Thursday, March 8, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

Last week I simply ran out of time.

I never wanted to be the Saturday afternoon (evening) sermon writing pastor. I find it very stressful to be sitting down late Saturday and realize there are hours of work ahead due by the following morning. It is true that I work more focused with that bit of adrenaline behind me, but it is also true that like any drug you have to keep pushing to get that same adrenaline kick. For instance, it used to be that the adrenaline hit at noon on Saturday, then 3, then it would have to be after dinner time before I would really start to panic.

In the last few months I was getting increasingly frustrated with landing on Saturday and finding my sermons needing to be done from scratch. TDH encouraged me to carve out some time for sermon writing. Well, duh... but he was right in that as simple as it sounds I wasn't doing it.

As a solo pastor - and I guess as any pastor - there is always something that needs to be done, some fire that needs to be put out. The challenge is to as early as Wednesday - let it burn. Start the sermon. It is a great idea that I have managed to pull off exactly once - the first weekend of February when I knew I had family coming into town and a birthday party to throw for The Boy and I really didn't want the sermon hanging over my head.

Last week I was at the hospital all day Tuesday, worked on my sermon a bit on Wednesday morning, trained a new Administrative Assistant on Thursday, continued the training and ran the bulletin on Friday, did a wedding and had my computers taken away on Saturday and found myself for the first time ever sitting in worship on Sunday morning with no second half of my sermon written. I hadn't even really outlined it.

So mirroring what I did earlier in the service during a baptism I walked into the congregation and spoke about the sermon topic off of the top of my head, managing to keep my eye on the clock and give an ending that sounded like a reasonable semblance of a point.

In the comments at the Saturday preacher party I described my plan like this: My plan is to literally walk amongst them and make up a sermon ending and hope that as Presbyterians the fear they will feel that I might touch them or ask them a question during the sermon will keep them from asking themselves, "Is she saying anything?

The thing is it worked. The feedback I received was that it was a great sermon, but I know it wasn't. I know it was nothing more than smoke and mirrors. But if I am rewarded for such behavior how do I hold myself accountable to doing more? How do I get out of this Saturday evening/Sunday morning (yikes!) rut? How do I get everything done including the research and effort needed for a weekly paper and presentation?

No answers yet and my head is pounding and so for now I will stick with the rest of my comment from last Saturday night... Personal prayers, reflection apologies with God and a Holy Nap.


Teri said...

I am usually a Thursday-afternoon writer. I do it by shutting my door and telling the administrator that only two people who might call are allowed to be transferred in. She takes messages. Other than that, I speak to no one until I have something written.

As an extrovert, that kind of torture means I tend to leave Thursday evening with something. Not always a good something, but at least something I can work with.

That also frees me up to take the train into the city on Fridays...thus allowing me a semblance of a social/cultural life.

I don't know how, but it normally works for me. I've only done one Saturday-writing spree since coming here (and that was last week...).

Songbird said...

You know I share many of the same issues about the way time is spent during the week and when sermons make it onto the screen/paper, but I want to make one point. Your people are telling you they appreciate simply hearing you talk. A sermon is not the same thing as a scholarly presentation. They respond when they feel your humanity coming through.
Now you may have felt too much humanity showing this past week, and I hear you about that, but it's good to hear your people, too.

esperanza said...

Hm. I used to be a Thursday sermon-writer, like Teri. But, the more I do it, the more I need the deadline pushing back at me, I guess. I've never waited till Sunday morning, and I do get nervous on Friday, but there are plenty of Saturdays in there too.

And the issue of congregational feedback is a whole nother thing entirely.

Just a comment to say I have exactly zero wisdom to share. Helpful, no?

reverendmother said...

You ask great questions, and ask them eloquently.

I was somewhat startled the other day when I realized just how easy it would be for someone to pretend their way through ministry... sure, eventually it would catch up to you, but you'd get disturbingly far before it did.

ppb said...

People will forgive a lot in a sermon if there is a believable ending.

Fortunately fo rme, I usually start with the ending. And sometimes I sort of vamp in the middle.

will smama said...

