Writing is a ministry that I have come to enjoy. It’s not always been the case, however. It’s often laborious, daunting, and even terrifying. Writing isn’t the most profitable of work, either. So, why bother with it? As pastors/scholars for the church and for the academy, we engage in writing for the purpose of disseminating ideas (hopefully helpful ones).
Over the last few years, several people have asked me about when and how I write. I’ve coached them over Zoom/phone calls. For those wanting to launch this type of writing ministry, how can we begin? The following are some practical steps that have become a habit. I hope they help as you start/persevere in your writing journey.
#1 Write Something Every Week
Some weeks I write a fair amount while other weeks I write nothing—depending on my schedule. As pastors/professors we know quite well, life happens. Although I can’t keep to this schedule every week due to seminary work and family life, I try to write something (or edit something that I’ve written) every week—usually part of a book project or a shorter article.
My doctoral supervisor told me to make it a habit to write at least 200 words per day. I’ve tried to take his advice to heart and aim to write a minimum of 500-1,000 words per week. That comes out to at least 25,000-50,000 words per year.
What this means is that you don’t need huge chunks of time to write. I try to set aside one day per week for writing whether that’s three hours or six hours. Don’t leave writing for sabbaticals, vacations, or summer breaks alone. Build into your schedule a weekly time for writing whether that’s an hour, two hours, or more. Guard that time and try not to let anything/anyone stop you from writing. Just write something.
#2 Write Junk and then Rewrite
Some of us are paralyzed from writing because we’re perfectionists. My practice has been just to write something whether it’s junk or not. Then, I rewrite it until I’m satisfied. This may take several drafts. You may ask a friend/pastor who is skilled in the art and craft of writing to read over your material and get their feedback. Then you will rework it again. It’s always easier to edit words after you’ve written something down.
#3 Get Writing Projects even Though You ‘Don’t Have Time’
Committing myself to writing projects forces me to write even though my common sense says, “I don’t have time.” I actively seek out writing projects such as magazine/journal articles, book chapters, and book contracts in advance because it ensures that I’ll make the time to write.
As a beginning author, it’s tough to break into the publishing world. I know those frustrations from personal experience. For instance, it took me over ten book proposal attempts (i.e., several years of rejection letters) with various publishers before getting my first book contract, 7 Lessons for New Pastors. I wrote it when I was just launching my ministry as a novice senior pastor.
The same struggle to break into publishing came when trying to write articles for journals and magazines. Don’t give up. Keep refining your article. Get feedback from editors/authors you may know. Ask them for advice on how you can improve your writing (content/word choice).
For some, you may want to begin the writing process by producing quarterly newsletters, devotional guides, or blog posts for your church. Publication alone is not the telos of writing. Influence, however, is the ultimate aim of writing even if that means simply encouraging and motivating your local congregation or denomination.
#4 Look for Gaps in the Literature
Every week, I look at what articles/books are being published on preaching and practical ministry (e.g., on Amazon, Christianity Today, Preaching Today, and Publisher’s catalogs, etc.). Then, I think about where the gaps are in the literature and where I might be able to speak into that vacuum.
What sermons or sermon series have you preached from a fresh angle? What knowledge/experience/education has God given you that you can share with other pastors and Christian leaders by way of articles?
#5 Write Because You Have Something Valuable to Share
Leaving us with some encouragement, many pastors have something valuable to share with the academy and/or church. While our ministry in the church matters, we also have an opportunity to engage in the world of ideas with the wider world. That happens primarily through publication.
I recognize that writing is not for everyone. But if you want to gain traction in this area and feel called to it, begin taking inventory of how God has uniquely positioned you to share your journey with others. I encourage you to continue to write and make it a habit to write. Commit to it every week. It’s become one of the things I enjoy most in my role at Gordon-Conwell, which I started doing as a pastor.
Matthew D. Kim (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is the George F. Bennett Chair in Practical Theology, director of the Haddon W. Robinson Center for Preaching, and director of Mentored Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.