Are you getting better or are you just bored?
In his book entitled “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues that the “channel of flow” – what might also be called “being in the zone” – exists where one’s skills are matched by an adequate challenge. A flow activity, he says, involves a sense of discovery and pushes one to higher levels of performance.
When the challenge far outweighs our abilities we tend to be anxious. If, however, our skills far outweigh the challenge we are merely bored. When, however, our level of skill is appropriate to the challenge we face we are more likely to experience “flow.”
While Csikszentmihalyi’s (apparently pronounced cheek-sent-me-hy-ee) subjects weren’t preachers, I believe that his insights are applicable for our pulpits.
I have a personal theory that many preachers grow most in the early years of their ministry. Faced with the challenge of coming up with a fresh sermon week after week after week and with minimal skills there is a steep learning curve along with a fair amount of anxiety! Using Csikszentmihalyi’s language, there is plenty of challenge and most preachers grow in the proficiency of their skills.
As time goes on and preachers learn to manage ministry preaching becomes easier. This is, in part, because they have grown and developed in their ability. However, there comes a time when there is a need for another challenge. Without it, there is the possibility that development will slow and eventually boredom will settle in.
So, are you getting better as a preacher or as you just bored? Maybe you need a new homiletical challenge.
If, upon reflection, you reckon you could use a good preaching challenge there are a few places to look:
- Read a preaching textbooks and select a particular aspect that you feel you could improve on such as introductions, illustrations, applications, etc. Textbooks are a good reminder of how much more there is to learn and are filled with all sorts of challenges for the preacher looking to grow.
- Learn a different sermon structure. Proficiency in several sermon structures is really helpful and a great preaching challenge. If you usually preach propositionally you might want to try a narrative structure. If you use a narrative structure you might want to try a more propositional model.
- Preach from a book of the Bible or on a topic that you know will stretch you. This alone can bring freshness back to our preaching as we are challenged with an unfamiliar section of Scripture or a topic that we haven’t really tackled before.
Along the way, you may want to gather some feedback from a few trusted people (and I’ll have much more to say about that in future articles!) and you’ll want to reflect on what you’re learning as well.
I’d love to hear what other preaching challenges you have set yourself in order to develop and grow as a preacher, so leave a comment and we can all learn from each other.