Preaching Ideas in Home Depot (and Other Places)

As a creative support for our pastor and other church staff, part of my job is to generate ideas for various ministries, emphases and sermon series. So in my work I’m known as one of the “creative guys”. In this role I’m often asked where I get my ideas. My standard reply is “Home Depot”, which usually gets me an odd stare. So let me share a little on finding great ideas, but from a pastoral perspective.

What is an idea? As a pastor seeking preaching and ministry ideas, you first have to understand exactly what an idea is. The best definition I’ve come across is that an idea is the combination of two or more existing elements in a new, often unexpected way. Ideas, then, are born of the familiar, but in some way offer a new connection.

Steve Jobs at Apple combined a hard drive from a computer and a Walkman radio and made the iPod. Neither music on the computer or a portable music device were new ideas—it was the combination of the two that spawned the idea of digital music players. So where do these to or more existing elements come from? This is where Home Depot enters the picture.

What are the raw materials? Raw materials for ideas come from the input we have every day. What we read, what we see on television, the conversations we have, observations in our workplace, schools, stores, neighborhoods. I get lots of thoughts walking through Home Depot. There are lots of products that I have no idea what they do, but they look interesting. The plumbing aisle is particularly attractive, filled with lots of pipes and tubes and fittings that get me thinking, “How in the world is this thing supposed to function?”

In order to cook a meal you have to have the ingredients. In order to incubate an idea, you must have raw materials. Best advice for pastor in getting raw materials? First, read, voraciously and regularly. Not only the Bible and theology books, but magazines, newspapers and online. I know of no prominent pastor who is not also an avid reader. Second, observe. Look at life as an opportunity to learn. An interesting exercise is to enter any interaction with the thought, “How could this visit (or shopping trip, or errand, or whatever) help me in my preaching?” Make your mind a sponge and it will soak up more than you could ever imagine.

How are new ideas born? New ideas are born after a period of incubation. Basically once you have all these thoughts, observations, words and facts in your mind, they all need to roll around up there for a while to mature. It’s like cooking a stew. The longer and slower it cooks the better the result. The best idea people aren’t on the clock when it comes to inspiration. They have good ideas because they spend time collecting raw materials and then allow those thoughts to incubate. Often my ideas combine elements I first observed months, even years ago.

As a pastor, you must allow yourself time to think, time to rest and time to focus. Ideas will not incubate as well if your mind is filled with constant noise. A quick tip—take 10-15 minutes each day to be in a silent room without companions or distractions. Sound like your time alone with God? Guess what—that’s actually a great incubation time for ideas. But don’t let idea needs distract your time with God—they’ll incubate on their own in your subconscious. Concentrate on Him instead.

Are you creative? Another question I get often is what type of person is creative? My answer is that everyone is creative, but in different ways. Creativity in a practical sense is being able to generate alternatives, choices. You could do it this way, or this way, or that way. Most of us are good at that. As a pastor, you are creative. People who sense they are not creative are most likely not living a lifestyle that allows them to soak up raw input and incubate thoughts in the minds. If you don’t read, don’t observe and don’t find silent moments in your day, guess what? You’re not going to have many ideas, and you’ll not feel very creative.

Creativity in many ways, then, is not a talent, but a skill. Artistic creativity is a little different. An artist, a musician, those folks have some innate abilities specific to those arts, just like you might be gifted at public speaking and teaching. But the practical creativity I am talking about—the ability to take a ministry focus and think of ideas to bring it to life—that’s more of a skill. So soak up input, read everything you can get your hands on, find some incubation time and watch your creative capacity improve.


Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.