Preaching with a Manuscript?

I want to be a better preacher! 

And because of that I am often reading or listening to lectures on preaching. It’s amazing really the time in which we live. How much helpful material there is and how easily it can be accessed. 

I recently found a set of lectures by Al Martin on Pastoral Theology. Now, when I was younger, I had heard of Al Martin quite a bit. But I hadn’t heard much from Al Martin. For some reason, I just didn’t have the opportunity to listen to many of his messages. The only one I remember in fact was when we were at a conference and he called out someone in the congregation who was talking during the sermon. It scared me a bit then, to be honest, but I knew for sure at least one thing, this was a man who took the Word seriously.

Lately though, thanks to the Internet, I have been able to access his messages and certainly understand why his preaching ministry made such an impact. (In September, we are actually looking forward to having Brian Borgman, speak at a conference here in South Africa, and Brian has written a book on Al Martin’s preaching, so I am eager to learn more.)

But anyway, it helps me sometimes to collect quotes here on the blog so that I can look for them later, and I found the following two quotes on preaching interesting. (Since I have been trying to preach with less notes lately, I guess, these stood out from his lecture on the preacher and his manuscript.)  

He says,

“Never read a full manuscript from the pulpit and call it preaching…”  

And then he quotes R.L. Dabney, 

“Reading a manuscript to the people can never, with any justice, be termed preaching. Even if the matter and style are rhetorical, the action cannot be, but it is almost impossible that the structure either of thought or language should be such, when the invention is performed in solitude and at the writing-desk. Some men of powerful genius have indeed, by long practice, acquired the talent of so representing to themselves the circumstances of public discourse, while engaged in solitary composition, as almost to overcome this obstacle ; they do indeed write as an orator should speak. But these are the exceptions. In the delivery of the sermon there can be no exception in favour of the mere reader. How can he whose eyes are fixed upon the paper before him, who performs the mechanical task of reciting the very words inscribed upon it, have the inflections, the emphasis, the look, the gesture, the flexibility, the fire, of oratorical action? Mere reading, then, should be sternly banished from the pulpit, except in those rare cases in which the didactic purpose supersedes the rhetorical, and exact verbal accuracy is more essential than eloquence.”

For the last maybe ten years, I have been a full manuscript preacher and I actually think by and large, not too many people have noticed. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t really think so. But of late, I have been trying to preach with taking less and less notes into the pulpit and while I am not sure the congregation can tell much of a difference, wow, I have enjoyed it so much.  

Maybe I can note some of these benefits in the future, but one of the benefits in particular I have enjoyed the most is how it has forced me to meditate and pray more about the message.  When I take the full manuscript into the pulpit, I know I need to pray and meditate, but once the message is written, I feel like it’s there and it’s just a matter of delivering it, I suppose.  But when I force myself not to take the manuscript into the pulpit, then I have to constantly be thinking about the text and the sermon and the various parts in the sermon and, I am just loving that. In fact, it goes so deep that I will now sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a thought about a particular part of the passage or an application from the text. (It’s kind of like having devotions in your sleep!)

6 thoughts on “Preaching with a Manuscript?

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on this Josh. I think this is a matter of personal preference especially when I think of Jonathan Edwards who read out his sermons.

    Personally I have also started using less notes a few years ago. I do not write out any sermon fully when I prepare but I do take time to formulate sentences in my head before preaching. I go through my notes at least 3 times before preaching in which I repeat the phrases that I will use. Proper formulation is one of the arguments for writing out a sermon fully and I think it is important but also that it is possible to formulate it in your head without writing it fully. I do write out quotes and supporting scripture – my memory is not that good.

    I must say that when I started doing this I also woke in the middle of the night, but it was out of and through nightmares of standing in the pulpit not knowing what to say. It takes time to make the transition. Another downside is that people who want to read the notes after the service do not always follow and lose some of the impact of the message. I suppose sound recordings could compensate. It is also sometimes difficult to keep a reasonable time frame for the delivery because of introducing extra thoughts to the message. I find this especially when I have read extensively on the passage.

    I also experience that I wake up with, or come up with better formulations and applications while in the shower or while exercising. I am often amazed at better ways of expression and application that also comes to mind while preaching. I find that this happens because of meditation and application after preparation and before delivery. This freedom would be limited with a fully written text.

    every blessing

    Martyn Beets – ex-student of Biblical counseling course presented by your father.

  2. “For the last maybe ten years, I have been a full manuscript preacher and I actually think by and large, not too many people have noticed. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t really think so.”
    for what it’s worth, when you were here in PA, I can’t remember even once thinking “he’s reading that from his notes”. I remember you as a speaking naturally, engaging, from the heart kind of preacher…

      1. We’re very well, by God’s grace, Josh, thx. Occasionally, I’ve heard him in person. He was influential in my early years as a Xian. The church we attended was listening to his series on child-rearing in Sunday School.
        Have you seen his small book (recently published), ‘Preaching in the Holy Spirit”? He addresses the very thing your discussing here. I’m sure it’s reworked from the Pastoral Theology lectures you linked.
        We love to see pictures of your family and hear how the Lord is blessing your work there!

  3. Hello Brother,
    I too have been making this same transition. I have been in the pulpit for nearly 4 years and in the last 6 months trying to convert to an annotated outline. A full manuscript acted as training wheels for me as I was ultimately concerned about getting the text right. Now having confidence that my exegetical process is yielding a faithful result I find it necessary to let the Word naturally change me and let that work proceed through to God’s people. It has liberated my preaching but revealed how much more work I need to do to better equip myself. At this point I have about the same number of pages as before but now a heavily annotated outline. I am trying to find that magic number of pages. I am also thrilled to see you pressing through the same matters I am facing. We are praying the Lord continues to bless your ministry.
    Lord Bless,

  4. Josh, It was a true blessing to hear your preaching in person last Sunday (the previous Sunday I found jetlag to prevent me from engaging so well!!). I happened upon this blog on Allen’s FB site. Interesting we had this discussion while I was there. Coming from my background I don’t recall ever being trained to write out our sermons in preparation so I always learned by annotated outline, but having been at the Bible Church under those who have been trained at Masters I found it interesting that they all write out full manuscripts. So I have found myself gravitating in the opposite direction as you by writing out more of my messages at least the main thoughts. This keeps me from chasing rabbit trails and the more I have studied a topic the more I find myself inserting things on the fly which makes the time longer. I do believe though that not writing out the manuscript causes me to rely more heavily on the Spirit and it allows me to engage better with those to whom I am teaching or preaching. When I am glued to a manuscript I walk away feeling like I didn’t really communicate with the people.

    Thanks for your insight on preaching. It is always unteresting to me to hear how different preachers prepare. I would have loved to hear part 2 of Titus 2.

    By His grace,

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s