Preaching: script or no script?

_77782529_de27In 2014, Ed Miliband created some serious problems for himself and his credibility as Labour Party leader by failing to mention two key issues from his speech to the Labour Party conference in Manchester—one on immigration and the other on the budget deficit—and he later  admitted that he had forgotten his notes on the two topics and omitted them by mistake. How could he forget such important sections, when doing do inevitably led to ruthless criticism? The answer is simple: he gave a 65-minute speech without notes, and inevitably that runs the risk of forgetting things. I say ‘without notes’ rather than ‘unscripted’, since, as a picture of his notes (unfortunately face down on the lectern) shows, the piece was in fact carefully planned, even if not fully scripted.

Speaking without notes was all the rage for Miliband and David Cameron, though it seems to have fallen out of favour with politicians since then, perhaps because of blunders like this. But it raises an interesting question that all preachers wrestle with: should I script my sermons or speak off the cuff—or do something in between? In order to answer this, we need to reflect on the problems and benefits of each approach.

BSAO070102900LSpeaking without a script has become the vogue thing for politicians in the English-speaking world. The revival of rhetoric was kicked off in its most recent form by Barack Obama, and UK politicians have been quick to follow his lead, and then combined this with speaking without notes. Perhaps the most memorable example was David Cameron’s impressive script-free speech outside 10 Downing Street when he became Prime Minister in 2010. It is worth reading the full text and noting the examples of rhetorical technique—there is almost nothing here which is not said as part of a ‘three’, for example. This immediately gives us a key link between rhetoric and the question of script: if a speech is memorable , it will be easy for the speaker to memorise. After all, if you cannot remember what you want to say, will your listeners remember? Preaching is more than giving people memorable sound bites—but surely we do want our listeners going away remembering something?

This then connects with the teaching of Jesus. As I have explored elsewhere, Jesus often taught in memorable, rhetorically effective, even tightly structured ways which were easy to remember and so easy to repeat. (It is quite hard picturing Jesus speaking from notes—but people used notes in the first century more than our Hollywood-construction of them often admits, as the tablets found at Vindolanda, right, demonstrate.) The most plausible explanation of the differences between Jesus’ teaching style in John and the Synoptics is that Jesus taught in different ways to different people in different situations on different occasions. Many of the lengthy discourses recorded in John are in private, to individuals or small groups, whereas the short stories and sayings in the Synoptics are in the context of public teaching to the crowds. It is in this latter context that Jesus uses short, pithy apothegms in the ‘wisdom’ tradition, whilst he clearly taught in a different way in private with the disciples (see the hints of this in Mark 4.10 and elsewhere).

1411513093648_wps_20_Pic_Bruce_Adams_Copy_LobbSo what does speaking without a text achieve? As both Ed Miliband and David Cameron have made clear, it gives a sense of connection, of direct engagement. Cameron highlighted in his speech that a key task for his premiership was ‘to rebuild trust in our political system’, and speaking directly, without a script, seemed to be a first step. For his part, Miliband explained:

He said he preferred not to give pre-prepared speeches as he believed people wanted to hear “directly” from him and it was the “style that worked for him”.

“I write a speech and then I get up and use that as a framework for giving a sense to people where I think the country needs to go,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.

From my own listening to the sermons of others, I can see clearly how much easier it is to engage with the congregation when the preacher is free from detailed notes. It allows better eye contact; it allows for free movement, so the preacher can move away from the lectern (if not boxed into a pulpit); and, interestingly, it is much easier to vary and modulate one’s voice. How we are physically is always reflected in our voice, and if we have more freedom to move, then (often without realising it) we feel more free to vary our pitch, tone and pace, and so hold our listeners’ attention.

So why bother with a script? Here we come to the Miliband problem: without a script, we won’t remember everything. More than that, we won’t be able to communicate key ideas in memorable ways. I was recently preaching on Romans 6, and near the end wanted to sum up what I had found—what we had discovered together as we explored the passage—in the following sentence:

Law is no longer a deadly measuring rod, which shows up our inadequacies and condemns us for our failures. Instead it becomes a life-giving pattern of behaviours into which we are growing by the gift and power of God’s Spirit.

