January 30, 2024

Remedies For Writer’s Block: Staying Motivated During Weekly Sermon Preparation

Need inspiration or battling writer's block while preparing a sermon? Here are insights and tips for pastors facing the challenges of sermon preparation.

Noah Cecil

When it comes to writing, inspiration has never made the cliche –– “the best things in life always find us when we’re not looking” –– ring more true. 

For me, finding inspiration happens a lot like finding my car keys. I wish I could say it’s only happened once or twice where I’ve torn apart my room, looking for the keys that would turn up in my jacket pocket. It’s all the more frustrating when you search for something to no avail, suddenly stumbling upon what you were looking for the moment you give up the search. 

Writing can certainly feel like a perpetual search for inspiration, especially when it comes to writing on a weekly basis. You can spend an uninspired hour staring at a blank page (or likely a blank document on your computer) struggling to structure a single sentence. Suddenly, at a random moment's notice, inspiration strikes and you find yourself ready to type in a motivated frenzy

Facing writer’s block and searching for inspiration are challenges even the most seasoned pastors might face during sermon preparation.

In today’s blog I’ll be talking about writer’s block, why pastors may experience it, and some tips on how to overcome it. 

Pastors Are Faced With A Weekly Challenged

Writing is an art and a skill in so many areas of life, we may not think about the work that goes into it. 

When I was in high school, my brother, best friend, and I would watch the weekly comedy-sketch program, Saturday Night Live. As teenagers, SNL always seemed like a dream job to us. We loved creating our own comedy sketches and romanticized the idea of being able to act and write on a show like SNL. What we didn’t think about was this: for every Saturday of comedy entertainment, the writers had the pressure of spending late hours of the week pitching ideas and writing sketches in time for live broadcast television.

When it comes to writing, being the lead pastor of a church comes with a similar challenge. Every week pastors are tasked with preparing a sermon for the congregation that informs and inspires. While pastors aren’t spending late nights writing jokes, they are faced with teaching Biblical doctrine, how God calls us to live, what ways we worship God, and addressing societal issues or current events from a Biblical perspective. 

With the pressure of putting together a well-informed, effectively structured message that impacts or inspires the congregation on a weekly basis, pastors are bound to face a pesky obstacle: writer’s block.

What Exactly Is “Writer’s Block”?

Whether you’re a veteran pastor in your tenth or twentieth year of writing sermons, or an aspiring pastor writing another theological paper in seminary, you’ve most likely experienced writer’s block. 

Educational resource MasterClass defines writer’s block as: ”(...) a phenomenon experienced by writers that is best described as an overwhelming feeling of being stuck in the writing process without the ability to move forward and write anything new.”

To be precise, in the case of a pastor: those times you’ve sat in front of your notebook or computer, scratching your head on how to start the new week’s sermon. You write, erase, and rewrite sentences, yet aren’t quite sure what you’re trying to say or how to say it. Maybe you’re not yet sure what the purpose of your message is, or you have a plethora of ideas floating around your head and are having trouble finding a place to start. These are all examples of writer’s block.

Why Do We Experience Writer’s Block? 

While writer’s block can be quite the epidemic among writers, it’s not a condition your doctor can treat. Writer’s block isn’t the symptom of any sort of disease, but rather a mental block. 

Which begs the question: what is it about those moments of writing –– especially as a pastor who’s used to writing a sermon week after week –– that leaves us staring at a blank page with nothing to say? 

Well if you’re a pastor finding yourself in this predicament, knowing the obstacle of writer’s block all too well –– here are three reasons why that may be:

  1. Distractions: Life can get busy. Whether it’s having a mental to-do list, stressors related to work, family, or personal problems, finding yourself daydreaming out of boredom, or simply a product of the environment you work in, life can be full of distractions. It’s hard to stay focused and motivated when met with distractions.
  2. Lack of inspiration: It’s helpful to establish a consistent rhythm in our lives, especially as we take on multiple responsibilities. As a pastor juggling so many different responsibilities between ministry, church administration, personal devotion, Biblical studies, family time, and sermon preparation, it’s important to establish a balanced schedule. However, too much consistency can lead to stagnation –– which can then lead to a lack of inspiration.    
  3. Burnout: Lastly, a cause of writer’s block can simply be burnout. Handling multiple responsibilities while coming up with a fresh, new sermon every week can be exhausting. According to Psych Central, “The effects of fatigue on performance are largely the same as those of sleep deprivation: impaired memory, difficulty with concentration, etc.” Overall, feeling tired and overworked can affect productivity.

So, How Can Pastors Stay Motivated When Writer’s Block Strikes?

There’s no telling when writer’s block will come or how long it’ll last, but there are some measures pastors can take to prepare for it or prevent it.

  1. Find a Good Environment 

The first step to overcoming writer’s block is having a good environment to work in. I’m personally someone who can get easily distracted while writing. When it comes to a working environment that motivates me, I like to trade off between: a) being alone in my room at home, or b) going to a coffee shop. 

It’s nice for me to stay home and write when life’s been busy, and I need a nice environment that’s quiet, less stimulating, and allows me to feel grounded. On days when I need a little more excitement while writing, I like to go to a coffee shop where I can be around other people, feel like I’m at least out of the house, and get fresh air. 

Whether you’re introverted or extroverted or need some sort of stimuli or less stimuli, it’s important to be in an environment that reduces distractions and keeps you motivated.

  1. Write Down What Inspires You 

Inspiration can strike at any unexpected moment. 

For me, inspiration tends to hit when I’m doing a mundane task, hear a certain phrase, story, a random fact, or just listening to music. I find that in moments of inspiration, I start to think of all kinds of ideas. Yet the next time I sit down to write, all of the ideas have completely left my mind. Because of this predicament, I find it helpful to write down my ideas whenever I’m feeling inspired. 

Making notes allows me to have a source of inspiration to pull from whenever I’m writing, keeping ideas fresh. It’s good practice to keep a small journal or use the notes app on your phone to write down ideas whenever they come to you. 

  1. Give Yourself a Break 

Leading in ministry is no easy task, so be sure to give yourself time to rest. Make time in the week for a day of rest, make sure to collaborate with fellow associate pastors on sermon writing, or even bring in occasional guest pastors to speak on a Sunday, to help ease the workload. 

A Helpful Tool Against Writer’s Block

Whether writer’s block comes to you in the form of scrambled, unstructured ideas or racking your brain with what fresh topic should be addressed in the week’s upcoming sermon, there are online resources to help.

With the assistance of sermon preparation applications, pastors now have an easy way of generating effective sermon outlines, prompting verses and Bible stories, creating character studies, and even coming up with modern-day examples of Biblical stories. With the ease of structuring outlines, simplifying research, and providing examples, these applications can help pastors overcome writer’s block. 

Staying Inspired and Making a Difference

While some weeks may feel distracted, uninspired, or drained, it’s important to remember that writer’s block is a common experience amongst most writers of any capacity. Writer’s block can be unpredictable, but there are ways to help stay motivated and inspired in spite of this. 

Pastors can ease the weekly sermon writing process by working in a productive environment, writing down daily inspirations, preventing burnout, and using online sermon tools.

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