Two and a half years ago, my wife and I moved to Gages Lake Bible Church, where I was called as the Senior Pastor. This was my first time doing any major preaching, though I had graduated with a degree in pastoral ministry and had spoken in church and in Sunday School and small group settings periodically. So, obviously, preaching every single week was a new thing for me. It was a new thing I enjoyed immensely and still enjoy. There is nothing as invigorating, humbling, and wonderful as the mysterious calling to preach. I love the study, love the prep, and love the delivery. I love all parts of preaching.
But even though I love preaching and loved studying and had a degree in pastoral ministry, didn’t mean I was comfortable preaching right away. In fact, it took me a good six-to-eight months to get my legs under me. I had a few issues going in.
First, I had to overcome the natural nervousness of public speaking. Fortunately, I had much of this knocked out of me because I was part of the worship/song leading team at our previous church, which was a large one.
Secondly, I had to find my style. I listen to quite a few preachers on my iPhone, from Tim Keller to Andy Stanley to Chuck Swindoll to David Jeremiah. I’ve sat under great preaching in my life. But it took me a while to find out exactly the style that would work for me. For the first six months or so, my notes would consist of a heavy, typewritten outline. I knew I couldn’t do extemporanous with no notes, like some. I just didn’t have the capacity to remember what I was going to say and I didn’t want to get up there and fool around and not deliver a quality message from the Word. So I thought the outline would be sufficient.
The problem was that I found that I had several crutches like “um” and “ya know” and other things. And the thoughts that the outline was supposed to have triggered, that arrived during my time of study, stayed somewhere in my study and didn’t surface during my message. So transitions were awkward and I has having a hard time preaching, wondering every week, if I did okay or not. I was unsettled.
It was around this time that I came upon a blog by Joshua Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Josh began a series of posts on preaching note, from famous preachers. I read through each one, then read the post, where Josh actually linked to his own notes. I noticed that his were a full manuscript as were some others. But for Josh, like me, it made sense. Josh is a writer as well and so he brings his natural gifts as a writer to bear on his preaching.
That’s when I had a “light bulb” moment. Why don’t I just write a full manuscript every week? After all, I’ve been writer for ten years, cracking off a full manuscript isn’t that big of a deal. I called a few preachers, and emailed some more. I was surprised at how many do it this way. I have one friend who writes out a full manuscript on paper. Another types his up like me. My good friend, Ray Pritchard has been doing manuscript for years and he told me it was not only “ok” but advisable.
So I did it . . . .and I have to tell it you it was the best thing I ever did for my preaching. Now, to be sure, I’ve only been preaching for two and a half years and I’m far from an expert. But I will say this. I have great confidence now when I get in the pulpit, because my entire message is laid out before me. No guessing, no hoping the inspiration or words come. Its all right there.
Now, I was worried that perhaps it would sound as if I was reading. So the first week I didn’t tell anyone I was preaching a manuscript. I just preached it. Then after, I asked some folks in the congregation to give me a sense of my message, folks I could depend on for honesty. They said it was the best message I had preached. I asked if it sounded as if I was reading. They said, “No. I don’t even remember you reading.” That was encouraging. Since then, I’ve tweaked my style a bit. I use Georgia font, because its easy on the eyes. I use a binder, because the page turning becomes less distracting. I also bold and italicize key phrases and things I want to stand out.
I also learned two more important things. Writing for speaking is different than writing. Its much simpler, you’re not as painstaking on your wording, because you need to sound like a preacher, not like a guy reading a great book. I also learned to have small paragraphs, because when you have large ones, they tend to bunch together.
Now, I typically read most of the words, though I give myself freedom to add what the Holy Spirit might give me in that message. I don’t let the notes restrain me, but they do keep me focused and on message. In my humble opinion, I think its important for a preacher to stay on message, to stay in the text, and not ramble all over.
Here’s the big thing I’ve learned, though. It was important for me to find my own style, using my unique package of gifts, talents, strengths, and weaknesses. I’m a guy who doesn’t move around the stage a lot. For a while I gave myself grief about that, because I watched guys like Andy Stanley, etc. But I realized that that just isn’t me. I’m not Andy Stanley and if I try to be, I’m just the copycat version of him and nobody wants that. My style is to stay in the pulpit and preach from a manuscript.
A few months after my change to manuscript style, my wife and I and a few friends travelled to Indiana to see David Jeremiah preach. Dr. Jeremiah has been one of my favorite radio preachers for many years. His preaching is lively and engaging. And yet . . . when we sat and watched him, he didn’t move around the pulpit and it looked as though he was preaching from a manuscript. Yes, Dr. Jeremiah who has probably forgotten more about the Bible than I’ve learned. In fact, my wife leaned over and said, “Hey, he does it like you.” So that gave me confidence that I could be who God created me to be and still be effective.