I have been preaching without a podium, pulpit, or manuscript for a year now. I essentially learn the flow of the message I have manuscripted earlier in the week, put a few post it notes in my Bible, depend occasionally on power point to jog my memory, and trust that something good will happen even if I forget to say something I deem important. I sometimes sit on a barstool, with my Bible on my lap. Other times I set the Bible on the barstool and just stand at the edge of the stage and talk.
This all started a couple years ago, when I watched Gerald Mann on TV (liberal Baptist from Austin TX) and decided I needed to do this.
There is no doubt that this approach has been experienced by my congregation as a very positive thing. People rave about how much better my preaching is, even though I know that the content is no better than a year ago. They experience me as right there with them, they experience the message as a live event.
Now, I have had to teach myself how to do this, at first I was armed with extensive notes in my Bible. I still write out a half page of note and slip them in my Bible for comfort, but seldom do I use those notes anymore.
What I am seeking to understand is this: Can every preacher do this?
I mean I’ve been at this 15 years. I have found that doing this is MUCH easier today than the first time I tried it in seminary. Used to be painful labor. Lately I take an hour on Saturday morning to reduce the message to notes. Then about 90 minutes early Sunday (5am) where I internalize the message with a pot of coffee or tea. It is not word for word memory. About 830 am when I am running around at church and I feel this sudden need to review my message, I tell myself, “You didn’t memorize it so there’s nothing to forget.” And then I do fine. ( I don’t think I have any special gift in terms of memorization. I can hardly keep John 3:16 straight and I seem to stumble over the Apostles Creed every time I try it.)
I have noticed that even the most outstanding female communicators tend to use notes and manuscripts more than male communicators (both in the church and out). Is there a difference in the way the brains work between males and females that would make speaking without notes more problematic for women? Is this a male communication style? Anyone know of studies that have been done on the male/female differences here?
I am just exploring this because i want to recommend it to the world. I am seeking to see if there are good reasons why I might not recommend it to all preachers everywhere. Are there valid reasons not to preach without notes? The only reason I didn’t do this earlier was FEAR that I would forget something and knowing that I could get away with less.
From bill Easum
I made this shift in 1982 when we moved into a sanctury in the 3/4 round. I used the notes on the back of my Bible. The longer I did it the more people felt I was speaking from the heart. Interesting. I think I could have preached the same sermon with visible notes and then without visible notes and people would think the one without visible notes was more from the heart. I, too, would recommend it to the world. My preparation time went from 20 hourst to about five. But what I really found was that I could do the study and outline on Monday and then let it simmer all week and I would find illustrations popping up everywhere, so when Sat. came around all I had to do was just organize the weeks illustrations.
You have described my style too, but it has only been in the last six years that I have been preaching this way. It was a gradual move from manuscript, to outline to note cards to “not-less” out from behind the pulpit preaching. I spend the week preparing just like I have always, prayer-reading-meditating-researching-listening and then spend several hours Saturday night prior to bedtime going over what I have gathered together by the way of “aha” experiences from the text, and illustrations. I put together in my head an outline. I sleep on it and then get up in the morning and spend another hour with it all and in prayer. Then I preach it twice and often/most of the time the two sermons on Sunday are somewhat different. I do a similar process for our Saturday Night Contemporary service–which in effect means I am working on two different messages simulaneously. We operate with a metaphor/theme on Saturday and follow the lectionary on Sunday. I haven’t had any complaints at all for not standing behind the pulpit. One Sunday when I wasn’t feeling too well I remained behind the pulpit for support and did get a number of comments about that.
I have been trying to teach myself to do this for a year now and until the past month have been too terrified to try. I the past few weeks I’ve thrown caution to the winds and I am astonished by how much I am able to remember.
I think, and no one has agreed with me on this, but I think that this requires a different kind of thought process for me. It seems as if it is a different part of my brain that is working. Makes no sense, I’m sure. I try to not write any manuscript but write it all in my head and then write the connections that I need down. If I write a manuscript I get so enamored with my brilliant phrasing that I don’t want to put it down because I’m afraid I’ll forget it.
I just can’t figure out why it was so hard for me to do when now it seems so much easier and more fun. It has made me very aware of how much I hid behind the trappings of religion and why it is so hard for some to give up. I liked wearing a robe and not worrying about my clothes. I liked hiding behind the pulpit and the liturgy and manuscript. I liked it until I discovered how much fun it is to just be real.
“I used the notes on the back of my Bible. The longer I did it the more people felt I was speaking from the heart. Interesting. I think I could have preached the same sermon with visible notes and then without visible notes and people would think the one without visible notes was more from the heart.”
