Technology and Preaching

You might want to read yesterday’s post on Evernote to get some context.

All this business about technology and preaching has me thinking random thoughts…

First thing is the positive stuff: because I am anal retentive hyper organized, it is a relief to have all of my ‘output’ in one place. This is the basis of David Allen’s Getting Things Done—get all your tasks and reference material into a system you trust so it’s not taking up space in your psyche. There’s nothing worse than that low-level anxiety from fear you’re forgetting something. GTD and my Evernote system take a load off my mind. (Yes, that means I would be even more high strung if I were less organized. Did I just blow your mind?)

I also think the way we are writing sermons is changing. Spirit works in many ways. If faithful sermons were written by a pastor in the 1950s, working in his [and only occasionally her] study while consulting a stack of commentaries, I absolutely think the Spirit can work in my clipping an article on stewardship in May for use in October. (Anyway, haven’t we always done this? We just used folders and file cabinets before.)

However.

Just as all technology has a shadow side, so does this organizational system. In a busy week of ministry, it can be very tempting to do a paint-by-numbers job on the sermon using bits and pieces I’ve collected from random places, rather than really delving into the text. Nick Carr is right—having information at our fingertips means that we can forgo deep reflection for the sake of readily available data.

I’m not one for self-punishment over this, by the way. Weekly preaching (as opposed to monthly) has meant lowering my standards a bit… which is a gracious thing to do for yourselves, fellow perfectionists. It’s meant trusting the preaching relationship more than the power of a single sermon. But I can tell when the work is getting superficial, when I feel like Bilbo Baggins, “Sort of stretched, like… butter scraped over too much bread.”

As with most things, the fact that something (in this case, a certain technology) can be abused isn’t an excuse not to use it. It’s a discernment process.

I also think a lot about hoarding. Because Evernote makes it so easy to save stuff, it can be easy to overdo it. Do I really need to clip and save this bit about Lent in the middle of August? Can I not trust that when Lent rolls around, there will be something provided right when it is needed? Am I hoarding by saving this? [Separate but related issue: The importance of reading for its own sake, not thinking about how I might “use” it later.]

I recently read about the difference between hoarding and saving. The former is done haphazardly and with a scarcity mentality. The latter is purposeful. It seems that storing up tidbits, stories, archives of stuff, can go either way, into the realm of hoarding (I’m going to hold onto this because I’m fearful about the future), or purposeful saving (the Boy Scout motto comes to mind).

Final thought: there’s something bizarre about having an archive of sermons that, at their core, are very of-the-moment pieces of writing. I believe and was taught that sermons are events. After I preach one, I tend to obsess about how it could have been better, so I often do a mental exercise in which I imagine myself flying a kite, and I cut the string and let it float away. It doesn’t belong to me anymore. It’s over.

This is all true, and yet… I have a record of every sermon I’ve ever preached. They don’t really go away. Strange, no?

Preachers: how has technology changed how you write and (more deeply) how you think about what a sermon is? Sermon listeners, and writers of other stripes, chime in too.

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6 thoughts on “Technology and Preaching

  1. marciglass says:

    I will need to ponder this today. I’m thankful for the idea that the wealth of data at our fingertips can get in the way of reflection.

    I have only been preaching weekly for 2 years, but have yet to figure out a way to keep those little gems that I’m sure will one day be the perfect sermon illustration. So, I confess, I don’t keep track.

    Things do tend to show up when I need them, however. So I haven’t had to worry about saving (hoarding) things for later. But in order for things to show up when I need them, it does mean I keep my eyes open in ways I didn’t before.

    Before I write my sermons, I’ve reflected on the text all week and I’ve read a commentary (usually Feasting on the Word). And then I sit in a coffee shop and write. Sermons are public events, so I guess it makes sense for me to write them in public as well.

    • mamdblueroom says:

      There’s also the tension, whether you’re constantly mining and saving like I do, or whether things show up (as for you), to treat this material (stories, quotes, ideas) in a utilitarian manner, as stuff to *use*, rather than really letting these bits of wisdom sink in and transform our lives. Like the Spirit’s saying, “I didn’t give you this story for you to insert into the sermon, it’s for YOU, you knucklehead.”

  2. Ruth Everhart says:

    I think you said it in acknowledging the preaching relationship. If we treat each sermon as an event that needs perfection, then we are buying into an entertainment mentality, or at least a performance mentality. Preaching is about inviting/urging/compelling people to hear the word, in order to worship God. It is always a challenge to let go of perfectionism, I hear you, but in letting go of that, we are also stepping aside, which is a very important thing for a preacher to do. A few random thoughts from a very imperfect preacher.

    • mamdblueroom says:

      Our mutual friend Roy uses the metaphor of a meal… well, bread, actually. It’s too much to ask for us to cook a gourmet dinner each week (and as you say, it can become about us). Instead we are called to show up each week with a good loaf of bread. Works for me.

      Ruth, anyone who preaches on the Roomba is tops in my book!

  3. anne says:

    and from my spot in the pew i’ve noticed that the ‘preacher’ isn’t the only person who can offer up a sermon on any given sunday. sometimes it’s the way a young girl gazes at the choir. sometimes it’s the way a 70-year-old daughter helps her 90-year-old mother prepare for worship. sometimes it’s the way a young child calls out ‘daddy’ in the middle of silent meditation. sometimes it’s the way the retired doctor goes to the side of a fellow-worshipper who is short of breath and takes his pulse and calls 911 while worship continues, in a fashion around them.
    we each have a responsibility to come to the table and to bring our differing gifts there to be shared.

  4. MaryAnn says:

    I just read this very interesting bit in an article for Writing It Real magazine that seemed pertinent here re: the importance of keeping records of what we write (including sermons):

    Record keeping is another strategy toward increased productivity. I have long studied the lives and practices of high-level creators, including visual artists like Georgia O’Keeffe. These predecessor creators inspire me. Perhaps I thought, I could ratchet up my strategies and techniques — do whatever they did — to realize my own dreams as a writer. One rather odd thing I discovered is that they keep track of their works. They keep records and these records account for all their works — not just works sold or commissioned or published.

    In contrast, average creators tend to forget works, abandon works, reject works, and lose works. Because of this trail of lost pieces (poems, stories, essays, paintings, or whatever), they have a weak sense of what actually constitutes their body of work, and each new piece is brand new. Their lost writing is essentially devalued writing. (And if the writer does not value his or her own work, who will value it?) This is not to say that every piece is a good piece, but that any piece whether poem or story might be worked on and eventually driven into the barn of finished work. Writers who work on their craft gain a bit of skill each year and that skill is available for honing past work. A lost poem loses its chance at art. It is lost to the possibility of revision. The creative energy expended on it, which may have been considerable, is also lost (or at least dissipated). In contrast, Yeats (for example) continued to revise his entire body of work, including his juvenilia, throughout his lifetime.

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