminary from where I graduated. I walked into the office of my former professor of preaching, Dr. Haddon Robinson, and asked, "Have you had any new insights about preaching recently?" He replied, "I've discovered that our brain works on a ten-day creative cycle. So, if a person wants to prepare their best sermons, they need to begin their preparation at least ten days in advance. This will ensure a person will hit their creative peak somewhere in that cycle." That simple, yet powerful idea revolutionized my approach to sermon preparation. Up until that time, I had typically prepared my entire sermon on the Thursday before the Sunday that I was to preach.

On Thursday, I would read the Bible text in the morning, then study some exegetical commentaries, and take notes. I would then read a couple Communicator's Commentaries and perhaps a sermon or two related to the passage, and then formulate an outline. ...

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Tom Backer

July 03, 2015  3:34pm

Great insights Ken. You reminded me that spontaneity does not emerge in the absence of structure in any creative process, including preaching preparation. I like the contemplative dimension of how you approach the text in your preparation process. You mention analysis (e.g. exegesis, word study, historical context etc) and artistry (pastoral imagination informed by biblical theology and contemporary perspectives.) Sermons that give evidence of both tend to capture my head and my heart.

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Tom Backer

July 03, 2015  3:29pm

I like the comparison between preachers preparing sermons and novelists writing manuscripts. Preaching involves analysis (exegesis, translation etc)for sure, but it needs artistry and creative expression that is memorable and - as Haddon would say - has one big idea. I have preached a few "Saturday night Specials" and have found that I get the job done but without the benefit of the contemplative mulling over of the text in non-hurried everyday activities. You have reminded me that spontaneity does not need the absence of structure to emerge and shape any creative process. Thanks Ken!

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bryan wilkerson

June 17, 2015  5:08pm

After 30 years of preaching I can vouch for all the principles and practices you've mentioned. Personally, I find that writing my sermon the week I preach it brings an immediacy and energy (and occasional panic) that I just have never been able to give up. Still, our creative team and worship planning sessions are always working two or three weeks out, which forces me to be working ahead and giving room for the creative cycle. I, too, have found that "the body fuels the mind," but I prefer to do my exercise after studying or writing for a few hours. It almost always brings clarity, passion, and fresh thinking to the work I've done to that point. As I've gotten older, I find it essential to be brainstorming with younger people who are familiar with aspects of pop culture i'm not as in tune with.

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Ken Shigematsu

June 16, 2015  5:05pm

Hi David, thank you for your question. Typically, I don’t ask myself if a particular sermon series should be exegetical or topical, but rather, “What is the most fruitful form I could use to communicate this?” As I’m thinking of a sermon series, I imagine a triangle. The base of the triangle is Scripture, but as a second side of the triangle I also consider what the community may need to hear. The third side of the triangle is what I sense the Holy Spirit doing in me and in the community. In practice, in the fall I will often preach a series from the Older Testament, followed by an Advent series in December. I will often do something from the Gospels leading up to Easter and then, after Easter, I might do something from the epistles or Acts – so there may be a kind of Trinitarian feel to the preaching calendar in this approach, too.

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David Ro

June 16, 2015  12:39pm

Ken, another question here, as a pastor but how do you choose between topical and exegetical preaching?

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