What I learned writing Advent devotions

This past season of Advent, I wrote daily devotions which I sent to anyone interested in receiving them. I had about twenty-five folks subscribe, so I was committed to twenty-four devotions, beginning December 1. I chose a selection of bible passages that mentioned darkness and light as the calendar moved us slowly but surely to the winter solstice. The increasing darkness each day was a perfect backdrop for the coming of light, fuel for both physical and spiritual insights. Here are a few things I learned writing this collection of devotions.

  • From the beginning to the end, there are a lot of verses in the bible that mention dark and light. While darkness is used to describe sin, wickedness and death, light brings hope, righteousness and life.
  • Writing daily devotions is hard work. Especially when you’re working from a theme. (I wrote devotions last Lent, too, but used two chapters of a gospel.) Even though each was only three- to five-hundred words, I often struggled to find meaning or application for the passages. This is actually a good thing. It made me stop and think, dig a little deeper, and find personal application. Each one had an important lesson for me.
  • I didn’t get much feedback. Maybe that’s a good thing. My writing could probably use some work. Anyway, you never know who is or who isn’t reading your work. Apart from a few, “I’m really enjoying your devotions,” I didn’t get many comments at all.
  • When you are writing every day, you develop a rhythm. You get into a groove. The more you write, the easier it is to write. I am sure the daily routine improved my writing. It is a good discipline to commit to.
  • I think I wrote more for myself than for others. I wanted to show myself that I could do it. I felt the need to create rather than just consume ideas and insights.

I’m not sure if I’ll do this again. I felt like I could only write once a day, so I put my blog on hold. It took time, maybe ninety minutes or so every day. That’s a lot of time to devote.

But I probably will.

Five things I learned writing daily Lent devotions

A week before Ash Wednesday (February 14 this year), I cast a line via my weekly email into the congregation announcing that I would be writing daily devotions on Mark’s version of the passion of our Lord during the forty-six days of Lent (I included the Sundays). About twenty replied and received a daily early-morning email devotion. This was a new project for me, and here’s what I learned from the experience. Continue reading

Storyboarding

I’m not writing out my sermons.  At least, not lately.  I’ve gotten into “storyboarding,” just like they put together movies or commercials.  I’m not sure where I picked up this idea, but it forced me to be more visual in the way I put together my sermons.  I have to come up with an image or a description for each point rather than just an outline.

This is totally different than how I was taught to put a sermon together.  My sermon preparation professor, Dr. Gerhard Aho at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN, made us thoroughly outline everything.  And that is how I approached every sermon for years, as if he were watching over my shoulder.  It was a good foundation that made me think through my text, points, transitions, and illustrations.

Lately, though, I’ve used a storyboard approach.  I try to put a picture with each part of the sermon that supports that one point I’m trying to get across to people.

How’s it going?  Well, my personal reviews are mixed.

It consumes less time than outlining and writing out a whole sermon.  I used to spend hours writing and rewriting.  Then I realized no one was actually reading these sermons so a manuscript wasn’t really important.  I didn’t even read them; I always preach without notes.

It’s easier to memorize.  Rather than trying to remember all the paragraphs I’ve written, I’ve got 8 to 12 images to recall, which bring to mind that part of the sermon.

But it’s a little nerve wracking, knowing that everytime I preach, I am composing as I go.  Kind of like jazz improvisation.  I’ve worked hard to learn the chords, and then work from there.

No one knows I’ve changed my approach except me.  Until  now.  Now all of you do.