I felt it was a good, memorable, rhetorically effective summary. So at that point in the sermon I made sure that I came back to my script in order to get this right.

What should preachers do in practice, then? I would suggest the following, which I have built into my own practice of preaching:

1. Speak at occasions where you need a full script. One example would be a two-minute ‘Pause for Thought’ type piece, perhaps on your local radio. Since you have a strictly limited time, you must script your words very carefully, and it gives the opportunity to craft your words. I learnt an enormous amount by doing ‘Pause for Thought’ on Radio 2 some years ago, so when teaching preaching I made all students preach a two-minute sermon—and afterwards, many wondered why they needed to preach for longer! When you craft carefully, you can say a lot in just two minutes.

Other opportunities will be more formal occasions, perhaps in contexts where you are speaking to a larger group or where people do not know you well.

2. Find opportunities to speak with no notes at all. This might not be the right thing to do in your main Sunday morning service with a baptism and lots of visitors—but you might be able to at a midweek communion, or an early morning service with a smaller congregation. Where speaking with a script forces you to craft your words, speaking without a script makes you have a clear structure, so you (and your listeners) know where you are going.

3. As you push the boundaries of your experience at both ends, incorporate this into your regular preaching. Where you have key turning points or summaries, script your words and stick to them. But in between, where you are offering explanation or telling a story, write a summary note and ad lib. (This is exactly what Ed Milband’s notes tell him to do—see the heading ‘4. Stories: Xiomara, two women, Gareth’.)

My last suggestion: always, always, always type your notes, however sparse, rather than handwrite them.

  • They will always be legible, and you can easily enlarge them. (I would guess Miliband’s notes are in 20 point).
  • They are much easier to file and store on computer (as long as you have a back-up system), rather than fiddling with pieces of paper.
  • You can always retrieve them, and find something that you said before, either to reuse or to avoid duplication.

What are your experiences of using scripts or speaking script-free?

(A version of this piece was first published in September 2014)

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27 thoughts on “Preaching: script or no script?”

  1. Well, while bearing in mind that The Bible is the oldest ghost written book in existence, please note that Moses used tablets but couldn’t retrieve his first draft, Jesus instead wisely made extensive use of speech to text, but Adam was the first religious figure to imagine he could use the more Artsy Apple, setting in motion the now familiar chain of predictably disastrous results.

  2. Interesting article Ian – thank you. My first hundred or so sermons, while I was a curate, were written out word for word, and I’m really glad I did that as I learnt a lot about being careful with words and phrases. I then moved to a different role which meant I would be preaching more often and having a greater number of other demands on my time, so I decided to experiment with much sparser notes, and on occasion no notes at all. What I found was that I could do it, but it often wasn’t as effective. You’re absolutely right about greater engagement and eye contact, and I certainly found that when i was doing it well, but the problems I kept encountering was something going through my head along the lines of ‘I’m not sure I was quite as clear on that point as I want to be, so I’m just going to add a bit more to clarify… oh no… that extra bit has actually just confused it… so I better try to clarify again…’. And the greater engagement that I had had quickly evaporated and was replaced by profound disengagement as I made the same point a few more times, each time with a bit less clarity… Eye contact, movement etc. are all very engaging, but waffle, no matter how good the body language is, is very disengaging.

    So what I’ve found is that – as you suggest – there are certain bits that I write out in full, very carefully, but the bulk of the sermon, whilst not fully scripted, takes the form of pretty full bulleted notes.

    The single thing I found most made the difference to my delivery though was the extent to which my notes are indented – being able to see at a glance whether what I am saying is introducing a main point, explaining a sub point, further clarifying with an illustration or a story, or returning to the next big point – is what I find makes the biggest difference.

