Out of the last seven Sundays, I have preached at a church service on six of them. This has been new for me. In the past, I have usually had around a month between sermons, which has allowed each one to fester, for me to be able to mull it over and prepare over a longer period of time.
So these last almost two months have been very different. I’ve had to keep up the pace of studying, planning and writing. I’ve had to be quicker, and I’ve had to keep going for longer. It has been a fantastic learning opportunity, I’ve enjoyed it very much, and I’m very grateful to the leaders of the three churches who let me loose in their pulpits.
The danger of becoming stale
But it has also made me aware of what I guess I’ve always suspected. The danger that through the repeated process of doing something you enjoy, it can become less exciting. Or that it can lead to not taking it seriously, thinking it less important.
Please don’t misunderstand. During these weeks, I have not found preaching less exciting. Nor have I taken it seriously or thought it less important. In fact quite the opposite. But I wonder how much that is because I knew this opportunity in itself was a great opportunity and I relished it. If the next seven Sundays were the same, the seven after that, and the next seven, and so on… What then?
The answer is I don’t know. I might never fall into monotony or become stale. But I might – I see a danger. Things could become dry. There could seem to be less urgency. “It doesn’t matter if I’m a little lax in my prep this week – I’ll always have next week…” I feel it could be a slippery slope.
I’m sure this danger of things becoming stale – or lifeless – is true no matter what it is that one’s gift is or whatever role one plays. I suppose this is why Paul, when giving instruction to the Romans (chapter 12) urging them to use their gifts encourages some attitudes that will stop things getting stale. For the gifted giver (who’s giving could become a duty), they must remain generous. For the gifted leader (who could stop taking her or his role seriously), they must be diligent. For the person with the gift of mercy (who could so easily get so bogged down with the weight of the world on their shoulders), they are encouraged to pursue cheerfulness.
I wonder what the corresponding advice should be for those who preach?
How to stay fresh?
So, once again I have no real answers as I near the end of my post. But I do have some questions. I am tremendously grateful to those who have allowed me to preach, especially to my own pastor who has really invested in me and been such an encouragement. Not least because it’s helped to open my eyes to what it may be like for me in the future if I do end up in a position where I am teaching or speaking regularly and over a sustained period of time. I want to keep my eyes open and be proactive in making sure things stay fresh. So, some questions…
Do you preach or teach regularly? If so, is there anything you have found helpful in warding off these tendencies?
Is there something else which you do so regularly that it can become stale? Have you got any advice?
Have you gone through periods where your job or your ministry has felt like it is just going through the motions and there was no life in it? How did you get out of that rut?
Are you in that place now and have no idea what to do? (Please tell me, even if not publicly, because I’d love to pray for you and try to be of some support and encouragement.)
Or anything else you think might help…