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Why I Preach Better from a Manuscript

If your sermons are stronger in the study than in the delivery, experiment with preaching from a manuscript. An interview with pastor and writer David Crabtree.

I had something that was inspired, and yet when I got in the pulpit it wasn't there.

PreachingToday.com: Why did you start preaching from a manuscript?

David Crabtree: When I first began preaching 20 years ago, I often would listen to the tape of the message afterward and chafe over the fact that when I was planning the message, I wanted to say it differently. I had something that was inspired, and yet when I got in the pulpit it wasn't there.

Why do we quote from others? Because they turned a phrase well. If I turned a phrase well in the study, I want to deliver it that way. Otherwise, I'll be kicking myself the next Wednesday, saying, " Man, I wish I had said that right. "

So I began writing a manuscript. It enabled me to read the message for flow, ensure key thoughts were stated right, and occasionally check my thinking by having others read the message ahead of time.

I know some who preach with only an outline or rough notes. Some are so articulate and creative that it comes together. They're masters. I don't feel I have that. I have to labor over each sentence. How can I best say that? How can I best illustrate it? When it is concise enough that it burns, when it makes me read it twice, then the person hearing it will say, " When you said that, I saw it. " I can't arrive there on a consistent basis without a manuscript.

I put a lot of thought into the lead-in line, the hook into the next paragraph. Preachers are often weak on the next line coming out of a text or illustration. Laying down the transitional sentence is elementary, but often ignored. It's worth writing out transitional sentences.

Also important to me are my transitions within points, not just those between points. I want to be sure I'm always saying something. My dream in preaching is to get rid of all the meaningless words.

How do you use the manuscript on Sunday morning?

I arrange it in a way that's easy for me to catch with my eye and follow paragraph to paragraph. I've read it through from start to finish beforehand so I can see it all in my mind.

With the manuscript I can still be subject to inspirations the Holy Spirit brings, and I can take off this way or that. A lot ends up in my preaching that wasn't in the manuscript. But with the manuscript I have insurance that I am going to adequately, clearly, precept-upon-precept develop the message. I've already guaranteed the elements are there.

Many people would say that manuscript preaching cools the fire. How do you keep the passion and connect with the audience?

It takes eye coordination. I read fast and track well. I know where I am on the page, and I can take a glance and know where I'm going. With the right amount of preparation, I've got the phraseology hammered down well enough that I can just glance at the paper and know what I'm going to say.

Often when I look down at a paragraph, I know the gist of it, and I don't read it word for word. But if it's a particularly good paragraph, I may force myself to read it word for word because I know the benefit of saying it just right.

There are Sundays when I wake up feeling as though I've been in a war, when emotionally I'm shot, when I walk across the church lot saying, " I wish I could get in my car and go home. " I have those moments when my fountain is dried up, there's no inspiration, my prayer life is dry, I've confessed every sin, and yet I'm still in the wilderness. On those Sundays, I'd rather rely on God's inspiration of a manuscript. I'd want to know I was, as Paul wrote to Timothy, ready to rebuke or correct.

David Crabtree is senior pastor of Calvary Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, and author of There's Hope for Today devotionals.

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