Keeping things fresh

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…

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  • Graham Criddle

    Hi David

    Great question – and a couple of thoughts.

    The first is that it is sometimes difficult to be “fresh” particularly when there are other pressures on your time – particularly pastoral care and other leadership responsibilities – which don’t allow you the time to prepare which you would like. And that shouldn’t let us “off the hook” but it is ok to realise the reality of what is going on.

    The second is that one of the most important lessons I have learnt in preaching regularly over the last three years or so is that before I preach to a congregation I need to seek what God is saying to me in the passage or through the subject on which I will be preaching.

    If I am being challenged, encouraged, amazed by God then it is difficult to be stale.

    As it happens I was preaching last Sunday evening on John 17 and was able to start with the words:

    “This chapter which we read earlier is one which never fails to amaze me, it is a passage which I look at with wonder and a deep sense of appreciation and privilege.”

    So my simple suggestion is to keep looking for God’s Word to speak to you and to then speak it out.

    (Not that the implementation is always simple….)

  • Mel Criddle

    Thank you Dave.

    I don’t really have experience of preaching or teaching regularly but these are just my thoughts on your current situation.

    I wonder if having more variety in the rhythm of your day and ministry would help somehow. The biggest responsibilities you have had over the past few weeks have been preaching and understandably you have spent a lot of time at work studying and preparing for your sermons. But if you were doing lots of different things alongsidr preaching, like outreach and pastoral visiting, I wonder if that would help to give variety and a sense of relevance and application to the words you preach and teach on Sundays?

    I don’t know if as Graham said this would actually compound the problem slightly as there would be more pressures on your time. But I think for me things get stale when I am doing them repeatedly in a bit of a bubble or vacuum. I dont think preaching and teaching alone would be the only things you would be doing as a minister.

    Don’t know if this has helped but I hope it has!

  • Dave Criddle

    Dad – thank you! Very useful thoughts.

    On reflection, I think your advice has been what has helped to keep things fresh over the last few weeks. I have discovered things and been spoken to through the passages and themes I have been looking at in order to preach. And I’ve found that useful not only in helping to prepare, but also in maintaining energy. So I agree, and will aim to keep that as a real priority as I continue into the future. Thank you.

    Also take your point about being realistic. I feel it’s important to carve out time that really tries to be devoted to prep, but also recognise that isn’t always possible. It’s the ‘urgent vs important’ debate again.

    Thank you!

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