My daughter has a sweatshirt my mother-in-law gave her. “So many books, so little time.” We might add, “So many blogs, so little time.” In ministry it’s possible to spend what little spare time we have reading other people’s words. It’s easy to think that the right idea, the right technique, or the right turn of phrase are out there somewhere just beyond our grasp.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, suggests that many creative people are addicted to other people’s words. She recommends that you take a week off from reading and other forms of media to break your reliance on others’ opinions and give yourself a break.
I did this in the days before the Internet was everywhere. I gave up reading everything except the Bible, and I decided that I would only check email once a week (yes, in those simple days…). I’d been reading books every day since I was about five years old, so I expected it to be quite a difficult week.
However, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I decided to experiment: Could I write a sermon without any external resources? Thankfully, the lectionary texts for the week included I Corinthians 13. God was kind! Even so, I had never written a sermon without consulting commentaries and looking to outside sources for illustrations.
When I stood in the pulpit that Sunday, I felt powerful. I knew I had a message that I had developed with my own best thinking, in prayerful reflection on the text as I understood it as well as on the people I knew and loved who would be sitting in the pews that day.
I also had a lot of extra time in my week. Because I wasn’t reading anything in my free time, I had time to go through all my clothes and get rid of the things I never wore. I spent more time talking with my family. I tried out some new recipes.
You may not want to do a full week of media deprivation. But at the very least, I recommend you pay more attention to the words you consume. It could be a meditative practice. Notice when you instinctively turn to the Internet or a book instead of thinking for yourself. I still find myself turning to others before I reflect for myself.
It’s not all about improving your preaching, of course. It’s about ministry in a broader sense, and about life. There’s no need to be a know-nothing or to think others have nothing to teach you. (If you are reading this I know that’s not you, anyway.) However, when you have a question about something, try this: stop, breathe, and ask yourself, “What do I think about this?” Write something down. Then ask someone else or do your research. This will help develop the muscle of thinking more deeply. And you will have a baseline to assess other people’s ideas.
Could you give up other people’s words for a week? A day? Comment below and tell me what you think.