Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher: Notes vs. Manuscript

I took my first preaching class from the Baptists, which was just awesome. One of the things we were required to do for the class was preach one time from manuscript and one time from notes. Each time we were videotaped. And without question, every single person was better preaching from notes than from a manuscript.

Which didn't stop me from preaching from a manuscript for years. Years! And there are some good things about it. For one, if people want a copy of your sermon, you can give it to them. For another, it allows for complete consistency from one service to the next. For another, it makes it easier to use very specific words or phrases that are sometimes more interesting or compelling: words or phrases you wouldn't come up with on the top of your head. Finally, and this is both positive and negative, using a manuscript means you don't (necessarily) have to do the verbalizing preparation that notes require because you know all the words are there. And I hate the verbalizing practice--so embarrassing! (Which is crazy, because there's no one there to hear you; why it is more embarrassing than the actual preaching itself, I do not know.)

So I'm trying to figure out what it is about preaching from notes that makes it better. Frankly, if I didn't have that videotaped evidence from all those years ago, I wouldn't believe it. I still have a hard time thinking that my sermons from notes could possibly be better than the carefully crafted language of manuscripts.

sermon notes I found in the sacristy yesterday
One thing I do know is that when I am preaching from notes, I am more present to the congregation. I am not buried in the manuscript. Even on my best days reading from a manuscript, I still have to stay very connected to the text in a way that I don't when I am preaching from notes.

Here's the thing that still scares me when preaching from notes: what if I say something wrong? With a manuscript, I feel like I'm totally in control of what comes out of my mouth; with notes...well, it varies from service to service. And what if I get it wrong? What if I say something stupid?

Here, for example, is a section from the notes from the sermon I preached yesterday:

*Lord's Prayer
-normal language
-made fancy


That's not a lot to fall back on!

It's still hard, even after all this time, for me to trust that the words are going to be there, and that they are going to be valid and life-giving and gospel words even though they're not all laid out ahead of time. Every time I preach from notes I realize again that preaching is an act of faith, no matter how much I prepare. Maybe the best thing about preaching from notes is how humbling it is.


Anonymous said...

My big concern is always time - if I don't have a text, I have no guarantee that I will know when to stop talking! How do you deal with this issue when you preach from notes?

LKT said...

I'm sorry I didn't respond to this earlier--not that I have any clear answers.

As far as the "when to stop talking" issue, I take a page from my storytelling lessons: Have a very clear opening sentence and have a very clear closing sentence. Then the middle is sketchy, but you know where you are going and how to land.

As for general time management...that's tougher, and I've often gone by feel. I've never had a watch on the pulpit or anything. So I'm no help whatsoever there! It's true that another advantage of the manuscript is that you can tell by looking (roughly) how long in time your sermon is.

Anonymous said...

No need for apologies - I think I am taking longer to respond to your comment than you did to respond to mine!

Just had a funny preaching experience of a somewhat related sort for the first Sunday of our annual stewardship campaign. I wrote out my sermon ahead of time as I have usually done ever since receiving a few disgruntled responses to a sermon that turned out to be way too long - but when I actually got into the pulpit I found that I simply could not bring myself to look down at the page long enough to read it!

Fortunately for me, I had the whole thing virtually memorized - so even though I just spoke directly to the congregation without ever opening my text at all, I said pretty much what I had in mind and got to use most of my favorite phrases while I was at it.

I got lots of compliments afterwards, which makes me think the message must have worked well - but it was an extremely unexpected experience all the way around, and I still don't quite know how to account for it!