  3. I found this an interesting article Ian. I have been preaching since I was 16 so some 35 years now. I think I have used every style you mentioned. When I first started I needed to have my sermons fully scripted as I was nervous and didn’t want to go off on a tangent but through my 10 years on the mission field I found myself actually speaking a lot more impromptu and mixing in quite a few stories of experiences and how God had worked personally in my life and in the lives of others. However when coming back to the UK and preaching at a church I went back to notes, which if I’m honest, seem to cramp my style a bit. Than college and training for ordination came and I had to do one of your 2 minute sermons and I must admit that was probably more nerve-racking than any other sermon I had done but realised I can say quite a lot in a short amount of time. So now having been a ordained for 6 years I have settled on your point 3 with somewhat scripted notes and ad-libbing with examples and experiences of God working first hand. I have found the more I ad lib and speak freely the more people take away from the sermon. But when I speak to smaller groups and give presentations I speak without notes. With maturity, I have found that I have changed and adapted my ‘style’ to suit the circumstances I find myself in and allowing the Spirit to work in different ways. It is still one of my greatest joys!

  4. Hi Ian , thoughtful piece as always. As a Reader who preaches regularly I have gone back to preaching from a full script after experimenting with using notes. With only notes to go on invariably I would come to a part of my sermon that I had not properly thought through and would end up losing my way. I find I can be a lot more relaxed with a script and aim to work hard in my delivery to engage, establish eye contact and modulate my voice.

  5. You probably know the story about the curate who asked for feedback about his sermon from the old warden who said, ‘There were only three things wrong with it.’
    Really? Go on…
    ‘You read it. You read it in a boring voice. And it wasn’t worth reading.’

    People who hear me speak are often surprised if they find that 95% of the time, I use full, typed notes. I do so for some of the reasons you note, and also as last week someone asked for the notes for further study and I could email them. It’s also too important for me to feel that I can ever ‘wing it’ when I am speaking to the same or similar group in our churches I want a fresh, prepared word (we plan our preaching about 6 months in advance).

    People can’t tell I have full notes though because

    1) I write them like I speak (i.e. to be read, I use bold for emphasis, exclamation marks for volume, highlights in different colours for mood change etc)
    2) I can speed read. I can look at a whole paragraph and read it together, I learned to do that in the police and it’s been one of the most useful skills of my life, but constant practice and lots of reading keeps the rate.
    3) I’ve read it a lot already and practised speaking it out loud, to see if anything sounds wooden or i’d stumble over saying it for instance.
    4) Stories I know obviously don’t need anything more than a word to remind me, then I give GOOD eye contact, where you actually fix someone for a little while longer than feels comfortable for them and you 🙂 this really grabs and keeps attention and not just in the one you’re looking at but everyone sitting near them too.
    5) I pay particular attention to beginnings and endings. There’s no excuse for reading them really – surely we can get those in our heads enough to make it sound like this really matters? If not, why does it matter that they hear it?

    That said, occasionally – it happened this week when I was speaking for another church at their conference my powerpoint crashed and as I was praying in the worship time I sensed I should abandon the notes I had written in the main and go with what God was doing there and then, trusting for an immediacy with the Holy Spirit. He showed up!

    I’m reticent to do this too much unless I’m away from home, because I know preachers who do it and end up reverting to the same old stories over and over – it would bore me to tears to do that so I know it would bore the hearers.

    Part of my reticence comes from my time – too long ago – at St John’s. I have to say I found most of the speakers who came there pretty dry, but I was excited that someone more from my tradition was booked in one Thursday night. I had heard him before and he was great. I told everyone to expect a fantastic talk and at there expectant.

    However when he stood up to speak that night he said ‘I had notes prepared but instead tonight I think I am going to leave them and let the Holy Spirit speak instead.’

    All I’ll say is the Holy Spirit wasn’t very good.

    • The ‘tips and tricks’ on offer here are so reminiscent of the professional life-coach/motivational speaker variety as to leave me wondering why St. Paul’s preaching relied upon ‘demonstration of the Holy Spirit’.

      More likely, the sermon was no more bereft of the Holy Spirt than your irreverent (tongue-in-cheek) parting shot concerning ‘the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son’.

      It’s a pity that the last remark reminded me of Eccl. 10:1.

