Why Good Ministers Make Bad Preachers (and Vice Versa)

Writing is hard.

Some people have the glibness, the freedom of personality, the unencumbered stream of consciousness that allows them to pour out paragraph on top of paragraph of insight — theological or otherwise — quickly, effortlessly, and voluminously.

But for me, writing is hard. The sentence above took almost 30 minutes to write, edit, rewrite, and finally settle on.

And even then, look at what you have.

For me, writing is hard. It’s work. Hard, time-consuming, physically and emotionally and spiritually draining labor. Granted, it’s not ditch-digging, but still.

And for many ministers, it’s just not worth the effort. For a lot of the guys occupying pulpits today, the more “important” work of ministry happens on Tuesday morning in the home of the widow, during the Thursday afternoon funeral planning meeting with the grieving family, or at the youth group member’s basketball game on Friday night. There are civic club meetings, and personal evangelism sales calls outside the office, and all manner of meetings and administrative duties inside the office. Never mind the social networking that for so many happens almost instinctively.

And therein lies the rub. Ministry is a people business. But preaching is, essentially, a writing job. And for the small-church, solo-practitioner, it’s two to four writing jobs a week.

At thirty minutes per sentence, that’s quite the time requirement.

Only the rarest of five-talent preacher/ministers can do both well. Most, though, have to make tough choices about where they will devote their energies.

When it comes to ministry talent, I barely have one. And since I’m determined not to bury it in the sand, I choose to spend my days reading and writing. You see, I have never been the social butterfly, nor even someone people generally went out of their way to spend time with. Writing is hard work, but social relationships are mystifying.

For me, the choice is stark — either try to engage people socially until they tire of me and send me away all the while producing bad-to-mediocre sermons and articles, or devote my energy to producing useful material that people might like even if they don’t care too much for its producer.

If I can only do one thing, I want to do it well. How successful I am at that is for someone else to judge.


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