Combating Creative Killers in Sermon Prep

Whether you are writing a university paper, an email to a colleague or a sermon for this Sunday morning, there are times when the words and ideas just aren’t flowing. Like drinking a very thick milkshake, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t draw the goodness out! I’m in the middle of writing my second book (very slowly I might add), so I know the pain and headaches involved.

My mind drifts to la-la land, to-do lists pile up at work and home, and the deadline for my sermon notes and slides bear down on me like a runaway train. Panic sets in. And then creativity slows even more! To top it all off, the tyranny of the urgent threatens to take over. My phone rings, buzzes, and vibrates, people drop into the office out of nowhere and everyone and their brother has a crisis that needs my personal attention.

Combating Creative Killers in Sermon Prep

When I’m overwhelmed and getting nowhere fast, here are some practical things that I do to get unstuck.

Talk It Out

I realized a long time ago that some of my best ideas surface mid-sentence. My creativity is stimulated around others. The ideas are in there, they just need to be unlocked. So I have a few friends and co-workers that I reach out to when I am hitting the wall in sermon prep. After five minutes of sharing what’s on my mind and receiving their feedback, I often have enough material to break out of my funk.

*Make sure to write down or record your “mind-blowing” thoughts otherwise you will forget (that’s more frustrating than being stuck in the first place!).

Don’t Force It

If you have given yourself enough lead-time, you won’t need to force creativity. You’ve got time to walk away and breath.

If your sermon prep is always a “Saturday Night Special” then you’ve already forced yourself into certain creativity killers. There is no room to dream up take-home reminders or anything that involves forethought and planning.

Stop prepping at the last minute! It’s not more spiritual…it’s often just lazy.

When I walk away and allow my mind to freely wander or focus on something unrelated, I am amazed at the breakthroughs that happen.

Immerse Yourself in the Text

We’ve all done it. We know our topic or text for Sunday, and after a cursory glance through the text, we run straight to our favorite commentary to see what the “experts” have to say about it. Or we immediately start searching for a great story that will hook our hearer’s attention.

What if we allowed the Holy Spirit speak to us first?

What if we meditated on the text and let it seep into our soul?

Moses’ face shone brightly because he had been with God. You get the picture.

Let the Jesus speak to you before you speak to others. It will make a measurable difference. Believe me. Or better yet, try it yourself.

Use Pen and Paper

I am not a Luddite, but I know the value of pen and paper, even in our digital age. Some studies show that creativity spikes while physically writing. I find that when I’m on my computer I get stuck more frequently. Even when all my alerts are shut off and I’m in focus mode, writer’s block creeps in. That’s when I break out a journal and go to town with squiggly lines, writing in the margins, arrows everywhere and even the satisfaction of the occasional hand cramp. It’s a beautiful mess. And I always seem to make progress. Now I even write out the whole first draft of my sermons by hand.

*BTW this article was written in a Moleskine journal with a Lamy 2000 fountain pen and finished off on a MacBook Pro. Old school meets new school. That’s how I roll.*


Why is it that when we have exhausted all of our other resources that we come to our last resort, “God help!”

Prayer needs to be the first step in the sermon prep process. God wants to speak to his people through us, so he is pretty invested in our success.

It may be listed last, but if you want to break through creativity killers in the sermon prep process you will need to learn how to “Seek first the Kingdom of God…”

Now prep with confidence. God will speak to you and through you.

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Written by Michael Voll

Michael Voll is the author of Sideswiped: Three Keys to a Fresh Start After Suffering a Broken Heart. He serves as the Associate Pastor at North Pointe Community Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He is on the regular preaching schedule at NP and is an adjunct faculty member at Vanguard College in the School of Pastoral Leadership. He writes at You can follow him on Twitter @michaelvoll.


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