As a long time friend and fan of Kyle Matthews, I was delighted when Campbell University invited him to speak at its recent pastor’s school. Though he is a singer/songwriter and worship leader by trade, Matthews was asked to speak on the subject of creative preaching.
Preaching has power that nothing else has, Matthews said, and it ought to “sing,” but seldom does. In his first lecture, Matthews said both songwriters and preachers could enhance their creativity by giving time to meditation, and learning to recognize inspiration.
“If you want to be creative, you need to get an inner life,” Matthews said, not just a busy outer life: “creativity is rarely the product of stress.” God set the example by including rest, the Sabbath, as an important element of creation, Matthews said. Thus, preachers must be disciplined about finding ways to get away from people for quiet meditation so they’ll have something to give back. In quiet moments — even when half-asleep — the brain is able to access creative thoughts or ideas that would never make it to the surface in the course of a busy, stressful day.
Sermon writers can’t hope for “inspiration on demand,” Matthews said, but they can learn to cultivate ways to seek and recognize sources of inspiration, even in daily life. Inspiration is often the result of a change in perspective. As a good sculptor learns to envision the statue waiting to be set free from a block of granite or an artist looks at a subject from different sides, preachers can learn that gaining a different perspective can “set inspiration free.”
Creative preaching is like holding a picture frame over situations or stories that others have “always seen, but haven’t seen it like that.” The real voyage of discovering inspiration “is not in seeking new landscapes,” Matthews said, “but in having new eyes.”
In a second lecture, Matthews compared the art of preaching to the art of song writing. Like other artistic efforts, he said, they both rely on an intermingling of unity and interest. Unity is often demonstrated through repetition of a common theme or thought, while variations in the pattern add interest.
Many preachers try to package several sermons into one and thus lose their audience, Matthews said: “All you need is one worthy point” and a way to apply and communicate it. One way to combine unity and interest is to try conveying an idea through all five senses, engaging the hearers’ imagination and connecting with people who have different learning styles.
Matthews also offered “an inside trade secret of song writing.” While many people might think that unlimited freedom is the key to creativity, “Creative freedom is often an enemy of creativity,” and “limitations can be your friends.”
Commercial song writers know they have to work with limited templates for song design and a maximum of three-and-a-half minutes for their songs to be acceptable, he said. Citing Eugene Peterson, he said the application of limitations can apply pressure needed to produce an explosion of creativity. Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, for example, was inspired by an editor who required Seuss to use words from a very limited list.
Thus, self-imposed rules can actually improve one’s preaching, he said, forcing one to “put a lot in a little” and thus inspiring creativity. “It is the daily limitations of the Christian life that produce the fruit of our life’s ministry,” he said.
I’d love to reprise the central points of Matthews’ third lecture, but I was unable to attend. So, if you want the rest of the story, you’ll need to invite Matthews for your own series of lectures. You can contact him at email@example.com.