    • Thank you Anthony – whilst normally agreeing with David, I disagree with his above crit of your contribution. What you share is wisdom learned over many years as a preacher and teacher in the wider Body. That your congregations have flourished under your ministry in the South and the North, and that so many have been blessed by listening to you (myself included) is testimony to your approach to preaching. My family came out of the Exclusive Brethren but remained Brethren in style and made a virtue of ‘Spirit inspired unction’ – I recall attending a meeting with my grandparents as a young boy and was amazed to see an elderly man stand and speak forth as if endowed by the Spirit. I asked my granny afterwards about it and she said words to the effect of “that old goat has said the same thing inspired by the Spirit each week for 20 years”. My grandad, however always wrote out his notes on small little bits of paper – and he was inspired – in the study and his speaking respected in the assembly. After years in the so called Charismatic movement, the sermons that have done me the most good are from those who have done the most prep. The greatest preachers of previous generations spent hours crafting – whether Lloyd Jones, John Stott, Billy Graham, James Stuart Stewart, David Watson, Michael Green, David Macinnes etc etc Some had less notes than others but all had worked for hours at their exegesis, text, points, illustrations, applications, intros, conclusions etc

    • Hi All,

      If my remark came across as churlish, that was certainly not my intent.

      Firstly, reliance on the Holy Spirit does not preclude careful preparation as evidenced by the fasting and prayer which preceded the missionary endeavours of Paul and Silas (Acts 13:1-3).

      Secondly, despite his divinely empowered apostolic ministry and extensive recall of the Law and the prophets, in 2 Tim. 4:13, St. Paul asked Timothy to bring his cloak and study resources: the books and parchment (the latter probably being used to write notes).

      Thirdly, while preaching involves reasoned exposition, it does need to be distinguished from teaching: former relying more heavily on ethos and pathos than logos.

      Josephus’ description of John the Baptist demonstrates the impact on society when these three elements of discourse are amalgamated in the right proportions: ‘[18.118] Now many people came in crowds to him, for they were greatly moved by his words. Herod, who feared that the great influence John had over the masses might put them into his power and enable him to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best to put him to death.

      My point was that this focus on pathos (through memorable heart-warming storytelling) and logos (through carefully scripted and expounded reasoning) can so easily miss the importance of ethos in imparting unassailable credibility and gravitas to the preacher’s message.

      Paul was referring to ethos when he wrote of the apostles as: ‘giving no manner of offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed.’ (2 Cor. 6:3 – 10; 11:22-39)

      Neglect this ethos of sacrificial beneficence and even the most adroitly delivered anecdote will be ‘as sounding brass’ to our hearers.

      Embrace it and its authenticity will unnerve even the most self-assured atheist.

      The quote from Eccl. 10:1 was relevant because even the most credible ethos among preachers can be sullied by a few idle words of tongue-in-cheek irreverence.

      • Well put David – I entirely agree and particularly appreciate the preaching triplet ‘Pathos, Logos, Ethos’, and will borrow it for training young preachers – very helpful indeed. I also agreed with your core sentiment in your earlier reply to Anthony that we need to preach with the demonstration of the Spirit’s Power – this I know is something Anthony would agree with and which he evidences. I want to be able to say of my preaching, with Paul, that ‘our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” 1Thess1:5.

      • David….”Firstly, reliance on the Holy Spirit does not preclude careful preparation as evidenced by the fasting and prayer which preceded the missionary endeavours of Paul and Silas (Acts 13:1-3Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).”

        I might be seeing things where there’s nothing…I think it’s stronger than this. Since we are essentially (?) prophets fed and fired by the scriptures we shouldn’t have to argue for ‘does not preclude’ . Isn’t preparation for preaching first base? Arguing ‘spontaneous only’ is harder to justify and, assuming the preacher is generally familiar with scripture, a truly impossible ask in reality.

        Some times this ‘spontaneous’ not ‘prepared’ feels like a claim for a higher/more dynamic authority.

        • Hi Ian,

          Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I don’t think that I’m arguing for ‘spontaneous only’ Instead, we should consider that reliance on the Holy Spirit can and does involve being fed and fired by both more immediate preparation and spontaneous recall from long-term memory of scripture.