My preaching style, in regards to notes/no-notes/outline, etc. has gone back and forth from a complete manuscript, to an outline, back to a manuscript and now to…?
Well, it’s different week-to-week now. Some weeks, I use a simple outline. Some weeks I use nothing. And some weeks I use a complete manuscript. I’ve just been following God’s lead on this one. Some weeks, God calls me to get things right word for word, because the phrasing is important. Other weeks, God just calls me to speak from my heart. So…I’m just kinda usin’ the Force on this one.
Again for me, it’s another case of the postmodern phenomenon: both/and.
From Bill Easum
One more thing. I noticed that the content changed when I went to preaching without notes. The content got more focused, more single issue, and less rhetoric and fluff and more meat, but not intensly deep meat.
Have been doing it for 18 months now and people love it; I still do a manuscript up front and then basically read it over several times and form an outline in my mind–at times use outline first and then flesh it out. Once in a while I panic when I realize I left something out I wanted to say or there is a memory lapse for the next idea or thought .
Lloyd John Olgilve ( US Senate Chaplain) once said that some people think when he pauses in his sermons and looks up toward heaven, he is getting inspiration. When in reality he is trying to think of point three !!
This has the makings of an interesting thread. I also find myself preaching without looking at my notes, although I do go as far as getting a manuscript down on paper. Here’s some reasons why I do it this way:
1) I try to speak as though I am in conversation or in a sharing mode with the congregation. Once it used to sound more like a lecture or a seminary term paper. I wanted to make sure the theology was sound, the grammar was as perfect as I could get it, and that it all held together within a certain time frame (the latter is still a concern). Now, if my grammar slips and I don’t cover all the points that I wanted to, it’s no big deal. People can sense whether you are speaking from the heart rather than only from the head.
2) Even though I make a full manuscript, I rarely look at it. Eye contact is too important. People want to know you are speaking with them not at them.
3) One of the reasons I still have a manuscript available is so people can read it online and make copies to share in shut-in, absentee ministries, and other reasons. If we had better audio capabilities for posting to the net, I would reconsider this. However, some people like to keep the sermons on file for reference. I was told that while one member was in rehabilitation in a Philadelphia hospital, the written sermon made the rounds. Perhaps it brought some hope to those beyond our immediate church family.
I can tell that there is still no one way to deliver the message. I have done it all over the years.
Manuscripts, Notes, Outlines, and Panic….None of them had more advantages than the other. Here is my take on all of this tho.
1. The most important act of study for me is to take detailed exegesis notes. The reason being it saves time later if and when I return to a passage.
2. I think its imperative to use sources that are not just in my theological paradigm. I try to use technical sources as well as a Barclay or some other “liberal” writer.
3. I agree with Bill E. The week has to be utilized to let the information sift thru conversation, reading and reflection. I believe we have to live the message we deliver.
4. The emotion of the delivery must be authentic and genuine. Whether you are a screamer or a conversationalist, be real. I dont know if people dislike passion or just dont like fake passion in the “pulpit” whatever that may be for you.
5. I think we need to take extra time on what I call the “so what” of the message. If you have great content….so what? What does it say to someone who is needing a word from God?
6. We dont use lectionaries, so I am on my own. I still think/believe we must be biblical whether that is leaning toward conservative or liberal. I am amazed how much sound theology a Gerald Mann gives even though my denomination thinks he does not “believe the Bible.”
7. We have had this discussion before…but I hope we dont let the technology drive our message. Powerpoint is great….but preachers did just fine without it before its creation. On Sunday Nites, I am using the technology of the chalkboard…I havent lost any downloads on it yet!
8. So, whether manuscripts, outlines, or panic….just preach the word with a mighty dependence on the living God. Oh, I use outlines myself that have rhythym if not some alliterations just to keep my memory jogged. I may not let the people know the alliteration…but it is just a memory device.
Now, Bill, you have me thinking. We were targeting non-Christians and seekers for the new worship service. The reason we were not going to include a sermon is because I was under the impression that, especially for a non-Christian or seeker, listening to a talking head for 15+ minutes was too boring. If the “sermon” was more dialogical or more casual (such as sitting on a stool in the midst of the people) or peppered with appropriate multimedia, then it would be more acceptable for a non-Christian or seeker.
I don’t really want to spark a debate, because I am sincerely interested in this. What do you see as essential elements for a sermon designed for seekers and non-Christians? >>
From Bill Easum
The sermon can take many forms. I have used four or five mini messages buried throughout the service, I’ve used Q and A where I sat on a stool, I’ve used feed back where people hold up red, green, or yellow cards depending on how they felt about the message. green was yes, red was No, and yellow meant say more. I can imagine using that soon with the buttons you can push like on “So you want to be a Millionaire” when they poll the audience. I’ve used media clips and then responded to them or used them as a spring board. I used graphics a lot during the sermon to depict what is being said.
