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Preacher’s Block


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by J. Ellsworth Kalas

I have lived partly in the writer’s world and mostly in the preacher’s world, and I’ve discovered that writers have a luxury that preachers can never indulge. Writers sometimes hit a hard spell which they call “writer’s block.” Harry Shaw defines it as “an inability to complete a work started or to begin a project that has been planned in the writer’s mind but not set down.”

I repeat, preachers don’t have that luxury. This is because Sundays come around once a week, like it or not, and the preacher must have a sermon, ready or not.

There’s a type of writer, however, who can sympathize with the preacher: the journalist. One of my literary heroes, Samuel Johnson, wrote in many venues, but I see him mainly as a journalist. Johnson said, “A man may write at any time if he will set himself doggedly to it.” Journalists know this because, like preachers, they live with deadlines.

I’ll confess that there were times in my ministry –especially in my student days — when I suffered from preacher’s block. On several occasions I desperately considered calling my District Superintendent to tell him I was sick with an undiagnosed illness and would not be able to preach the next morning. Somehow, however, I managed.

There is long range insurance against preacher’s block. It’s simple, but it calls for discipline: keep pouring good stuff into your brain. It’s blasphemy to ask God to quicken your mind in crisis when you’ve been stultifying it for months or years with common junk.

For the short range, immediate crisis, I can offer help but no sure remedies. Pray, yes, but not to the point of despair and self-pity. If you listen while you’re making your pitiful plea you may hear the Lord say to you what he said to Moses at the Red Sea: “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to get moving” (EX. 14:15, CEB).

Sometimes you’ll do well to take a 20-minute nap, remembering Coach Vince Lombardi’s counsel: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Study your text again (perhaps a different translation), looking for an exciting phrase or a metaphor that chucks you under the chin.

Or take counsel from a writer who apparently never suffered from writer’s block, William Shakespeare. He recommended finding “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

At that moment you may see yourself as one of the stones — but God bless you, there’s a sermon there.