Spontaneous Combustion and the Weekly Grind

By Mark A. Taylor

It’s easy to take for granted the creativity of others, especially those who must produce content on a schedule.

Preachers, for example, stand to speak every week, some of them several times every week.

Teachers fill class periods, sometimes with the overflow of their study, some of them by reading just ahead of their students in the textbook.

Newspaper columnists and magazine writers must achieve a specific word count on deadline.

Many who benefit from such output think it comes easily. But Rob Bell, speaking this April at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, knows different.

“There’s a romanticism about writing,” the preacher and filmmaker and best-selling author told his audience. “But writing is just pure, undiluted slog.”

I’m reminded of my encouragement to a preacher friend, a great communicator who should be an author. “But writing comes so slowly for me,” he said. “It takes me all morning just to produce my church paper column.”

“That’s about normal,” I said. “I spend several hours writing my weekly column, too.”

He sent me an e-mail the next day. “I’ve been thinking about what you said. I’ve decided you must not be a very good writer, either!”

Of course, time spent does not guarantee quality generated. Artists touch the hearts of their audience when they reveal something from their own soul. “We do the work because there’s something inside of us we must get out,” Bell said. “And if we don’t get it out we’re going to spontaneously combust.”

His standard for creative output: “What is it that, if you don’t do it, you’ll blow up?”

If he speaks with preachers about their sermons, Bell asks them, “Why should I care about what you’re saying? What do you have to say or it will kill you?”

I remember a mentor who told prospective Bible-college students, “If you can do anything other than preach, you should.”

Some preachers heed that advice later in the game, as they walk away from what they had thought was their calling. Perhaps more of them would stick with it if they were constantly discovering new wonders in their own interactions with God’s Word and the world: truth too precious to suppress, energy too vibrant to conceal.

And anyone can experience his or her calling with joy by applying Bell’s advice to writers: “It only works if you give yourself to it.”

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