Sunday, September 7, 2008

Preaching: Notes or No Notes


Over at Jesus Creed, Scott McKnight gave his thoughts on the book, "Preaching on Your Feet" which encourages throwing out the manuscript and preaching without any notes at all. While I haven't read it(and given my growing stack to books to be read I won't), his review did make me struggle yet again with my decision to preach without notes.

Now one would think that a book encouraging the practice would encourage me to continue, but I found I disagreed with several of his observations about the practice. So I thought I would share the book's observations with my comments and invite you to share what you think.

So here are his 15 advantages to preaching without notes. My observations are in italics.

1. Time management: you save the hours it takes to write out a sermon or write out thick notes. I disagree! I find preaching without notes increases the time I need to prepare a sermon. Obviously, you have to spend an equal amount of time on study and reflection. I find I still must write a manuscript. I do find this takes less time because I don't struggle with exact turns of phrases because I know I won't have it in front of me. But it takes much more time to go from manuscript to outline to internalizing the message. This is much easier with a narrative type sermons than more instructional sermons, such as my current sermon series. In any case, preaching without notes increases not lessens the time to prepare!
2. Connection with the audience: eye-to-eye is better than eye-to-manuscript-to eye. The struggle here is palpable for those who sit and listen. I can't disagree with this. But I find that good manuscript preachers can also maintain good eye contact. When I heard John Ortberg in San Diego last year, I did not find his manuscript limited his eye contact and I actually found his delivery more compelling than another well known preacher whose sermon--delivered without notes--seemed slick and well practiced.
3. Remembering: if you can remember it, they can remember it. Good point!
4. Humility: struggling to find the best word is normal human existence. But is it distracting to those listening?!
5. Adaptability: good preachers read the eyes of those who listen and adapt and adjust to the levels of comprehension. That should still be true when preaching from a manuscript. He seems to assume that manuscript preaching does not allow for adaptability but that hasn't been my experience.
6. Holy Spirit led. Who says the Holy Spirit doesn't lead in the quiet of the pastor's study?!!! I find this to be the most ridiculous claim of those who preach without notes. Furthermore, I find this is most often used an excuse for lack of preparation and lack of responsibility for the direction of a sermon.
7. Personality trumps plagiarism. Good point.
8. An act of faith. Absolutely! This is one of the reasons I am still preaching without my notes.
9. Growth in confidence.
10. Readiness.
11. A walk with God is more intimate to preaching. Like a couple of the earlier comments, I don't see why manuscript preaching can't reflect an on-going walk with God.
12. You become sharper (if not smarter). We'll see. . . .
13. Fresh delivery.
14. Joy in preaching. Once again, why would a manuscript limit joy?! And I've heard plenty of passionless preaching without notes.
15. Audience is expectant. One of the reasons I hesitated to preach without notes to begin with was the feeling that it was a trick-like the tightrope walker who has the safety net removed--"HEY LOOK AT ME!" Granted it might be more entertaining but is it more edifying?

As you can see, I still have a love/hate relationship with preaching without notes. I began the practice because the New Room did not have a lectern or a pulpit and after a couple of embarrassing times of moving music stands and sending music flying, I decided to give up trying to have notes nearby. For nearly two years I preached without notes in the New Room and with a manuscript in the sanctuary. But then I decided to experiment with not using the manuscript in the sanctuary and for six months or so prior to leaving I left the manuscript behind. Now at New Life, the pulpit is just too far from the congregation and I'm back to my New Room problem.

The things I miss the most about manuscript preaching are: (1) the great transitional statement or turn of a phrase that I struggled and prayed about that I simply forget on Sunday morning. (2) Consistency between the sermon preached at the two services. I know some would think this is the advantage of not using notes--fresh each time. But it also means that sometimes one service gets a different sermon simply because I forget. (3) Let's be honest, some days I don't feel like I have the additional time that it takes.

For those of you who preach, what do you think?

For those who listen to preaching, what do you think?

1 comment:

revabi said...

Let those who want and can preach without notes preach without them.
Let those who want and can preach with notes preach with them.

I notice that we have available to us some of the finest written sermons from some of the great preachers to read. What if they had preached with out notes? Well, wouldn't we be lost.

I go back and forth with this myself, but as a mother of three young kids with brain overload, I need notes in the pulpit just in case I get totally lost. I am not bound to them to read them, but to know the progression of thought and points.

But prayer covers everything I do with preaching from beginning to end. I am humbled by this task of preaching.