So when I say sermon, I am not just talking about a stand up talking head. But now remember, Boomers love stand up comedians. They will listen to them for an hour. So none of us should be too turned off by a 45 minute sermon, if it is done well, is relevant, and keeps your attention.
Well someone needs to talk faith, and I hope they have a head. Seriously, I understand what u mean by “talking head” and the concern. But everywhere I look I see churches that are reaching people with talking heads like u and me. Sometimes the heads talk a lot longer than 20 minutes. Granted, preaching is changing. What I call a sermon looks and sounds different than what my dad (also a pastor) did from 1954 until 1990. I did a sermon recently that included a video clip and an interview with a musician about the nature of jazz. It still required exegesis of scripture and people alike, and was a sermon.
We can debate whether worship is the music/prayer part of the service or the whole thing. Bottom line for me is, someone needs to preach some time, be it before after or during what we call worship. And if we study the churches that are reaching unchurched persons most effectively, they are not shying away from preaching. In a pre Christian culture that feels like the first century in the Roman Empire, preaching is as appropriate and necessary now as ever before..
On the matter of worship for unbelievers and the “talking head” discussion, I just came across this from Rick Warren on his website: http://www.purposedriven.com/
“If all seekers were looking for was a quality production, they’d stay home and watch TV, where millions are spent to produce half-hour programs’, says Warren.
But this wasn’t a megachurch sermonette for folks used to clutching a TV remote. Warren regularly preaches between 50 minutes and an hour, working his way through a dozen scripture passages and waves of illustrations from the news and daily life. Seeker-friendly sermons do not have to be short and shallow, he said.
“The idea that postmodern people will not listen to a ‘talking head’ for 45 minutes is pure myth,” he said. “Of course, most people, including many preachers, couldn’t hold an audience for 10 minutes. But that’s due to their communication style, not the supposed short attention span of unbelievers. Any communicator who is personal, passionate, authentic and applies the scriptures to real life will have no trouble holding the attention of our generation.”
. . . .Churches don’t have to be shallow to appeal to the heads and hearts of unbelievers, stressed Warren. In fact, just the opposite is true. “Unbelievers wrestle with the same deep questions believers have,” he said. “Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Does life make sense? Why is there suffering and evil in the world? What is my purpose in life? How can I learn to get along with people? These are certainly not shallow issues.”
Good discussion. I go without notes. I don’t write a sermon anymore. I write out on outline of key words/ phrases. Like others I get up at 5am on Sundays and spend time going over the outline in my mind. The key word/ phrase will jog my mind as to what I intend to say regarding that part of the sermon. Words or phrases in the main part of the message may change. I may add something on the fly or go with what I prepared. In college I memorized key words in sequential order in order to prepare for written exams. I use the same process in sermon preparation today. Believe me when I say that if you recall the key word you will recall the information you have placed under that phrase. Hen I’m driving to church I continue to review the outline in my head. By 8:30 am I preach it the first time. I call it the trial run for the rest of the day.
I’ve been preaching without manuscript or notes since my first sermon 45 years ago. Stage fright got ahold of me. I went being temporarily. My notes were useless. Prep time was invaluable because I could still preach. The message was internalized. In fact it was improved by a comment made the previous hour during a class discussion by a female member of the congregation. It was a better sermon due to better “eye contact” due to my temporary blindness. (I pretended to see the congregation.)
Now I prepare my lexionary based sermons at least a month ahead of time. A long ferment has many advantages. 1. They internalize more deeply. 2. Contact with the congregation inform the process toward the final product making the message more relevant (and probably keeps me more engaged with others). 3. The secretary always has the order of worship content weeks ahead which removes deadline tensions and resentment from the church staff relational dynamic. 4. The whole week before preaching the next sermon up keeps coming to mind involuntarily at odd moments. These are rehearsal times. In addition I read the Biblical text(s) prior to sleep. Occasionally an improvement invades my sleep. After a month of ferment last minute review on Sunday morning is unnessesary. The message and I are one . . . its a zen thing. 5. I can now see acutely while preaching. Still nervous but calm I can speak while noticing finer details in the emotional/intellectual responses of individual faces and in body language. At times I’ll even note those who appear to need additional attention afterward from their pastor. 6. Sermons and texts have been so internalized over the years that I suspect that I am a far better Christian than would be the case had I not adopted this sermon-without-notes practice.