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Preaching without a script

Do you know what all pictures of Jesus preaching have in common?

He has nothing in his hands. Not even a Bible!

Today when I should be completing my Epiphany sermon, I found this blogpost on facebook by Landon Whitsitt, author of Open-Source Church.

Preaching without a manuscript

I have done this, but I prefer not to. I find it hard to organize my thoughts, and then end up rambling. I find writing the manuscript is the easy way. It keeps me organized and on track.

Landon recommends not preparing a conclusion as a way to ease into preaching without a manuscript. Conclusions are the worst for me. That’s why I force myself to a manuscript, otherwise I preach 3 sermons trying to wrap up the one I am trying to preach! Still, Landon provides a good way to ease into this. I might give this a try.

To be honest, I have heard many veteran preachers say they don’t need notes. Dozens. Of those, I could count on one hand the number who were not overestimating their abilities. I remember one, we had invited him to come from another province. He shared that he started to talk to his wife about what to preach about an hour away from our event. That was the extent of his preparation. I had been in ministry all of 5 minutes, no seminary training, and my boss said I could have done a much better job myself. Good preaching without notes is not “winging it” or “waiting for the Spirit to move”. It involves a great deal of preparation.

How about you? Do you use a script? What works best for you? Do you prefer to hear a preacher without notes? What makes the difference?

 

Dawn Leger

About Dawn Leger

I am a priest in the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, having served in Stouffville, Ontario. I think preaching is a profound and great privilege granted to us by God and our Church. I love the reading, the writing, the proclaiming, the dissecting and the dialogue. I also love to cook, sing, read and laugh, in no particular order.
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6 Responses to Preaching without a script

  1. I usually preach with notes – just a few main points. There are some times when I do write the whole thing out, and it feels kinda weird to be reading it instead of making eye contact. I prefer (and have had feedback from parishioners that THEY prefer) when I just have my point-form notes. I have done the prep – the hours of prayer and research and idea formulation – so that the few notes I have on my post-it will give me the focus I need to prevent rambling, while allowing some movement of the Spirit in the actual delivery. (Serving a multi-point parish also means multiple deliveries to different congregations, so sometimes I can tailor the points based on the individual congregation, which I couldn’t necessarily do if it were fully written out. I think training in public speaking is something that more preachers could benefit from; I too have heard some really wandering sermons (both written and not!)

  2. Mike Sinclair

    I absolutely can’t preach from a script. I’m not somene who can do it well.   I do prep by praying through the readings, then set them on my equivalent of ‘simmer’ for the rest of the week.  I try not to wander (not always successfully), but find that if I write it down it’s not the organic blend of me and the Holy Spirit at the time of preaching.  Not for everyone, but works for me.

  3. I found Whitsitt’s article described my own experience. I grew up in a very different Christian community, and preaching was longer, more conversational, and more informal. After working in radio and practising public speaking in a number of roles, I found the notion of reading from a script to be quite difficult. Having studied with professors from both “American school” (conversational, interactive) and “European school” (lecture reading) traditions, I see the value in both.

    The blog did make me do some thinking about my own parish experiences, though. In my former two-point congregation, one community preferred face-to-face conversations from the floor of the nave (with the exception of a few academics). The other preferred written sermons from the pulpit. I’m still reflecting on the differences between the two: one was an older, pastoral congregation, while the other was younger, and much more interested in instruction and advice. On the other hand, all of us grow comfortable with what we know: both preachers and congregations. Trying to balance both styles was a helpful and challenging experience.

  4. I found Whitsitt’s article described my own experience. I grew up in a very different Christian community, and preaching was longer, more conversational, and more informal. After working in radio and practising public speaking in a number of roles, I found the notion of reading from a script to be quite difficult. Having studied with professors from both “American school” (conversational, interactive) and “European school” (lecture reading) traditions, I see the value in both.

    The blog did make me do some thinking about my own parish experiences, though. In my former two-point congregation, one community preferred face-to-face conversations from the floor of the nave (with the exception of a few academics). The other preferred written sermons from the pulpit. I’m still reflecting on the differences between the two: one was an older, pastoral congregation, while the other was younger, and much more interested in instruction and advice. On the other hand, all of us grow comfortable with what we know: both preachers and congregations. Trying to balance both styles was a helpful and challenging experience.

  5. Kyle Norman

    I actually do both.  At the morning sermon, I preach without notes (but that is after reading through (audibly) my full script that I have prepared for the 10:00 service. 

    For myself, I find that it keeps me focused and on track.  It also helps me in preparation – as I see the flow and delivery.  I know where the dry points are, and what I have already said.  I aslo find that when I try the without a script way, I tend to retreat back to stock phrases, canned illustrations, and generic platitudes – the kind of sermonisms that sound nice but don’t have much content.  For me, to truly care for the sermon, and for God’s word to be preached, I must take some solid, focused and dedicated time to put words together.

    That being said, often the sermon I say is not the sermon I have written.  I think the act of preaching involves being open to the Spirit in the moment.  You can do that just as well with a script than without.

  6. Dawn Leger

    Kyle, that’s my experience, too, if I try to go without notes every week. Once every couple of months I can pull it off.

     

    I would like to try going without notes. I think I would need the same amount of reading and writing as I put into a manuscript. I can also imagine I would be preaching to myself while preparing my Friday night pizza! As an extrovert and an auditory learner, it might work well. I think I would need to discipline myself more.

     

    As an aside, I wish people would consider some of this advice when proclaiming announcements!

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