          As Christ Himself explained: ‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ (John 14:26)

          The expression of the latter can and does involve extemporary recall, as Christ further explained (albeit in the context of persecution): ‘Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.’ (Mark 13:11)

          It should not be too difficult for a preacher ‘who is familiar with scripture’ to go off script to deliver an impromptu sermon which can adapt to the emerging mood or reaction of the congregation by providing relevant scriptural insights, which can also emerge ‘off the cuff’ during delivery.

          This doesn’t mean that this kind of extemporary preaching should be accorded higher authority and greater deference than a meticulously planned, researched and rehearsed sermon.

          Nevertheless, the art of preaching is no more fully expressed through the mere repetition of a carefully scripted sermon than the art of music is fully expressed through the mere repetition of carefully arranged quavers, crotchets and semibreves.

          • Cheers David,

            I largely, if not entirely, agree. It was the view I’ve come across that spontaneous is best and then one has to argue for the value of preparation. We’renot often being persecuted at the moment we are preaching… (Mind you with some congregations!)

            I’ve often wondered about ‘remember’ (John 14:26). Am I wrong to question if this is really to ‘us’ or is it to the dicisples and their consequent input, committing memory to scripture?

          • Hi Ian,

            The contrast of spontaneity with preparation is a false dichotomy.

            We can watch Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech (arguably the most influential sermon of the 20th century) without realising that, despite much of it being made up on the spot, he had developed and delivered the majority of its content in smaller venues in which he could ascertain its potential impact.

            Although the context of persecution is relevant to John 14:26, I would suggest that the far more pertinent aspect was His desire to reassure the predominantly unlearned apostles that the spontaneous Spirit-filled recall of His teachings would enable them to deliver the gospel, as He did, with unassailable conviction. (Matt. 23:34; Acts 4:13)

            In today’s context, what’s more concerning is the mistaken over-reliance on modern communication psychology, such as NLP, post-modern personal narratives, technological multimedia and learned scholarship as essential to effective preaching.

            None of these can deliver the authentic conviction of preachers whose ethos of commitment to the truth of the gospel is, like Paul, characterised by ‘always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life also might be made manifest in our body’. (2 Cor. 4:10)

            While I accept that the apostles were the immediate recipients of Christ’s promise in John 14:26, I would ask why this particular promise should be any more exclusive to them than others in the same chapter, including the Peace (John 14:27), which we recite in every Eucharist as His promise to all believers.

  6. Interesting Ian. Over the past three years I’ve been using a system from college which is a sort of hybrid. I prepare my sermon (not a full script but bullet-point form) on computer. Then I turn those notes into a hand written flowchart – each box has a few words in it to remind me of what I want to say. I’ll highlight to help me – green for Bible verses, Blue for illustrations. So if I want to tell a story about Uncle Bob (or whatever), I’ll just put ‘Uncle Bob’ to remind me and highlight it blue.

    It seems to work for me, but it does take practice! You have to get better at thinking on your feet. People have commented, though, that when I preach they feel addressed more personally, and I think for me that’s valuable – I don’t want to be tied to a script. It’s helpful to have the framework in mind though.

    But I appreciate each person will have their own style!

    Zack Eswine has a chapter on this in ‘Preaching to a Post-Everything World’ which I found helpful – it’s not whether you use a full script / no notes that’s the key thing in preaching, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. He said occasionally try something different to what you’d normally do, just to remind us that it’s not about the method!

  7. Like most people who preach (I would guess) I write meticulous notes, often several pages worth, and then try my best to memorise the content of them. I personally don’t write them in a style that approximates speech, like Antony above, but they’re not an essay either; instead they’re somewhere in between. I often try to prepare as if I am debating an imaginary person, and the notes can reflect this. They are almost always typed. I always do at least one dry run through to an empty church in the time before the service, as one final bit of preparation, and I tend to have my notes close by for reference.

    When I am actually preaching however, I take no more than a series of bullet point prompts to the front with me, a written powerpoint if-you-will, usually grouped into 1-3 sets of threes. These are never typed, they’re usually scrawled on scraps of paper, or in a notebook (hidden, thankfully, by an opaque lectern).

