Only last week the question was asked again by the students of the seminar. It happens several times a year. And since I get asked this question again and again, I thought it was worthwhile to address it.
And this question is, “Should I preach from a full manuscript?”
By “full manuscript” they mean that they write down their sermon exactly as they would preach it. Word by word.
Now I am not trying to argue about the method of preaching. When it comes to how to preach, there is no shortage of books, articles and blog posts that offer advice and guidance. And once you start sifting through these materials, it becomes clear that there is no shortage of disagreement over the details of the sermon task.
However, I think that progress can be made on this issue if an important distinction is maintained, namely the difference between Write a manuscript and With a manuscript. The former is a very helpful and rewarding exercise (especially for younger preachers). In my opinion, the latter can seriously hinder the development of a preacher and the effectiveness of his transmission.
Writing a full manuscript has many advantages. It forces the preacher to think clearly about each of their points and how to develop them, it helps the preacher think through transitions between points (something that is often overlooked), it helps to keep the sermon within the desired time limit, and that exact wording allows for more theological precision.
In addition, a full manuscript enables a preacher to retrieve his sermon and preach again a few years later without wondering what he originally said.
But when it comes to that With There are serious disadvantages to a manuscript on the pulpit:
1. It (almost) inevitably leads to “bubble preaching”.
After countless seminar students have used full manuscripts over the years, they almost always read them (with a few exceptions). If you have the full text in front of you word for word and you’re already worried about what you’re going to say, reading is a foregone conclusion.
And when a preacher reads a manuscript, it almost always leads to what I call “preaching bubbles”. This is the case when the preacher is in his own little bubble and runs through his message line by line, with virtually no connection to the outside audience. Sure, he gives the token eye contact about every seven seconds, but nobody really feels a living connection to the person as he preaches.
Bubble preaching is when a preacher could be alone in the sanctuary and you couldn’t tell the difference – the delivery would be exactly the same.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this concern. Some are so exceptionally talented that they can read a manuscript without it sounds as if they were reading a manuscript. Others may have a manuscript on the pulpit, but (in a superhuman way) resist the urge to read it.
If these exceptions apply to you, you can continue to use a manuscript. But we’ll need an alternative for the rest of us mortals.
2nd The content is over-prioritized,
Let me make it clear when it comes to preaching content is king. As preachers, we have to deliver a message and we have to get that message right. Concern about content, however, can dominate a sermon so little thought is given about how (or why) people receive the content. We don’t do our job if we get the content right, but it is never heard because of poor delivery. Good content doesn’t matter if no one is listening.
Preachers who are able to break out of their bladder Really Eye contact and engagement with the community can paradoxically be more effective in delivering their content than those who use a manuscript.
Given the choice between a perfect word-for-word delivery in a bubble and an incomplete delivery outside the bubble, I will choose the latter.
3rd It slows the development of a preacher,
Getting up and reading a manuscript every Sunday prevents most preachers from learning to speak out of time. There is less opportunity for a preacher to learn to speak on his feet. Why are such skills necessary? For one thing, I think that such skills, as mentioned above, make him a more effective communicator that is more directly related to his community.
Such skills are also necessary because a pastor does not always have a manuscript in front of him when he has to speak outside the puplit. In a counseling situation where, for example, a pastor applies the word of God to a particular topic, he cannot prepare a manuscript in advance. He has to learn to communicate clearly, convincingly and convincingly without a manuscript.
Or maybe someone in a Sunday school class asks him questions that require local answers. Or maybe he is a witness to his neighbor and has to explain important lessons spontaneously. None of these situations allow him the luxury of a manuscript, and yet he has to speak.
Someone might object that they don’t have the skills to speak at the same time. Because of me. However, the question is not whether you now have the necessary skills, but how you will do it develop these skills in the future. And these skills don’t develop if you stick to a full manuscript.
4th It misunderstands the difference between written and oral communication,
One of the main disadvantages of writing a sermon is that very few people can write a sermon in a language that can be effectively preached. What ensures effective written communication is not always what ensures effective oral communication. In fact, they’re often like two different languages - the pace, style, cadence, and even vocabulary can vary significantly.
Therefore reading a sermon manuscript rarely works. Reading just doesn’t sound like sermon sounds. It sounds like reading. They are two different genres.
Given these four concerns, I could suggest an alternative to a full manuscript. Instead, I encourage my students to use a detailed outline, This is more than the single (small) page of notes that Spurgeon would include in the pulpit. (When asked if he had written his sermons, Spurgeon famously quipped, “I’d rather be hung up!”)
No, unlike Spurgeon, I speak from several pages with detailed notes. And such a detailed outline, I would argue, shows concern about both content and deployment.
On the content side, the outline contains the necessary calls to carefully explain the theological and textual problems at hand. In addition, the fact that the outline is detailed (and not just broad bullet points) allows a pastor to return to the manuscript later and know what he preached the first time.
On the delivery side, an outline does not make it easy to read like a manuscript. In fact, you can’t just read an outline (so that they don’t become nonsensical). The preacher is thus forced to articulate the point more fully in his own words. And this helps develop a preacher’s ability to speak publicly, not to mention his connection to the church.
Having an outline, of course, does not prevent a preacher from keeping his head bowed and stuck in his notes. But at least it’s not required stick his head in his notes (which is largely the case when reading). An outline creates at least more natural opportunities for eye contact and connectivity in the community.
In the end, deciding whether to use a manuscript is not easy. There are great preachers who use full manuscripts. And there are great preachers who don’t. And so people will draw different conclusions on the subject.
But I still have to give my students an answer. You want to know which method is most effective in developing preachers. Not writers, but preachers. And, in my opinion, the answer to this question cannot be found in full sermon manuscripts.
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