A Young Preacher’s Thoughts on Preaching: Manuscripts, Notes, or Extemporaneous?

This is one of the hardest things to figure out as a young preacher: how much should I rely on a manuscript? How much should I speak off the top of my head? How much should I study and then just talk as I remember my points? These are difficult questions for the young preacher to answer.

My suggestion would be to do this.

  1. Start your preaching career using a manuscript.
  2. As you get more opportunities to preach, change from a full manuscript to a detailed outline.
  3. As you grow familiar with the outline, shift from a detailed outline to a less detailed outline.
  4. When you work well with a pretty sparse outline, you’ll need to personally determine whether you can go off the top of your head or if you’ll stick to a less detailed outline.

I should note that some guys do not make the shift from 3 to 4. That, in my opinion, is fine. So long as we give our people a rich feeding from the Word, and so long as we are preaching to them in a natural, unaffected, and unchoppy style, then we’re fine. The key in my view with preaching is to communicate rich, affective truth in a style that is natural for each of us. We will all preach differently, with varying levels of intensity, drama, formality of speech, and so on, but so long as we are preaching the point of a passage, pointing our hearers to the passage’s fulfillment in Christ, speaking in a natural way, and proceeding through the sermon in a natural, smooth style, then I think that we are doing pretty well on the whole.

Manuscript preaching has come back into style, and I certainly can see the merits of it. Less trip-ups, less forgetfulness, less “uhhhhh” as you grasp for the right illustration, less tendency to freelance for so long that your sermon goes much longer than you thought it would. However, it also has some significant drawbacks: manuscript sermons are often more read than preached, one loses some connection with the congregation (unless one is an exceptional reader), and the whole thing can generally feel scripted. In general, it’s my personal opinion that it is best for most of us to use a detailed outline or sparser outline, and to adopt a natural, more fluid preaching style that still gives people a rich exegetical diet by which to make application. More on this tomorrow.

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3 responses to “A Young Preacher’s Thoughts on Preaching: Manuscripts, Notes, or Extemporaneous?

  1. Dad

    Hummmmmm! While agreeing that the delivery is of some importance I think the emphasis must be upon message. We mustn’t lose sight of that. Having said that I am pretty much in agreement with you.

    And relating to the previous blog, re: freshness. I’ve been thinking some along the line of place of prophecy in today’s church. I would think your ideas of freshness, i.e. applying the Word well to the people, the church and the culture would fall under the broader heading of prophecy. And therefore, ought to be a part of the message the church delivers.

    Al (Not Owen’s dad or that other “Al”.)

  2. Christopher

    I am a preacher from Tennessee who has found the manuscript very s]useful; my dad doesn’t use one, but I read well and it still sounds like I’m preaching. The manuscript opens up ideas that I probably wouldn’t think of if I were shooting “from the hip”, so to speak, because I’ve preached from the hip and some members of the congregation thought that it was one of the best messages I’d ever preached…I just begged to differ from them. Psychologically speaking, preparing the manuscript gives me the “feeling” of study and preparation…once I got through that psychological barrier of not being my dad, preparing manuscripts became much easier. [But] To say it again, I have preached from both stances; I just feel more comfortable preaching from the script.

  3. john

    i kind of skipped the first step. i went straight into outlines. the only thing with that is that i have great men of God that surround me and influence me.

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