On Preachers and Preaching-Why I Use Notes When I Preach

I preach from a manuscript. This is a practice which, I admit, springs from my own insecurity as much as it does from conviction. It is also a habit which has earned me some criticism from those who feel that the use of notes is a hinders the work of the spirit.

 There are, of course, some good reasons for preaching without notes. You don’t have to shuffle paper. The church doesn’t have to buy a pulpit. People like it if you look at them when you preach. But the reason so many people are enamored of the idea of preaching without notes is a spiritual one. Many Christians share a common assumption that the Holy Spirit is somehow more active in extemporaneous speech than He is in planned speech.

 This view pre–supposes that people who preach without notes or a manuscript are better able to sense the moving of the Holy Spirit. This is a puzzling assumption coming from people who also believe that the Scriptures, words that were committed to manuscript so long ago, are the chief means that the Holy Spirit uses to speak to us is.

 For me, the use of a manuscript enables me to concentrate as much on the language of the sermon as its ideas. There are drawbacks, of course. My movement is restricted to some degree, as is my eye contact with the audience. The pulpit stands between me and my listeners. But I am willing to take the risk. I will continue to preach in this way without apology. I do not think the church is helped when the style in which the sermon is delivered becomes more important than what is said.

Advertisements

Published by

John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

9 thoughts on “On Preachers and Preaching-Why I Use Notes When I Preach”

  1. “…This view pre–supposes that people who preach without notes or a manuscript are better able to sense the moving of the Holy Spirit. This is a puzzling assumption coming from people who also believe that the Scriptures, words that were committed to manuscript so long ago, are the chief means that the Holy Spirit uses to speak to us is…”

    Yes, it IS puzzling. And at least one commentator refers to this phenomenon as “QIRE”, or as he defines it, a Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience. Common among Pentecostal denominations, I suppose, but I don’t see where the HS working in that manner is normative in the post-Apostolic era. When one hears the Gospel and “gets it,” that is, understands the thread of what took place in incarnation and why it took place in light of OT prophesies, it might be safe to say that the person has been “illumined” by the HS in the preaching of the Word.

    That being said, I’d much prefer to listen to a well organized and professionally delivered sermon – notes, outlines, manuscripts – whatever else the preacher needs to expound the Gospel properly, than one that depends heavily on humorous anecdotes, excessive dramatization, and gimmickry to dazzle the congregation in a Gospel-lite fashion.

  2. John,
    I still enter the pulpit with a full manuscript, but I don’t “read” from it. It’s there as a security blanket for me, lest I forget what I’ve labored on through the week.

    It serves to help organize my thoughts and keep me on track – else I take multiple rabbit trails as a sudden thought occurs to me. The manuscript is always there calling me back to what I’ve prayed over through the week.

    Moreover more than once I’ve had someone come up and ask me if I had a citation for a given stat or quote, which I always do since I footnote my sermons Turabian style, Which is something I picked up in Homiletics class at Moody.

  3. John,

    Good words. You said, “I do not think the church is helped when the style in which the sermon is delivered becomes more important than what is said.” Very true. I think each preacher needs to use whatever format of notes best enables him to preach well to his people. In my case, it’s one small sheet inside my bible. I have a friend who preaches without notes, and others who take a full manuscript up. We’re all different, so the methods should vary.

    By the way, did you ever catch Josh Harris’ series of posts on the sermon notes of some of the well known pastors/preachers? He’s got PDF copies of one sermon from each guy. Good stuff. http://bit.ly/bG8Ejx

    1. Thanks for the link, Joe. There is probably nothing so revealing as a preacher’s notes. 🙂 Some time ago one of my colleagues who is known for his non-linear thinking showed me his. I was amazed! Instead of being organized in linear, outline fashion, he had created these islands of thought visually arranged on the page. He jumped from island to island. It was one of the most interesting things I’ve seen. He is also a genius.

  4. Interesting thoughts! How do you address various styles of learning in your audience?

    You can quench the Holy Spirit whether you preach extemporaneously or from a manuscript–extemporaneous preaching does not ensure Spirit-led delivery! 🙂

    However, I prefer to “read” my audience and adjust the delivery of the message based on their non-verbal feedback. I want to connect with them. (Ex. If they look puzzled, I will do my best to explain the point further.) In doing so, I hope to follow the HS’s lead, and help them understand and apply the truth. This sometimes means that my preplanned wording gets replaced by other words that are more effective with the audience.

    Thanks,
    Jared

    1. Good question and observation. I think you can use various elements in the sermon (structure for the linear, illustration for the non-linear and ethos and pathos for the experiential) to address various styles of hearing. But most of us lean in one direction.

  5. As a second year seminary student I find myself wrestling between the two. After slating me for reading my sermon the professor went on to say that it isn’t real Preaching unless it’s extempore. To be quite honest it really hit me hard.

  6. Darren:

    I think “real” preaching can include both. Jesus envisions some settings where the words of those who speak on his behalf will be “given in a moment” (Mt. 10:19). Yet when Luke puts the gospel to paper, it is after careful research and reflection (Lk. 1:3). The fact that the Scriptures are “God breathed” is testimony to God’s ability to use words committed to manuscript (2 Tim. 3:16). A combination of the preacher’s personality and the context in which the message is delivered determine which is the best method. The discipline of learning to preach without notes in class will be of value but isn’t a biblical law that needs to constrain you for your entire ministry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s