More Thoughts on Sermon Manuscripts

Since my last post, I have enjoyed considerable feedback on the use of a full manuscript in preaching. I thought I’d comment on some of the questions I’ve been asked, including practical inquiries.

1.  Preaching from a full MSS is not for everyone. But even if it is not for everyone, I would argue that it is a good and helpful exercise, especially for young and developing preachers.  It will be helpful in your thinking/processing, writing, and eventual delivery.  I don’t know if I will preach from a MSS for the rest of my life, but I certainly have found it challenging and helpful at this particularly developmental stage.

2.  Speaking of delivery, that seems to be the main drawback from using a full MSS in preaching.  That certainly is a challenge, but the opposite could also be the case.  Consider two comments from my last post:

I have been preaching for about 12 years now, and have only recently begun to manuscript. I resisted for a long time, fearing it would make my preaching wooden and dry. The truth is, it’s done the opposite. I’m finding myself saying things in fresh ways, rather than falling into the rut of saying the same things the same way. I’ve also found that it has brought so much clarity and focus – the process of manuscripting (and the editing!) has really helped me sharpen the content of my sermons. – Bill Streger

But the ironic thing is: For me, it’s works the other way. I use a full manuscript, because I can communicate more naturally, directly, passionately and engagingly WITH a full manuscript than without. I know it’s a personal thing, but if I have notes or nothing (yes, I’ve tried it), half my brain is worrying about whether I’ll forget something important, where I’m up to, etc., which means I can’t relax. With the “safety net” of a manuscipt, I can put all my thought power into what I’m saying, and all my energy into engaging with people. – Stephen Shead

Four things I would add to this. First, don’t allow your MSS to be your security blanket and end-all be-all.  If using a full MSS empowers you to be boring in preaching, throw it away. Second, familiarize yourself with your MSS. The more you internalize, the more freedom you will have in your preaching. Third, you can include in your MSS places where you need to emphasize, slow down, or draw out a particular point.  Last, if you think about it, even the most gifted communicators use a teleprompter (which is a word for word reading on a screen).  Reading from a text or screen in front of you should not hurt you terribly (unless you simply don’t make the effort).

3.  On delivery, I have also been asked about eye-contact and whether or not people in the pew can tell that I’m reading from a MSS.  As I stated in #2, being familiar with your MSS will give you more liberty to look out to the audience more.  I want to believe that I have fairly good eye contact with my hearers and can usually tell when and where I’m connecting most during my message.  As for a MSS, I would say that most do know that I’m using a full MSS, but I don’t see that as a detriment, so long as I’m not simply giving them a lecture or fail to bring the persuasion and pathos inherent to preaching.

4.  Some questions have related to the length of my sermon and the amount of time I spend in preparation.  My sermons are generally 40-45 minutes long, and I spend a total of approximately 12-15 hours of preparation each week total.  I spend 4-5 hours exegeting and outlining the text (Monday-Tuesday), 4-5 hours researching the text (Wednesday-Thursday), and 4-5 hours typing my MSS (Friday-Saturday).

5.  One of the things that has helped me recently is preaching from my iPad.  Once I have completed my notes in MS Word, I send it to the Pages app on my iPad via iTunes.  I increase the font to 13 so that in landscape it is large and in portrait mode it is normal reading (I prefer portrait).  The backlit text is easy to read, and there is no flipping pages.

I hope these additional thoughts to preaching with a full manuscript bring more clarity to the important work of preaching God’s Word faithful and fervently.  Preaching is hard work.  We need to encourage and exhort one another whether we preaching a full MSS or without notes.  From one who is learning and growing and seeking to become a better preacher, I appreciate your encouragement and feedback!

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7 Comments on “More Thoughts on Sermon Manuscripts”

  1. Eric Hixon Says:

    I really enjoy preaching with a full manuscript. It helps in all the ways you have stated as well. Some of my friends hate the thought of it but I find it very helpful. The more famiiar I am with the manuscript the better the message comes across in my opinion.

  2. Gordon Smith Says:

    Hey Tim
    Thanks for these thoughts, I am about as amateur as the get having only preached 1/2 dozen times, but I know that God has it in my future so I really enjoy reading your thoughts! Probably the best sermon I preached was with a full manuscript that I had ‘internalized’ so to say and preached from memory using text to prompt me at points. Also I found the spread of your sermon prep time interesting, it seems similar to Justin Buzzards 15 hour sermon prep guide. Even more interesting was hearing John Piper’s thoughts on this in Sydney recently, as he is about as polished a manuscript preaching as they get, he said that apart from the thinking and chewing he jams all of his sermon prep back to a Friday and just goes 8-12 hours in one day to bring it to completion, then he internalizes the message on a Saturday afternoon. He clarified that he hadn’t been doing this all his preaching life… only about 29 years! Very encouraging – thanks brother
    Gordo Smith
    Cairns, Australia

  3. davidrogers Says:

    I generally preach from a manuscript as well. One thing that has helped me is to read it out loud various times beforehand, trying to pay attention to how it sounds, and to “bold print” the words and phrases I want to emphasize in my spoken delivery.

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