I have always worried about being too dependent on my notes. When I first started preaching, I used bullet points, then I stopped for a few years due to the pressures of work before beginning to preach more regularly again. When I started preaching the second time, I found myself using a full script. I write in a fairly chatty style anyway so it never sounded too formal, but something inside me always wanted to be completely free of notes. Now I use 16 point, double spaced bullet points so there’s something there in case I get lost but I have to translate it into words on the spot which I hope gives it more immediacy and power.
I’ve just read Andy Stanley’s book ‘Communicating for a Change’ which is brilliant, but one of the challenges he makes is for the preacher to internalise the message, that’s a euphemism for memorising the message! I find this incredibly difficult on a weekly basis and I’m not convinced it’s really necessary. I have seen preachers without notes ramble on without shape or structure for a very long time, I have seen one preacher who had clearly written his sermon verbatim and then memorised it. When he preached it looked above the congregation as if he was reading from an autocue at the back!
So, I was relieved to be reminded by Josh Harris in the second round of his ‘Preaching Notes’ that there really is no right way to do it. It’s a great series of posts. He has a pdf of the actual notes as well as a podcast of the sermon itself from a wider variety of preachers. Every preacher he showcases familiarises themselves with their message. None of them are dependent on their notes, so in that sense, they’ve all internalised the message, but apart from Mark Driscoll’s post-it notes everyone uses notes of one kind or another. The other amazing thing about these preaching notes is that most of them look unwieldy and almost impossible to use. Some are in tiny script, some densely packed or condensed. Some have been scribbled over time and again!
I have found it hugely reassuring that even some of the best preachers, at least from the US, don’t follow the rules when it comes to preparing sermons and writing notes. How do you do it? Let me know.