When God Seems Silent During Sermon Preparation
By Josh Breslaw
Every Monday afternoon, I face the same daunting challenge. It’s time to start a new sermon. I open a new blank document in Microsoft Word and stare. That empty page will be worked on throughout the week. It will be filled with notes, fully written paragraphs, and sermon illustrations. Every week, a sermon goes from nothing to something. And then it’s time to start over. But what if, while you are dutifully taking the time to prepare for Sunday, you hit spiritual writer’s block? What do you do when you keep starting at the blank page and it stays blank? Hopefully, this article can give you some help when God seems silent during sermon preparation.
Start with Scripture
The first thing to remember is to not simply stare at a blank screen. Have the Bible open too. When God seems silent, make sure you are actually listening. How much time have you spent meditating on the text that will be preached on Sunday?
Use a Concordance
If you are indeed stuck and God does not seem to be speaking to you through this particular text, use a concordance to find similar texts. Take time to consider when this theme occurs elsewhere in Scripture. Let this be a time to let your mind wander. God may be in the wandering and take you around the block, which moves you along in sermon preparation.
Use Commentaries and Sermon Aids
If you are still stuck, then it’s time to go to commentaries. It’s time to read how God has spoken to others through this text. While good theological commentaries are necessary, this is really the time to read application commentaries. After all, you are not looking to write a paper but produce a sermon. I find the Reflections in the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary and the NIV Application Commentaries to be beneficial for this work.
In a similar way, there are several good websites to help you as you prepare a sermon. It would not be appropriate or even worthwhile to simply copy those sermons, but it is helpful to read them to get ideas on how to preach to your congregation. One website that I enjoy reading and have used in the past is workingpreacher.org.
Take a Break
Nothing says you have to write a sermon in one sitting. In fact, it is probably best if you take several days to write the sermon. So, if God seems silent, then stop working on the sermon and do something else. A pastor’s job is never done. There is plenty of other work to do. So do that for a time and come back to the sermon later.
Take an Actual Break
As I mentioned at the top, I begin writing my sermons on Monday afternoon. The bulk of my sermon writing, however, takes place on Tuesday. Sometimes, I get most of the sermon done on Tuesdays. Other times, I can spend four hours and feel as if I wasted half the day. Then, on Wednesday morning, I will go for a run. There are times when I write more of my sermon on a 45 minute run than I do while sitting at my desk the rest of the week.
The point is is that God is not confined to speaking while you are at your computer. In fact, God may be waiting to speak to you somewhere else. Pastoring is different than every other job. Don’t feel bad about not being at your desk. Go and exercise. Go and enjoy God’s creation. Read a book or watch a show. God’s revelation can occur at different times and in different ways. As long as the work is being successfully completed, most churches don’t care about the how or when.
Talk to Others
God does not only speak to you about your passage for the week. When it seems as if God is not speaking to you, call up some trusted friends to see if God is speaking to them. If you are in a multi-staff church, pop your head into another minister’s office and get their opinion. Call a Bible study leader in your church. Call a friend from seminary or college. Talk to a minister colleague in your town. Put your question on Facebook in the Pastor’s Common group. If you’re stuck and you are not hearing from God, reach out to the priesthood of believers to see how God is speaking to them.
Plan farther in advance
This is not a criticism but an encouragement. Don’t put God to the test by waiting until the last minute to prepare sermons. We’ve all been there. Sometimes ministry is what it is, and the “Saturday night special” is what you have to do. Let that be the exception rather than the rule.
On top of that, plan what you will preach months in advance. Take two or three times a year to plan out your sermon schedule. This doesn’t mean you are beholden to that calendar, but it gives time to let God speak to you. If you know you are preaching on one of Jesus’ healing miracles next month and you run across a story of a medical miracle, you can save that article for when you write your sermon. If you are preaching about the Good Samaritan in six weeks, you can save a story of a modern-day good Samaritan. Or if you are reading about First Century Israel, you can note a section of the book which discusses Samaritans to come back to later. When you plan in advance, there is much more time for the Spirit to work.
Lastly, What about AI?
Much has been made in the past year about different AI writing programs such as ChatGPT. When you get stuck while writing a sermon, what about using a bot?
Maybe I’m just old (I’m 37), but I’m very uncomfortable letting a bot write my sermon. It feels as if you are replacing God’s silence with AI’s words. I’m not comfortable letting that happen. Using AI feels the same as just grabbing a sermon off a website, which I would not do either. Artificial intelligence cannot know what your congregation needs to hear. Only God does. So, if it seems that God is silent, wait with a listening ear, read the Word of God, and let God speak in his timing. God knows that Sunday is coming.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common