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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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Displaying 1–5 of 35 comments

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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Jacob Buurma

June 15, 2015  9:48am

Many pastors get trapped in weekly sermon prep routines that are far too compressed and zap their mental energy. Some hit crisis mode every week: one pastor I know furiously completes the edits on his sermon while the worship band has already started to play! Ken's reference to the 10-day creative cycle and maximizing those times when creativity is at its peak is a helpful antidote. The feed-forward group is also a brilliant idea. I might only add that this group may work best with a 'loving contrarian' in its midst in addition to those who merely nod their heads in affirmation. "Wounds from a friend can be trusted..."

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Jeff Hawker

June 15, 2015  9:45am

Ken, these ideas are very helpful. As someone who preaches on an irregular basis, I often put in too much time into sermon prep. The result is having too many ideas and not enough focus. Sticking to a 10 day runway could be helpful. I would love to hear more about how you juggle working on two sermons at once. What parts do you do on each day? Having previously heard of your feed-forward process, I try to run through my sermons with my wife ahead of time (I should begin to include others too), but I often do this too late. Doing it on the Wednesday would give enough time for revision without causing so much anxiety. I also want to make a habit of intentionally walking. I do find that being outdoors lifts my spirits and helps my brain function well, which is why I often study on my back deck in the warmer months. Lastly, I appreciated your synthesis of preparation and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

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