It struck me recently that I must have written well over 500 sermons since I began preaching (it may be nearer a thousand but I haven't the inclination to check!). A small number of those were general purpose ones, designed to be touted around various churches as part of my 'College Sundays' responsibilities, but most are one-offs, written, delivered and (usually) kept on the computer 'just in case' I want to use them again. Occasionally I do. And occasionally I look at past ones to see if I am merely repeating the same thing as last time this congregation landed that topic. Now and then I will be tapping away and into my head pops a picture of me saying almost the same words to such-and-such a congregation.
Usually, my approach to preparing my sermons is pretty much the same - read the passage(s), note my initial reactions, probably undertake some exegesis, read some commentaries, read the guidance notes in the syllabus we are following, gather my ideas, look for a shape, mix in a bit of prayer (that ought to be taken as read but it seems ministers are obliged to tell everyone they pray, which always feels a bit street corner hypocrite to me, but tyg) and then sit at my computer to start typing.
I'm never quite sure what kind of preacher I am - kind of expository meets tentative I think. I don't do funny stories or emarrassing anecdotes, I don't do a gazillion Biblical cross references (that was drummed out of me very early on!), I don't usually do political or topical, though what's in the news is always on my thought horizon. Usually it is pretty straght forward, linear, scientific, porgession of ideas.
Every now and then, I do something different. Using a loosely Ignatian approach, I have retold stories from the imagined perspective of one of the characters. Very occasionally, I have employed discussion approaches. And just once or twice I have eschewed comment, and instead read BIG chunks of Bible with space to let it speak for itself.
So why I am writing this? Partly because nearly ten years in from leaving 'vicar school' I am tired. Sometimes I do all the work, all the mulling, all the holy stuff, and still when I sit down at my computer the words refuse to come. Partly because I wonder if I have, maybe, allowed myself to get into a rut of almost always delivering stuff in broadly the same style. Partly because I think it does no harm to reflect on my own processes of preparation.
Yesterday evening, I met with two of my folk to prepare some props for Sunday. We chatted about all sorts of stuff, ate together and we had some fun. I jokingly proposed a scary moral tale to tell the children (which will not be used). In passing we mentioned the service and some of the tensions it creates. That was sermon prep.
This morning, I sat at home, with my laptop, preparing the PowerPoint presentation that will accompany aspects of our service. I surfed the net finding images, ripped a CD, adjusted layouts, checked timings. That was sermon prep.
I'm not daft enough to call everything sermon prep. This morning I have printed documents for this afternoon's Bible study, transferred files from laptop to 'cloud' which need to be printed off at church; I read the Baptist Times news sweep, checked emails, made coffee and finally wrote a blogpost. These are clearly not sermon prep, and I'm not going to pretend they are. But as I did them, somewhere deep inside me, the ideas have mulled away and hopefully, when I sit down to pick up where I left off yesterday, with a half-formed sermon, the ideas will flow, and a sermon will emerge once more.