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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 3–7 of 35 comments

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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Greg Hills

June 12, 2015  2:29pm

Ken, I really appreciated your article which offered some refreshing insights for for creative preaching. It also helped solidify some things that had been floating in my head but could never quite nail down. One thing I have done from time to time is have two people in the congregation listen to my messages. One is an elder trained in public speaking and then meeting with him for a specified number of weeks (My self-esteem will only allow me to do this in spurts). The other one listens specifically for "insider" language and christian buzz words that I use making it difficult for those outside the community of faith to understand. I'll definitely be implementing some of your ideas. My waistline will be thankful for the walks too!

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Omar L. Hamada

June 11, 2015  11:18pm

Ken, thank you for sharing this! I notice a common theme here with what you share in your best-selling book "God in My Everything" in terms of setting a rhythm of life and work. Few realize as creatives, we must have a certain discipline to create. I think you and Dr. Robinson are right that there is a certain cycle of creativity. Yes, we can "muscle it out" and get a good, maybe even great academic product, but for our sermons to be filled with passion and life, I believe that we must allow the thoughts that the Spirit puts within us to stew and ferment a bit as we jostle them about in our hearts and minds before they can take shape as a message that truly tugs on the heart and changes lives. I also agree that getting away from our regular routine and every day distraction by getting out into creation helps free our souls and opens our hearts to the wonder, expanse, and purpose of our God. Thank you for writing such a great reminder that helps pull us back to the creative process.

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