Relying on a Routine
Preaching is a creative process. A preacher spends each week in the Biblical text and then creates a sermon based on and inspired by the text of Scripture. Good preachers are creative. They understand Scripture, but they also understand how to convey Scripture to people setting in the pews. They understand how to apply Scripture in a way that makes it relevant to the person who is seeking a word from God. Preachers must always be faithful to the text, but they also need to approach the text with a sense of creativity. They need to contemplate how they are going to present the text to the community of God. The prophets and preachers we read about in the Bible found creative ways of presenting the word of God and we must do the same.
It is a misconception to think that a person has to be eccentric or special in order to create. Everyone has the ability to create. Some people are more creative than others, but we all can do it. Creativity is something that takes time and work. Most artists who are considered creative spend a great amount of time honing their craft. They get up every morning like the rest of us and they go to work. They rely on a routine. As a preacher who believes in the creative process, I have found routines to be essential to creating sermons. How do I arrive at the sermon I preach on Sunday? It doesn’t come to me on Saturday night. It takes days, sometimes weeks, of preparation. It takes work and it takes a daily routine.
I read a lot and I am very careful about the books I choose to read. I only have so much time and I realize I cannot read everything, so I try to choose books that are going to be the most beneficial to me. This means I read a lot of books about the Bible, theology, church history, etc. These books are what you would expect a preacher to read, but I also read books on creativity. I have found these books to be extremely helpful in my work. I recently began reading Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. This is a book about the daily routines of artists like Mozart, Beethoven, T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, Flannery O’Connor, and many others. My mentor, Jim Martin, says it is helpful to look over a person’s shoulder and see how they do their work. I have found this to be true. This book explores what artists do on an average day, what their daily routines are, and how they created the masterpieces we have come to love.
The common thread that holds all these accounts together is routine. Mason Currey in the introduction to Daily Rituals writes the following about routines.
The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps starve off the tyranny of moods.
Routines help us to be more effective. They help us to create the sermons that are going to speak to people who are longing for God’s word on Sunday. They will, as Currey says, “starve off the tyranny of moods.” No matter our emotional state our routines help us to get to work and be productive. This does not mean we will produce a masterpiece each day, or be as productive as we were the day before, but routines do help. The composer John Adams states, “My experience has been that most really serious creative people I know have very, very routine work habits.” Routines are essential to creating something meaningful, and this is what preachers strive to do every week.
How does one arrive at a routine? Here are some helpful tips.
Make it your own. Every person is different. Some people work better in the morning and others prefer the afternoon. Some people need coffee, while others might prefer a brief walk outside. The point is that we all have to create our own routines. We have to discover what works best for us. This may take trial and error. That’s fine. Keep trying until you find the right routine for you.
Look over someone’s shoulder. Even though we have to make our routines our own, this does not mean we should neglect the wisdom and counsel of others. Who do you admire? Who do you look up to? Invite them out to coffee and ask them about their routines. Ask them what an ordinary day looks like for them. Listen, learn, and then experiment with what you have discovered.
Tell others what you are doing. Begin a conversation about routines. Explain your routines to them and then listen for feedback. They may provide you with some insight you had never considered. They may tell you what they do. Be open to trying new things. If it doesn’t work, then leave it. If it does work, then make it your own. Adapt it and mold it to best fit you.
“Only when habits of order are formed can we advance to really interesting fields of action.” William James