By Lindsay Peyton
Got preacher’s block? The struggle is real, explains Rev. Jessica LaGrone, Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Almost every clergy member can relate to struggling to start a sermon. The solution, however, may be simpler and closer than you think. In January, LaGrone launched an online co-working space called “Preacher’s Block,” and it’s quickly becoming a go-to for pastors.
“It’s like study hall,” she said. “You get a sense that you’re not alone. But at the same time, there are no distractions.”
LaGrone knows what preacher’s block is like firsthand. Not only does she teach future pastors in seminary – and keep track of them as they begin their new jobs – but she also served as a pastor herself in the Texas Annual Conference before assuming her current post.
During the pandemic, LaGrone found it even more challenging at times to concentrate on the task at hand, whether preparing a sermon, working on her book project or preparing for her doctor of ministry. “I just could not focus,” she recalled.
Soon, LaGrone found a solution. “There were secular groups doing online co-working,” she said. “It’s basically a Zoom session where everyone is doing their own work.”
At first, LaGrone thought, “Who needs more Zoom in their life?” Still, she was willing to give it a try. It didn’t take long before she realized the virtual sessions were paying off. “I could double my word count,” she said.
A light bulb went off in LaGrone’s head. “I kept thinking, we need to do this for the church,” she said. “This is definitely a tool God could use.”
She reached out to a couple of friends and asked if they wanted to give it a whirl. Each would bring a project to tackle separately and turn their Zoom cameras on.
It worked. On Jan. 18, LaGrone promoted the course, and participants signed up in advance. Preacher’s Block was born.
Sessions last for 90 minutes. Before getting started, participants meet in smaller break-out groups and make two commitments.
First, they name identify the project that will be their focus for the time period, like a sermon or an outline of a new ministry. Second, they commit to blocking out certain distractions, like a cell phone that will be silenced or an email inbox that will temporarily go unanswered.
The host says a brief prayer, and then everyone gets to work for the next 90 minutes. Participants feel accountable to the group to pursue their commitments. They also are able to get away from social isolation. “It gives you the feeling that you’re writing in a coffee shop, surrounded by other people working,” LaGrone said. “You don’t feel alone.”
Preacher’s Block also helps participants steer clear of outside distractions for a defined time period. During the pandemic, when work moved home for many, LaGrone said that it became difficult to create a boundary between work time and personal time. “We’re expected to always be accessible,” she said.
This provides a space to clearly dedicate time for one purpose. “At the end of 90 minutes, you’re in a focused zone,” LaGrone said. “The writing is flowing and not forced.”
Currently, there are about five sessions a week, and pastors take turns serving as hosts. Groups range from 15 to 40 participants. Because it is virtual, clergy from all over the country can attend.
For instance, Rev. Sarah Wanck, Lead Pastor of Christ Church of the Quad Cities in Illinois, joined after some initial skepticism. “I thought Jessica had to be kidding. Voluntarily hang out on a Zoom call to ‘work together’? No way,” she recalled. “But I was blown away by what I experienced.”
Wanck added that being able to honestly tell others that she was on a Zoom call helped her stick to boundaries on her schedule. Not only was she able to avoid interruption, but it also prevented her from giving her time away to something else. “The combination of a shared work space, and structured time on my calendar, was the perfect storm for productive work,” she said. “I’m hooked.”
Rev. Leslie Tomlinson, Pastor of Harker Heights UMC, about 20 miles west of Temple, Texas, is also becoming a firm believer. “The Preacher’s Block model helped me protect the time and focus on one important task at a time,” she said. “I was much more productive than on my own. And feeling solidarity in the work is so encouraging.”
Preachers are mostly signing up to prepare sermons, LaGrone said. Other church staff members and leaders join, as do seminary students.
Anyone interested can register online. LaGrone said it’s a fun way to lighten your workload and see familiar faces. In the future, she is considering adding workshops and meet-ups to the Preacher’s Block offerings.
“I have a heart for pastors,” she said. “I want to help them.”
Sometimes, LaGrone surveys preachers, asking what would help them most, what they need. “Everybody wants more time,” she said. “This is like giving people some of their own time back.”
To sign up, visit preachersblock.com.