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Confessions of a Manuscript Preacher

I preach better when I semi-read a sermon.

Confessions of a Manuscript PreacherSee theme

I have a recurring nightmare. Having grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I'm kneeling in the dim light of the confessional booth. "Forgive me, father, for I have sinned."

The deep voice on the other side of the thin wall responds, "What sins do you wish to confess, my child?"

I'm startled. I know that voice. It's not the voice of my priest, but the daunting voice of my homiletics professor! I think to myself, I wonder if he knows. Feeling exposed, I go on and confess my sin: "Doctor, please forgive me. It's true. I do it. I do it every Sunday. I … I … I … preach from a manuscript!"

Okay, that's farfetched, but you get the point. Manuscript preaching isn't just marginalized, it's ridiculed. In most homiletics courses, preaching from a manuscript is considered a historic relic that's as useful today as an 8-track tape. If it's talked about at all, it's mentioned on a list of things never to do.

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Displaying 1–5 of 12 comments

Douglas Felton

November 05, 2012  3:43pm

Good article. I was taught at Dallas Seminary to preach without notes. It was a disaster for me. I understand the advantage of being free to make eye contact with the congregation but the disadvantages were far greater. I have evolved from no notes to an outline to using a manuscript and am a much better preacher for it. I memorize a good bit of it (75% to 80%) which gives me considerable freedom. But the real advantage is in having thought through my message carefully and exactly how I want to communicate it. If I want to add something in the moment, I have that freedom as well.

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Curt Blackwill

October 15, 2012  10:50am

I have been preaching for 23 years and have always used a manuscript - which I call "expanded notes". There have been times when I have tried preaching without notes and it was a disaster. I was all over the place. The one "bad" think that I don't do, is I don't read scripture from the Bible when I preach and this is because I will often times use different translations in my sermon. The other thing I do is I always include a half-page, front and back, detailed notes of the sermon that include the main points, Scriptures and titles of Illustrations. This helps the church folks follow along with me and we use them in our small groups. Thanks for this Great Article!

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Gary Karas

October 15, 2012  10:17am

Mark, I too remember the confessional and am an introvert! I have been preaching for about 20 years and I too am most comfortable with a manuscript. I admire people who can preach with just an outline or without any notes any all. That's just not me. I have found that when I have ventured out with fewer notes, I missed a lot of important insights from my study. I agree that God is as much involved in the process of building a sermon as He is in its delivery. Thanks ark for "easing my conscience" once again about using a manuscript and thanks for the other helpful tips. This article is a keeper!

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Rick Robart

May 25, 2012  1:11pm

I was taught to preach without notes. It was very stressful. I used to take an outline to the pulpit, yet I was missing many important ideas. Lately, I have been using a manuscript. I feel so much less stress and a freedom I have not felt in years.

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Clifford Koehn

May 21, 2012  9:27pm

I knew a preacher that said often he went to the pulpit and didn't know what he would preach. He said the waited for the Holy Spirit to guide him. I believe that the Holy Spirit can direct us on Monday morning and not wait till one starts preaching. Some can get far from the subject if they don't prepare all week. Also some preachers go back and forth on the stage. this draws attention more to them than to what they are saying. It's like watching a tennis match.

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