15 July 2014

Continuing Ed Day One: Review of the past year

I loaded up the mystery van with the contents of the ACME Q46 Sermon Generator and trundled up to the library of the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (me and four other people occupied the building for the day).  I'm not sure what was going on but there were some painters working in the main hall (which is not unusual, it is low time a perfect time for sprucing up the place) but, they were playing the Pointer Sisters really loud (which is not odd either, but the volume level was - for the record it is impossible to be in a bad mood with the Pointer Sisters welcoming you to a theological library).  And for the record I will be an adjunct faculty member at UTS this Fall (Baptist History and Polity) don't believe me?  Check this out.

I started the day off by reviewing a year's worth of sermons and writing.  It was painful and kind of sad to be done with my review in 90 minutes, especially knowing that it took me countless hours to produce them.  Verdict: some of the sermons were so good I couldn't believe I wrote them and some of them were so bad I was ashamed to have my name associated with them.  I also realized that I start off strong but tail off by the end of the month.  I also try to do too much with my sermons.  I also have some good ideas but not enough time for them to flourish (thus the dedicated week of sermon prep).  Finally, I repeated the theme of a sermon in consecutive weeks.  Which again punctures my nascent theory that everyone pays attention to every word I say.  Which again proves my theory that preachers can never repeat themselves enough!

After a period of review I went to work mapping out the year.  I identified 12 themes for the 2014-15 year.  Armed with my themes I went digging in the stacks for books.  It was a good day.

Today I'll be at the Central Mpls Library continuing the quest and reading.

08 July 2014

My Sermon Writing System: The ACME Q46 Sermon Generator

Warning the following blogpost is about the only time you will find me operating on a highly organized level.

While on the mission trip/pilgrimage in WV a couple of weeks ago one of the youth asked me what do I do all day.  I answered with a question, "What do you think I do all day?" The youth replied, "Well, I figure you write your sermons on Saturday evening then have a part-time job during the week at Dairy Queen or someplace like that."  I used it as a teachable moment to explain the ins and out, the pluses and minuses, the heights and depths of pastoral ministry.  I hope it sounded like more fun and more rewarding that a part-time gig at Dairy Queen.

I am not a Saturday evening sermon writer, although there have been a few moments when I have had to rewrite a sermon on Saturday evening.  Using our time together I would like to reveal the Travis Norvell method of preparing to write a sermon, or the ACME Q46 Sermon Generator

Next week I will start a five Sunday vacation (including a week of continuing education).

I start off by writing all of the Christian, secular, solar/lunar, church specific, agricultural, Baptist dates I can think of on my giant pad of paper.  I also list all of the themes I'll be preaching on for the year.

Then I set off for the first few days letting my mind & soul get lost in libraries, bookshops, museums, galleries,  hikes, movies, and the like all the while picking up artifacts that I place in my "special box."  (For the record I really do have a "special box,"  Like Rock Baptist gave me this special box as a going away present.)  In addition to the artifacts collected during my continuing education week the special analog box includes artifacts from the year: newspaper articles, New Yorker cartoons, New Yorker articles, New York Review of Books articles, poems, song lyrics, NPR stories/interviews, quotes from books, quotes from parishioners and life, movie scenes, works of art, any and everything that I find interesting, funny, thought provoking, stimulating, or down right amazing.  (For the record my practice of collecting artifacts drives my spouse absolutely bonkers because I refuse to recycle any scrap of paper until I have looked it over carefully and evaluated its potential.)

Near the end of my continuing education week I dump all of the contents from my special box out onto a large table.  Then I start sifting and sorting the contents into theme piles.  Then I match up them up to the themes for the coming year: longing, brokenness, grace, hospitality, belief (that is all I at the moment).  Each theme has a folder, all the folders go into a 1970s era binder which I will then carry with me to work and the library throughout the year providing me with further clarity and direction.

This method enables me to research material throughout the year.  How many times have you been writing a sermon on Wednesday and thought to yourself, "this would be a damn good sermon if I had read X or had more time to think about Y."  Now you do.  I am sure this method could be adapted for use on an email machine but I like my analog box.

This method will not produce stellar sermons but it will hopefully lift the determining third.  Determining third?  Tommy Lasorda once said that all baseball teams win a 1/3 of their games and lose and 1/3 of their games, it's that third 1/3 that separates great teams from average teams.  I apply the same theory to my sermons: a 1/3 will be great, a 1/3 will be not so great, and the other 1/3 will hopefully be pretty damn good.

At the end of the preaching year you could have something like this (if you write out your sermons).

This year I included all of my sermons (even the outlines of a few that I preached without a script), the prayers, letters to the editors, submissions to magazines, wedding homilies, blessings, and opening words at special events.  I did not include newsletter articles or my weekly paragraph in the church email (maybe this year I will).  Why do I keep all of these?

Two reasons.  One, to give myself a visual reminder of how crucial writing is to my profession.  Good writing is essential.  Two, I have a way to checking/reviewing my writing.  Am I repeating myself?  Do my paragraphs balance (short sentences followed by long sentences)?  Where are my weak spots?  What do I need to work on?  Bonus reason: it proves (to myself) that I do not JUST write sermons on Saturday evening and work at Dairy Queen during the day. :)

What is your method?  Please share.