Ryan Huguley posted recently on the reasons he preaches from a manuscript, as opposed to an outline, or even extemporaneously. I think he's brilliant, partly because I agree:
Every pastor preaches with a slightly different style of notes.I could add a few things (and have, here and here), but Huguley hits the high points, certainly. These are big for me. And right up there alongside these three would be "It helps me say things precisely." It's so easy to give the wrong impression, even to spout bad theology, when speaking off the cuff...using a manuscript helps reduce the number of times I say something stupid or ill-advised. It doesn't eliminate them, mind you, but reduces them. And that's something, at least.
Personally, I’ve experimented with almost every style I’ve seen, finding some more effective than others. While I’m fully aware that different preachers require different types of notes, I also believe that every preacher should cut their teeth on the discipline of some form of manuscript. I believe this for the same reason I believe guitar players should learn to play an acoustic prior to an electric: It helps you cultivate healthy habits.
It’s become some strange badge of honor to preach with no notes. People argue that preaching with a manuscript often leads to dry and boring sermons that sound like someone reading a seminary paper. And while that can be true, it’s equally unhelpful when a pastor goes into the pulpit and precedes to wander all over the world for an hour under the guise of being “lead by the Spirit” and unconstrained by his notes.
Unless you’re an experienced communicator with rare gifts, preaching with no notes often leads to sermons that suck far more than we’d like to admit. We end up with sloppy structures, little focus, and a sermon that simply will not end while the congregation silently begs us to “land the freaking plane!”
This is the way I preached the entire first year of our church plant and it was not pretty much of the time! So, I started to write word-for-word manuscripts every week. It was difficult, draining and tedious, but it has made me a more faithful, fruitful and helpful preacher.
Here are the top 3 reasons I continue to use a modified manuscript…
1. It helps me stay on topic
Is there anything worse than a preacher’s attempt to touch on every topic in his mind all in the course of one sermon? This type of preaching lacks clarity and leaves listeners confused and asking, “What was the point of all that?” The discipline of a manuscript forces me to stay fixed on the one big idea the original author is communicating and ensures that all my points connect to that same big idea.
2. It helps me transition clearly
The first pastor who trained me to preach once told me, “If you open strong, close well, and hit your transitions, your sermon will take care of itself.” It’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’ve found his advice to hold true. Am I the only one who finds it frustrating when a preacher says he has “X” number of points and then fails to call them out clearly leaving me with a confusing mess of disconnected and seemingly unrelated notes? While I no longer use a word-for-word manuscript, I do write my transitions word-for-word, restating the big idea as well as the point I’ve just communicated. This reminds people what I’m talking about and signals that we’re moving to something new.
3. It helps me control my time
I recently sat through a sermon where the pastor said, “I’m going to close with this,” three different times and then continued to talk – for 90 minutes! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE listening to good preaching and I’m all for spending the time necessary to preach a text faithfully, but NOBODY wants to hear you preach 90 minutes – other than you. I know that to be true because each time I preach too long I watch my church’s eyes glaze over and can hear them begging me to shut it down. Pastor Scott Thomas recently wrote, ”A good sermon may be long, but rarely is a long sermon good.” He’s 100% right and using a manuscript is teaching me to be more concise, to eliminate redundancy, and to GET TO THE POINT!
Understand, I’m not arguing for head down, zero passion, boring people to sleep, reading your notes kind of preaching. I’m arguing for prayerful, powerful, and palpable proclamation of God’s Word! The kind of preaching people leave thinking, “I heard GOD speak to me today!” So type them, hand write them, you can even finger paint them for all I care, but for the sake of those you preach to, internalize and utilize some form of notes.