Creativity expert offers preachers a silver bullet for sermon preparation

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GEORGETOWN—Sermon preparation is an important part of the pastor’s tradecraft, and for some it’s a stronger part of their ministry than for others. Even pastors who have little trouble preparing a sermon each week find it’s easy to get into a rut over time, said David McCoy, a leader of creative thinking workshops.

While few pastors would compare themselves to a masked man riding a white charger, McCoy tried to supply the pastors who attended a creative sermon preparation workshop sponsored by Williamson Baptist Association with one more silver bullet to add to their arsenal.

McCoy, a research chemist with 49 U.S. patents and layman at Main Street Baptist Church in Georgetown, cautioned that more than creativity is necessary.

“Creativity is not enough. It has to be practical. That is the difference between creativity and innovation—whether it accomplishes its purpose,” he said.

Creative thinking specialist David McCoy (not pictured) offers pastors a "silver bullet" for sermon preparation. The Lone Ranger had lots of 'em.

Those who don’t think of themselves as naturally creative need not fret, he added.

“Some say you can’t teach creativity. That’s a heresy. The first thing we learn about God is that he is the Creator. What is the first thing we learn about man? He is created in the image of God. He is by nature a creator,” McCoy said.

As with most creative endeavors, when it comes to sermon preparation, “half the battle is getting started,” McCoy said.

In addition to writer’s block, another obstacle is boredom. “You not only get bored with constantly having to come up with sermon ideas; sometimes your congregation gets bored with what you come up with,” he said.

“What you need is … (in the words of) a creativity guru—a whack up side the head.”

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He suggested working on the sermon in a different location than usual and possibly sitting in a different kind of chair. It works the same with congregations who routinely sit in the same pews each week, he added.

“The more comfortable you are, the less you are going to listen. We get into body posture ruts just like we do mental ruts,” McCoy observed.

Get out of your rut 

People stay in ruts because they are comfortable, he added.

“If you keep to your same old rut, you can go on forever. Your congregation may fire you, but you can keep it up because you’re in your comfort zone. Trying to do something more creative is much more difficult and much, much harder to keep up on a weekly basis,” he said.

One way to begin being more creative is to get away from linear thinking, McCoy suggested. As an example, he cited a situation where a pastor decides to target the needs of the congregation in his sermons. One possible process would be for him to go to the deacons and ask, “What are the congregation’s needs?” Then he would make a list, prioritize items, start working from the top of the list, search for Scriptures, decide on the Scripture passage to be used, search for illustrations of the sermons points, choose a commentary for additional insights, practice the sermon and, finally, deliver the sermon.

This linear method, while seemingly straightforward, has a fatal flaw, McCoy said.

“This method requires each step to be correct to have a good end result. There are so many opportunities for things to get off track,” he said.

Instead, McCoy suggested trying lateral thinking.

Start with a problem 

Start with a problem. Something totally unrelated comes up, but it sparks an idea. Later, something else that may be tangentially related pops up, and this continues until they all interrelate “to find a final product not directly related to any of the ideas, but a product of them all,” he said.

“Many of the best ideas come while doing mindless tasks like shaving or mowing, so keep a pad and pencil on hand so that the thoughts are down before they flee,” McCoy suggested.

Lateral thinking may leave more room for the Holy Spirit to work in the sermon preparation process, he suggested.

“The Pharisees rejected Jesus because he did not fit their box,” McCoy said. “I think we do the same thing with the Holy Spirit. He tries to move us out of our box, and we push it away.”

McCoy also discussed brainstorming. While the first slew of ideas may be limited, he suggested expanding the list of possibilities by taking an idea suggested and expanding or minimizing it, taking two ideas and combining them and then looking at the opposite of an idea.

As another method to help prepare a sermon when Sunday is looming, McCoy turned to Fran Stryker, the writer of the weekly Lone Ranger radio show for 21 years.

Stryker parsed out the different elements of an episode and made a list of heroes in addition to the Lone Ranger such as a sheriff, the pretty young teacher at the one-room schoolhouse and a number of others. He then did the same thing with secondary characters other than Tonto, plot anchors such as a bank robbery or stagecoach hold-up and settings.

After making the list, he numbered them and had his wife pick numbers at random each Monday morning. Then he put together the disparate elements into that week’s script.

While pastors would have different elements, he suggested this would give them one more tool when the rut has become too deep.


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