    Often, if I have prepared well enough, and am confident enough in my material, I don’t look at these either. I feel more liberated to move around the front this way, and to use visual cues and objects to keep people’s attention. Our congregation really like this it seems, and many of them have given me helpful feedback. They say that my habit of preaching without notes/a script gives them confidence in the knowledge of the one preaching, and because it is more visually stimulating (the preacher is less static) they find it holds their attention longer, and they remember it better.

    That said, I am by no means perfect, and my ‘crimes’ are both a tendency to digress/go off on a tangent, and a tendency to vary my speed, getting faster in response to the clock. I also fond it harder to make deliberate pauses when I am preaching without notes, when actually the impact of a specific point may have benefited from it.

    I have very little experience of speaking from a script however, and it might well be a good challenge for me to practice this.

  8. It really is very encouraging to read of others having the similar breadth of experiences that I’ve gone through. I’ve ended up with the hybrid bullet-points and key phrases approach for the past decade or so, hoping that this gives me the best balance between resource material in front of me, and freedom to be flexible when live whilst easily navigating back to my notes. (Though for a tight timing at the Carol Service it would be a full manuscript!)

    I’d prefer to be freer from my notes, relish the occasions when the Spirit has definitely given inspiration in the moment, and cringe at the times when I have presumed upon (rather than responded to) that inspiration.

    I use a tablet these days, and noticed two things in particular:-

    (1) It’s a lot easier to make use of colour, insert thumbnails of the PowerPoint slides, and generally be more visual with what I have in front of me. It helps me to navigate. Sure, I could print in colour, but actually I find the PDF is a better approach for this.

    (2) I had to get a bigger tablet. 7″ was too small, and if I used it landscape so the text was bigger, then I could only see a small section of my notes. This made it very difficult to have a visual reminder of where I was within the whole flow. I hadn’t realised how much I need to see (literally) the bigger picture in order to have a good sense of what I was doing with the particular notes that I could see.

  9. I have two kinds of Sunday sermon; fully scripted, and non scripted. Which of these methods I use is usually dictated by mundane things like how much time I’ve had in the week to pray through and mull over the readings. Sometimes being leader of a big team of people and churches means I just don’t have the time to come up with a full script, and I really dislike recycling old sermons.

    However I might be preaching up to 4 times in different churches on any Sunday and they will all be different. Different types of worship (all age, 1662, etc) and different traditions. So I find ideally that I have a script as “home base”, and I can come and go from it as determined by time, context and the prompting of the Spirit. I always make sure I know how I’m going to come in to land, i.e. conclude the sermon, but when I start I don’t always know exactly how I will get there, which makes for an adventurous time.

    Many years ago however I learnt the different between being prepared and being planned. Prayerful study of Scripture during the week, whether the passage for Sunday or not, ought to prepare a preacher to preach, even without a planned script. I would however only extremely rarely do this for funerals and weddings, where a full script is always in evidence.

    I agree also that the presence of a script means a preacher can easily respond to follow up questions by referring people to their text. I’ve sometimes been able to correct people who have misunderstood or misheard me by showing them in black and white what I did say. Without a script to fall back on you can’t do that.

  10. I agree with this- using all methods for different occasions. However, I find I ‘think’ much better through my pen- and as an ex primary school teacher have great handwriting (!)- so tend to hand write bullet points but type scripts that need to be read.
    I remember much more when I hand write notes. Good to think it through…..

  11. Heard about someone saying to a preacher ‘If you’re just going to read to me, email it so I can read it at my leisure’ Actually the ums and ers of unscripted preaching give airholes and thinking space. Read sermons can come at you too thick and fast. Writing is a very different way of using words from speaking.

  12. Whether scripted or unscripted please don’t forget to speak to the microphone, for the sake of those depending on a ‘loop’!

  13. I’m still quite a scripted preacher but wanting to experiment with a more minimal note approach (like I do when teaching, which encourages me to think its possible!) It is possible to write for speaking, although I take the point about ‘coming at you too thick and fast’ above. I do think that there are occasions when scripted preaching fits the context, and congregations get used to a preacher’s style and delivery. For more informal worship settings, it can jarr a little as recent experience attests! Some preachers are overly dogmatic about ‘no notes’ however, and I would want to resist that. Certainly need to beware the equation spontaneity = Spirit filled, although I appreciate unscripted does not have to mean unprepared.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I agree that we should be wary of the spontaneity = Spirit-filled equation, but see my response to Ian Hobbs above.

