I believe in manuscripts! No notes – part 3.

Stephen commented on part 1 of the “no notes” post.  Please read his comment there.  He referred to the fact that some famous speakers carry a manuscript into the pulpit. “The defense of using a manuscript I have been told is to ensure every thought is well developed and theologically sound.” Thoughts on the issue of the manuscript:

1. If possible, fully manuscript your message.  I totally agree with these reasons for writing a manuscript – every thought should be fully developed and theologically sound.  There is no excuse for preaching undeveloped thought or unsound concepts.  This is why I avoid the phrase “extemporaneous” preaching, since people understand that to mean “spontaneous” preaching rather than “prepared, but without notes” (the dictionary gives both meanings).  This is also why I encourage the writing of a full manuscript.  It allows for both developed thought and doctrinal soundness.  It also allows for attention to the details of style, precision in the choice of individual words, use of rhetorical devices, avoidance of unhelpful reduncancy, injection of deliberate aids to oral clarity and so on.

2.  Don’t take your manuscript into the pulpit.  I would guess that some of the big name speakers who advocate manuscript preaching do not actually read their manuscript verbatim.  I’ve yet to hear someone preach from a manuscript effectively – although some who have a manuscript treat it as notes rather than a script.  I find when I type a full manuscript that a lot of the extra work will show during delivery (the work of manuscripting internalizes the message, even specific wording).  I prefer the connection I feel with the listeners now I preach without notes, but the real issue is the listeners, what is the most effective way to communicate with them?

3. Write your manuscript for the ear.  If you are going to write a manuscript, it is important to write as you will speak.  We have all learned to write for the eye.  We place high value on succinct, clear and varied content.  But we need to write for the ear.  This means using restatement, sometimes repetition, short sentences, consistent terminology, very deliberate transitions, and so on.  A thoroughly effective sermon, when transcribed, requires editing before it reads well.  When going in the other direction, we need to pay careful attention to our style.  The question is not does it look good on paper, but does it communicate when people can’t see it?  Listeners cannot look back and reread a sentence, nor hear the underlining of a section title, so we must not speak in written English! Is it written for the ear?

4. Preaching requires a commitment both to the Bible and to the listener.  As a preacher you must give yourself to diligent study of the text and thoroughly biblical content.  At the same time, preaching involves maximum connection and effective communication with the listener.  Write a manuscript, but preach without notes – in my mind this approach achieves both!

6 thoughts on “I believe in manuscripts! No notes – part 3.

  1. For me, writing a manuscript would be a waste of the Lord’s time and hinder my delivery. However I appreciate the thought of leaving your manuscript behind. There’s never been an effective public manuscript reading!!

    Preaching is a matter of truth, passion and trust. Reading a manuscript (or writing one in my humble opinion) is the fastest way to short-circuit passion. It kills trust too as a hearer wonders if you know what you’re talking about if you have to read it like a schoolboy.

    You’ll certainly have more precise truth if you take the time to write it out and cross every “t” and dot every “i”. But in my heart that’s living in fear of making a mistake. Now don’t run off and exclaim that I must not care about truth. Not at all. I love the truth of God’s word and I’m faithful to it. But when I stand before the Lord, I may be as precise and correct as the Pharisees (…thought they were?). I may also have searched the Scripture thinking that in them I had zoe when I was unwilling to come with my whole passionate (falible) self. I want to stand before Jesus knowing that I played to win and was faithful, not that I played to not lose and was fearful.

  2. I prepare a manuscript and take it to the pulpit with me. I am not a slave to the manuscript.

    The number one advantage of using the manuscript in the pulpit is that I feel tremendous freedom within set boundaries.

    Secondly, manuscript preparation forces me be reflect on every movement within the sermon. I take the economy of words seriously. Typically, I shoot for about 800 words in the manuscript. When I am preaching, I am confident that every one of those words is suppose to be there.

  3. I’ve always prepared a full manuscript, but then never knew what to do with it in the pulpit. This week I took the challenge of condensing my manuscript down to a few key points and then preaching from these points. I was amazed how natural I felt, and how much i remembered. I was pushed to prepare well and stay very close to the text.

    Thank Peter.

  4. I’m retired now, but I always preached from a manuscript which I took to the pulpit. I type them on one side of a half sheet of paper which neatly tucks into my Bible. I use 15pt type which is large enough to see from a distance. I slide my pages to one side as I go along rather than flipping them so that the congregation doesn’t notice the notes. Several days before the service, I read my notes aloud over and over so that I get rid of tongue twisters and so that I can become really familiar with the text. In the pulpit, I place my notes as high on the pulpit as I can so that I can maintain eye contact with the congregation as well as see my manuscript. In this way, I people have been surprised to learn that I simply read my manuscript because it didn’t sound “read.” At times I have added material that wasn’t in my manuscript as I felt led, but I always had the manuscript to get back on track. Often for story-type illustrations which I knew well, I would ignore the manuscript and sometimes step to one side of the pulpit and tell the story even though the whole story was in my manuscript. One other thing: I used my high-lighter to mark some key phrases so they would stand out.

  5. I hear what you are saying about manuscripts. I’ve heard it many times. I admire those who can prepare and preach with integrity without a manuscript. But, let’s not assume that to preach without a manuscript is to deny the work of the Spirit. I prefer not to force all preachers into the same mold by assuming that we all think and act the same way; that all of us have the ability to speak with integrity without the aid of notes or manuscript. Likewise, I will not assume that all who do not use manuscripts preach with integrity. Some make the absurd assumption that he who preaches without a manuscript is more holy, spiritual or faithful than others. Another view can be taken. In the development of a manuscript, I pray over it, seek God’s will and Words for God’s people . Why would I, then, chunk all that God and I have developed together and go to the pulpit depending on my sin-tainted human nature (my heart) to do what I refused to do in the study? I have heard too many “holy-than-me”” preachers proclaim heresies by ad-libbing from the pulpit in the assumption that their speech is of the Spirit. The truth is that there are many credible ways to preach with integrity. No one method is more righteous than the other. Handling the Word with Integrity is the sole litmus test of preaching.

  6. When I first started preaching, I preached from memory withour using any notes at all. But as I got older I started to use notes, not manuscripts. I write out my own notes. But I write them for the ear- not like it’s going to be read. However, I always had my notes mastered by the time I got up to preach! So when it comes to notes I believe in the “Prepare with notes, but preach without it” method. Yet I believe what works for one preacher may not work for the other. So when it comes to notes, manuscripts, or memory- You have to use the method that best succors you! Don’t try to preach like nobody else!

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