Some pastors are talkers. They stand in the pulpit with ease and fill the air with their thoughts. That’s not me. I’m not a talker, and frankly it almost kept me out of ministry. I can carry a conversation when speaking one-to-one or one-to-a-few, but when I get up to preach, I quickly run short on words.
I often say that I have the spiritual gift of brevity, the ability to reduce 15 hours of sermon preparation into a 10-minute devotional. For that reason I have written out, word for word, my sermons for 25 years. Eight typed pages, single spaced, 14-point Times New Roman font equals a 30-minute sermon for me. That’s how I discovered the benefits of writing. I began out of necessity.
I believe the benefits have served me and my congregation well. The positive effect of writing out my sermons has been so dramatic that I’ve written four books.
I’ve come to like writing, but that wasn’t always the case. I was an average student and possibly the last one my professors would have identified as a future author. After looking over my senior thesis, the professor refused to grade it, writing atop: “This is sentence salad.” But the pastoral benefits of writing have been so profound that the discipline has grown on me.
Writing has helped me as a pastor in four major ways.
1. Writing Creates Clarity
Pastors are constantly asked questions about theological issues. Whether it’s the origin of evil, God’s purposes in suffering, or the freedom and bondage of the will, I write at least a couple of emails each month answering such questions. While I certainly don’t claim to have solved any great mysteries of our faith, these email dialogues force me to select my words carefully, which creates greater clarity of thought.
After about five years of ministry, I had an email file full of answers I’d written in response to congregant’s questions. My first book, Drive Thru Theology, is little more than a compilation of those answers. When it comes to tough theological questions, try writing yourself clear.
2. Writing Furthers Missional Momentum
Sharing leadership in pastoral ministry is both a blessing and also a burden. Pastors share their leadership with volunteers who are constantly stepping in and out of leadership roles, which makes ministry more complex. For example, the elders I serve with are limited to four consecutive one-year terms. Such rotation makes missional momentum hard to maintain. Inevitably, decisions made by one leadership team can catch new leaders off guard, so I’m constantly trying to bring people up to speed. It’s as if I’m trying to pull people onto a moving train. It’s easy for pastors to think, I don’t have time to write. But in reality writing saves time down the road.
It’s easy for pastors to think, I don’t have time to write. But in reality writing saves time down the road.
My second book, Following Jesus, was aimed at this goal. After three years of discussing our church’s philosophy of ministry, I decided to write down what the elders had identified as our disciple-making priorities. Today, we give that little book to our Sunday morning worship guests. Having our philosophy of ministry on paper allows those new to our community of faith to get up to speed on how and why we do things. If there are issues in ministry you’re constantly having to address—issues that drain your leadership energy and kill missional momentum—try writing.
3. Writing Increases Influence
Pastoral ministry has a rhythm: Every seventh day is a Sunday. This rhythm can be a tremendous blessing, but it can also become a grind. Sunday comes every week. The pressure to deliver a spiritually nourishing message is relentless. It can feel overwhelming. Pray, prep, preach, repeat—that’s the life of a pastor.
My third book, Wait . . . What? compiles what I felt were my best sermons. Offering my sermons in written form helps me feel as though my efforts week to week are having a greater influence. If you’re a good writer, and you feel frustrated by the grind of weekly sermon preparation, consider offering your sermons in written form. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you will (or should) get published. But you can still share with others what you’ve written.
4. Writing Takes You Deeper
Pastors have many resources available today—far more than any previous generation. Yet information alone doesn’t produce transformation, and countless studies seem to show that the breadth of available resources hasn’t generated greater depth among pastors. This means the hard work of answering Paul’s charge to study (2 Tim. 2:15) will require more than simply reading blogs.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If you want to grow in breadth, then read, but if you want to grow in depth, then write.” For me, writing has been a means for doing my best to present myself to God, “a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Many pastors write books in the hopes of making a little extra money. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not what I’m encouraging. In fact, I’m increasingly afraid money is the only reason many pastors consider writing.
Even though few people make any real money at writing, the discipline itself yields lots of pastoral benefits beyond earning a paycheck.