  14. What I have sometimes found is that the time I have to preach has had to be shortened due to the worship group overrunning their time because they feel “led to do so”. In this case I have to abandon much of my prepared sermon which I have spent some considerable time working on and adapt on the go.

    • Chris,

      That’s one reason I think that the music group should not be called the ‘worship group’!

      Try taking the initiative by speaking up and taking charge as one song is coming (probably!) to an end. Use some linking words (maybe pray) and move it on. Your version of; ‘I feel led to,speak now’ 😉

  15. It’ll seem odd but my advanced driving training and subsequent thinking come to mind….

    What counts is the output. ie Opinions vary on how to achieve a desired end. Various different techniques (inputs) can be used and some things are known to be generally helpful. But if the driver achieves the desired response in the car it’s hard to criticise the means. What’s important is to be able to reproduce the result time and again , that it’s not just liuck on one occasion. Here ends the driving lesson…

    I rarely write out a full script. I have always found that my hand cannot easily keep up with my head. I do spend hours mulling the text and working what I think God wants to draw from it into a clear framework. Until I get this overall framework clear in my head I feel stuck. I write and scribble a lot. When I had a study (retirement precludes the space!) I sometimes used a whiteboard to bash the passage around. Once I’ve got that then I’m 80% done.

    Then I might preach from headings with a few brief lines under each indicating the next step. If I have a phrase or sentence I think is important enough to stick to I write it down. The clear framework gives me the confidence to speak without much in the way of notes. This gives me a much greater freedom to engage with and react to the congregation, trying to listen for the Holy Spirits prompting as I go. If my headings match the content (pictures or words or both) of any projected slides then they the guide the whole congregation. One can more easily judge that way (reading the feel of what’s actually happening) when to slow or stop or draw a particular person into what’s going on… or call a moment for people to pray. There’s spontaneity in the delivery but I’m working hard to be faithful to scripture first and last. And I sometimes fail at it. I intensely dislike preaching that’s no more than playing with emotions or bees in the bonnet, scripture as entirely a bystander. ‘Many were his texts, all his sermons one’

    On occasions I do write a script it’s because my time slot has to be more precisely controlled, perhaps a solemn civic occasion. Sometimes I use more notes when I’m under pressure and have two very different sermons on one day. A few weeks ago I was preaching from John’s Gospel and needed more notes because of the passage’s complexity. Varying inputs….

    I suppose I’m saying (assuming we are putting the work into it) that we each need to find out what works for us as individually gifted and different preachers. Of course only God gives the growth….

    Apologies for any unclarity…I’m working with a small tablet and it is lacking easy use!

    • Hi Ian,

      I’d agree with this, although my example would be goal-scoring from a free-kick. Watching a compilation of the best free-kick exponents shows an immense variety of techniques, but, in the end, they are all capable of putting the ball in the back of the net from almost any range or angle in the opponent’s half of the pitch.

      The secret is immense practice. At the height of his career, David Beckham explained: ‘I must have taken tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands [of free kicks]. I would go to the local park, place the ball on the ground and aim at the wire meshing over the window of a small community hut.’

      George Whitfield, the great 18 C preacher, memorised his sermons, so that he could concentrate on delivering them with the pathos needed to move his hearers to repentance and faith.

      At 19, after transferring to Florida Bible Institute, Billy Graham would often paddle his canoe to a small island in the river, where he would practice preaching in isolation.

      In comparison with this work ethic of the most celebrated preachers, the Experience of Ministry Survey 2015 revealed that, on average, compared to 17.92 pc of time spent on ‘admin and organisation’, the participants spent 9.36 pc of each week on ‘preaching and teaching, including preparation’.

      Considering the apostolic calling, inherited by the clergy, to be ‘teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’, 4 – 5 hours a week is a paltry investment in the preacher’s art (cf. Acts 6:2)


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