When we first started City Church, we had one weekly worship gathering. I would have a physical Bible (shout out to 2016 when we now have to make that clarification) with a couple of sticky notes attached that consisted of a few quotes I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget. I barely used any notes, and everything in my mind worked out for me just fine.
After significant numerical growth, we added a second service, and I quickly realized that while preaching back-to-back services without notes is doable for many, for me it was a challenge. I would forget a key illustration in one of the sermons or emphasize something different in the first service than I did the second. I was not preaching the same sermon!
A friend suggested that I start using a manuscript. That sounded awful because at the time, I couldn’t imagine myself sitting down and actually writing out an entire sermon. It felt dry and unnatural. Once I got over those feelings and gave it a chance, I instantly noticed a difference. Not only did I preach the same sermon in both services, I kept myself from rambling and going off on tangents. For someone whose mind wanders like mine does, it was extremely helpful. I eventually realized that instead of an entire manuscript, I could just script some key paragraphs I wanted to make sure were clear and jot down some key words to prompt an illustration in my mind.
My personal preference is not to have paper on the pulpit, so I have my manuscript in front of me in iBooks on my iPad. It allows me to casually swipe to the next page while I am talking without skipping a beat. I also use a large font because I don’t have the greatest eyes in the world, even while wearing my glasses. I also make sure my notes are broken up into small sections that have significant space between them so I don’t get confused or lose my place. Anything that is going to be on the screen for everyone to see I have in bold font with “SLIDE” written next to it. This is to ensure that I know the sermon slides being run through pro-presenter on the screen are the exact words coming out of my mouth while reading scripture.
I also always leave space for random, unplanned commentary and often have the word “comment” standing alone after a Bible verse. Almost 100% of my humor is ad-libbed, and I certainly am not glued or married to my manuscript, but it is truly helpful for me to stay camped in the sermon that was written. Having a manuscript has also been helpful for me to stay within a time frame that we must have due to the turnaround in between services.
This is just my process. There is no singular right way to do this. With that in mind, here are some important things to remember in the process of sermon writing and the notes you do or do not use.
The Bible does not prescribe a certain kind of sermon writing or delivery method.
I can’t help but roll my eyes when someone makes black and white statements on whether one should or should not use a manuscript. There are many different ways to be aided in a sermon, and as long as we are all preaching the same message, which is Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and coming again, why should it matter?
Do what works best for you.
You know yourself. Have in front of you what it is that you actually need. For some, it is just their Bible, and for others an index card with an outline. Whatever it might be, you are the one preaching, not someone else. If the President of the United States can use a TelePrompTer, a pastor can have a manuscript. Don’t over-spiritualize delivery help tools.
Whatever it takes to best achieve that from a human delivery perspective, go for it–without any need to justify or give qualifiers for why you use or do not use notes, outlines, or manuscripts. Preach the Word, and use whatever you need to allow you to do it best.
Published June 8, 2016