Notes or no notes? – Part 1

I preached with notes for a decade, sometimes extensive, sometimes brief. Three years ago I switched to preaching without notes. I would not go back. I’m pretty sure that Mike preaches with some notes and does so very effectively. We’ll get his thoughts on this subject soon. There are more important things than whether you preach with or without notes. It’s more important to be Biblical, to have clear big idea, specific purpose and relevance. So I would not make a definitive case for no notes as opposed to with notes or with manuscript preaching (although to be honest I have yet to see someone who can read a manuscript effectively in preaching). However, this issue is important since delivery is a key element in preaching.

So why do I advocate and encourage no notes preaching? Preaching without notes increases eye contact beyond belief! Greater eye contact increases the sense of connection and intimacy between listener and speaker. We are living in a day when people are increasingly resistant to “pre-planned” speeches. While my preaching is completely pre-planned, it feels more authentic and relational because I am not following notes. For eye contact alone, it is worth it for me.

But there are other benefits. Preaching without notes forces you to make sure the outline makes sense. As Haddon Robinson says, a good outline remembers itself. An outline on paper can be deceptive, giving the impression of logical ordering, but an outline that does not flow or make sense will be very hard to internalize for preaching without notes. Preaching without notes also forces you to tie the message as directly as possible to the text. The text is your notes, so the message needs to logically flow from the text. Furthermore, you are more likely to stay put in the text you are dealing with rather than skipping all over the canon (a good habit to get into for many reasons!)

So that’s the “why?” In the next post I will explain the “how” of no notes preaching . . . and it is not about memorization!

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11 thoughts on “Notes or no notes? – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Should You Use Notes in the Pulpit? | SoulPreaching.Com

  2. Pingback: A Steward of the Secret Things

  3. I guess I fall into a weird middle ground. At the moment I write extensive notes, but when I preach barely refer to them.
    I can find it a real pressure to get a sermon written in time when life is manic and work has many demands on my time. The act of writing (I’d even go as far as crafting) a sermon helps me to get the clarity I need.
    I know I’ve preached well when I haven’t refered to my notes at all and the sermon I have given has detoured from what I had committed to paper.
    Having said that, those of us who use power point are just using notes in a different way. Huge, publicly available prompt cards that help us to stay on track and not miss any important points.

  4. Thanks Steve – Interesting description of powerpoint!

    Regarding detours . . . I hesitate to use the term “extemporaneous” preaching because it sounds too much like “spontaneous” preaching. I’ve been thinking back over the last years and I think I can say that I deviate less from my outline and message now that I preach without notes than when I used notes. Maybe it is because I have forced myself to prepare more fully (not true in every case, but generally). It is possible that I stick closer to one text now than I used to, which leaves less detour opportunities.

  5. I agree that preaching without notes is so liberating. Flowing from the hours invested in study, meticulous preparation of an abandoned manuscript, and praying through the passage, there is often a spontaneity that comes when one is not staring at notes but is looking into the faces of the hearers. The Lord often brings thoughts or applications to mind that were not anticipated, something which did not happen when I was tied to my notes. I can only speak from personal perspective, but it seems that there is a fresher anointing and especially an authority when you have nothing in your hand and heart but the Word of God.

  6. Peter – I am a frequest reader of the blog and I am looking forward to this discussion. I read most of Charles Koller’s book How to Preach Without Notes several years ago and it was a terrific help. I still use more of an outline brief, but do not lean heavily on the notes except to keep me on track – which is what the passage does as well. I have been told that John Piper uses a full manuscript. What are your thoughts on this? The defense of using a manuscript I have been told is to insure every thought is well developed and theologically sound. I personally like the freedom of seeing people eye to eye. I feel as though they are more engaged and are hearing from you as someone who cares for their soul.

  7. Thanks Stephen. Your comment prompted me to add a third post to the series on no notes preaching. I don’t think that will be the end of the series!

  8. Another good book on preaching without notes is Wilbur Ellsworth’s The Power Of Speaking God’s Word: How To Preach Memorable Sermons.

    I preach usually at least twice a week-often more-and find that by using hardly any notes – an outline on one side of a sheet of paper that I have to know my text, preaching point, and sermonic outline very very well. In the past I used full notes, but have grown to realize (for me at least) that full notes can lead to more of a historical or exgetical lecture than actually shepherding people with God’s Word.

    hello to Stephen Watson!

  9. I recently discovered this blog and have really been enjoying reading some of the older posts. I switched about 4 months ago from manuscript to “image mapped” sermons. Still working through some of the bumps but I feel much more free in delivery and connection is much better.

    all about Christ,
    David Buckham

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