Updated: May 21, 2018
I was incredibly fortunate to have attended ‘THE’ Concordia College in Moorhead, MN for my undergraduate work (1). One of the classes all students were required to take was a Creative Writing class. No matter your skill at writing, all had to learn (and maybe re-learn) writing skills, specifically creative writing skills.
Though there were many different types of writing assignments, I remember one vividly. It was a standing assignment due every Friday for the duration of the course. Every Friday, we were to submit a three page (double-spaced) essay on any topic of our choosing. The grade was dependent upon only two things; meeting a length requirement (3 pages) as well as turning the essay in on time. If we met those two requirements, then we received an automatic “A”. It was the easiest assignment I had experienced in college up to that time….at least for the first four to six weeks or so.
You see, the trick was that it is easy to write about stuff…until you begin to run out of the obvious stuff to write, until you run out of ideas, until you actually have to become….well, you know…creative…
* * * * * *
This past year I have had the privilege to travel abroad twice; first to the Holy Land in January 2018 (2) and then to Belfast, Northern Ireland in April
(3). Both of these trips were continuing education opportunities where I either was on an ‘advance’ trip with the intent of taking a group to the Holy Land; the other was more of a traditional continuing education type experience where I was
afforded the opportunity to think, listen, talk, walk, rest, and think some more…
I cannot say ‘thank you’ enough to my congregation who allows me both the financial resources to take such trips as well as the non-vacation time-off to actually be away (4). And that really is the point of Continuing Education right? That this time away isn’t ‘time off’. It might appear to some that these trips have an aspect of ‘vacation’ to them. If you follow me on social media it certainly appears that I’m experiencing ‘time off’, galavanting across the globe, laughing, vacationing, taking selfies with random people I meet…drinking??
Maybe, but it only appears that way…
Let me be clear here, no one in my congregation has said anything negative about me taking these trips. No one has asked questions like ‘why is he all over the planet and not here at church where we pay him to be?’ Or ‘He must not have much to do if he is able to take all this time off.” No one has said anything negative to me about these trips. No one…not one.
The purpose of me writing about this is my personal reflection on Pastoral Ministry and specifically on the creative act of preaching. I have been at Hope nearly four years at this point. Many other pastors have served in congregations for a much longer period of time. When it comes to preaching and duration of a call in a given location, please consider the following:
A sermon is roughly 15-20 minutes long
A sermon is about 3 single-spaced pages long
At 500 words per page, sermons are approximately 1500 words
On average, a pastor preaches about 50 sermons per year (52 weeks in a year, subtract Sundays ‘off’, add in extra services such as Ash Wednesday, funerals, weddings, etc., )
This equals nearly 17 hours of non-stop speaking and roughly 150 written pages
Why is that important? Well…for that I refer back to my creative writing course.
* * * * * *
The difficulty of that course (and the lesson to be learned) was that writing is one skill and creativity is another. Coming up with fresh ideas week after week is a process, an intentional process, that differs significantly from the process of putting that idea on paper and crafting it into an essay…or for that matter…a sermon.
Unlike other skills where the more frequently one applies their trade, the more efficient, the more accurate, and the more effective one likely becomes at that trade, preaching is, in my opinion, quite the opposite. The more one preaches, the more one reaches into the reservoir of ideas. New ideas don’t pop into ones mind more quickly, efficiently and more easily than they once did. Rather, the more one draws from that reservoir the more quickly one drains it…unless that person has the opportunity to fill it back up again. My creative writing course in college was less about the mechanics of writing and more about the ideas; those creative, interesting, captivating ideas and metaphors and analogies that makes subject matter more engaging.
Congregations offer a ‘call’ to pastors for many different reasons looking for any number of varying skills and qualities in a pastor (5). Some are looking for organizers. Others look for someone with great pastoral care skills. Still other congregations want someone who is excellent with youth…you get the point. Since no singular person is great at everything (hell, not more than a few of the basic qualities a congregation looks for can be found in ANY one person), a congregation needs to prioritize what qualities they feel are most important for that congregation’s needs. Therefore, if a
congregation is looking for a pastor to be a good or even excellent preacher and they expect that quality to be consistent throughout the duration the pastor’s call to that congregation, then they need to offer that pastor adequate resources, time off, and space to fill the reservoir of ideas week after week, month after month, year after year.
Thankfully, my congregation does…THANK YOU HOPE!
I am fortunate, VERY fortunate. This isn’t the case for all congregations. Not all offer adequate continuing education packages for their pastors. I’d like to encourage all congregations to take a look at their continuing education packages offered to their clergy and evaluate if it is actually ‘enough’ to fill the reservoir of ideas for their pastor to draw from week after week.
Martin Luther wrote, “To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it” (6). In my opinion, Uncle Marty may be laying it on a bit thick with the ‘saving of the soul’ bit, but the stress on the importance of preaching for those that hear it is well taken. If preaching is the most important act a pastor can perform with and for a congregation, or at least if it is near the top of the list, then the congregation really should consider allowing the time and resources for study and experience necessary to keep strong preaching flowing for the sake of the congregation and all who hear the gospel from your pastor and through your congregation.
1 - As a side note, there are many ‘Concordia’s’ out there, but there is only one ELCA College named “Concordia”. That is why I say, “THE Concordia College”. ;)
2 - I went with Good Shepherd Travel. Here is there site: https://www.tourtheholylands.com. If you want additional assistance or would like to join my next trip to the Holy Land, simply contact me or CLICK HERE.
3 - I went to a Peter Rollins event called WAKE. CLICK HERE for more information.
4 - It is common for ELCA clergy to receive at least two weeks of continuing education time as a part of their call (contract).
5 - In the ELCA we ‘call’ a pastor. We do not ‘hire’ them. If you are not a church person, then you can for all intents and purposes swap the word ‘call’ for the word ‘hire’.
6 - Martin Luther. “On the Freedom of the Christian.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/on-the-freedom-of-the-christian/id660004030?mt=11”