I suffer from the terrible scourge that is perfectionism. Until recently, this affliction meant that I’d still be editing my sermons until I stepped onto the chancel, no matter how long I’d been working on them.
Something has changed over the last couple of years, though. I’ve been able to stick a fork in my manuscripts and enjoy playing or even (gasp) just kicking back in the recliner on Saturdays. Maybe I’ve gained a smidge of insight about my process through experience and the passage of time. Maybe I have a different sense of priorities now that I sit across the breakfast table from 28 pounds of pure curiosity, cuteness, and mischief. Maybe I simply trust the Spirit more than I once did.
I don’t think the quality of my sermons has declined, but even if it has, God can hit the override and still speak through me. So if you are a long-suffering perfectionist preacher, here’s what I recommend:
- Get an editor. I’m lucky to have one required by the marriage laws of our state (or something like that) to give feedback on my sermons, but in-town friends and online communities are great resources too.
- Make plans for Saturday. This is counter-intuitive for many ministers, but it may provide the inspiration needed to finish writing early and set the manuscript aside.
- Learn when to call it. Not every sermon will draw Barbara Brown Taylor comparisons. Know when to say, “I’ve worked hard, I’ve tried to be faithful to the text, and it’s up to the Spirit to do the rest.”
- Ask for post-sermon feedback. Approach a cross-section of parishioners for their honest, constructive reactions. Knowing what they heard and where they engaged will help with the next week’s preparation.
Thankfully, while it is essential to approach homiletical work with all due reverence, the Word is proclaimed in so many ways – through music, communion, prayer, the passing of the peace, and so many other experiences of the divine. So preaching is not all about us as ministers, and it is certainly not all done by us!