Teri, I fear that our situations are so different that apples and oranges look quite similar in comparison.

Thank you Songbird for your reminder. TDH thinks I am way too hard on myself in this category and at the same time challenges me to give the congregation more credit than I tend to give them. Maybe it is because the more vocal of the group is my father and so I cannot help but be taken back to awkward teenage days when Dad is dutifully telling me those boys are just too overwhelmed by my beauty to ask me to the dance.

esperanza, thank you. It wasn't meant to be an advice soliciting post.

RM, your scenario is precisely why I get frustrated when white men tell me how hard it is for them now. I cannot tell you how many caucasian, good looking, with a young family, men get offered positions they in no, way shape or form deserve. You say it would catch up with you eventually, and yet I have met those who retired like this.

will smama said...

Uh, rm... I'm assuming you know I am not a fake, right? It was just one Sunday.

ppb - I start with a focus and a function - but rarely a powerful ending. You might be onto something.

Preacher Mom said...

In response to RM's comment: Eugene Peterson pointed out in one of his books (Working the Angles, I think) exactly the same thing. You can take any reasonably intelligent person, hook them up with a few sermon websites, teach them a few gestures and voice intonations, and come up with a pastor that most folks would be happy to have. A fake mind you, but fakes will seldom make you uncomfortable with your own faith journey. I think we all can see how easy it would be to slide into that. But I can honestly say that the folks I have encountered through RGBP (and that includes you, will smama!) are NOT like that. I think we try so hard and care so much. We get tired. We get frustrated. Sometimes we get behind. Even so, the desire of our hearts seems to be to get it as close to right as we can, as often as we can. And we all pray that it will be enough.

more cows than people said...

ws... i don't think this was the intention of your post, but you've helped me feel better about taking tomorrow off, maybe completely, as it should be, though i have no sermon yet (and i'm usually a thursday writer) and a VERY full day on saturday (and i have to preach saturday night!) i probably could vamp on this text and say something worthwhile. in any case... praise God for your ability to preach without a full manuscript and for the Spirit's ability to touch hearts without a full manuscript... praise God.

will smama said...

preacher mom, I would think it would take more energy to be a fake... well, at least in my setting where pastoral care is absolutely expected. I could see where you could get into a multi-staffed ivory tower, look the part and pay associates to care.

more cows, now you have me thinking. It is not that I went into the pulpit unprepared. I had a general plan and a knowledge of what I thought God was saying through the Scripture. It just was not as structured as I would normaly prefer.

Now I am starting to feel like the kid that attempted to cheat on the exam by writing it all out on her shoe and ended up learning the stuff after all!

more cows than people said...

forgive me. i totally didn't mean to suggest you were unprepared, nor that i would be if i preached today without a manuscript. i've been studying. i have lots of thoughts. i'm just a prepared manuscript type of girl and have never tried anything but. there are many ways of being prepared. and i get your preference for structure.

good image of the kid with stuff on her shoe! we learn in so many ways.

hope you're feeling much better.

Clergy Novelist said...

Maybe it would be freeing to experiment with some different structures for your sermons. For a few years I worked from outlines instead of written texts. Now I'm back to writing-it-out. I think the less prepared, the longer I tend to go on -- being more prepared helps me say more in less time -- the main benefit. Sometimes I think the better sermon is when I'm least prepared BECAUSE I throw myself on the HOly Spirit without apology. Instead of thinking my magnificent (ahem) text will pull me through. The pulpit is incredibly humbling.

will smama said...

Ooh, more cows, the tone of my comment was thanking you. Your comment got me to thinking and I gave myself a break since in hindsight I realize I was not as ill prepared as I thought.

clergy novelist, I too realized that unwritten, I go longer.

Sue said...

My sermon-writing day is Friday. For the past three Fridays I've had a funeral, meaning that my sermon prep has been left for Saturday which makes me very anxious. I really don't like leaving it that late.

Tomorrow I will be in a panic to get it done early in the day, but will no doubt find that Sunday morning comes way too quickly. And then there's that time change. Oy.