Ok- so I started to add a comment on Landon Whitsett’s blog where he posted about preaching without a manuscript. Then I realized it was so long enough that I might have a little something that needed saying.
I read similar posts like this once in a while. I listened to Drs. Hoch and Slemmons wrestle with the pros and cons of the manuscript in our homiletics classes. I’ve listened to sermons that were masterfully given extemporaneously (including a fine one by our then-Vice-Mod, Mr. Whitsett) and from manuscripts. And I’ve been subjected to painful readings and yammering that needed someone to hold up a stop sign since there was no final page to remind them to end.
In our intro preaching class, we gave one sermon on script and one from notes. Something like 75 words for a 12-minute sermon. I did ok with it, even though I wasn’t super comfortable. It actually was more a problem with opening of the sermon than the actual delivery.
I’ve preached one sermon in an actual worship service just from notes. But that was after I’d already preached it twice from the page earlier in the day. And I ended up preaching this Christmas Eve mostly off the manuscript I’d written. But that was because I preached it the way I had led the Christmas Eve service for children a few years ago. Using the people from a child’s manger scene to talk through the story and how our stories connect to it.
So I find myself mostly agreeing with Landon- that it’s important to be able to move, to connect with people. That’s why I’ve always preferred a wearable mic, so that I don’t feel tied to the pulpit.
And yet…. I find myself preaching from a manuscript 95% of the time. Why?
I can think of 2 main reasons/excuses/barriers:
1. Most of the preaching I do is at churches I’ve never attended-
I do pulpit supply all over the presbytery, mostly filling in while someone is on study leave or vacation. Often on those days that an intern or associate would get (if they had one). So, in addition to preaching to a congregation I don’t really know, I’m usually attempting to lead a service/liturgy in a sanctuary that is unfamiliar. None of that is a burden; in fact, it’s a wonderful opportunity to worship using music and rituals across the spectrum of Presby traditions. But, if I were to add one more variable to track in my head, I’m pretty sure it would go from worship to work pretty quickly.
2. I’m adding sermon prep into a life that isn’t pastoral leadership. So, like many pastors who are tent-makers, I’m squishing the exegetical work in between my day job and family responsibilities. And yes- I know that a pastor’s week is not spent in the study doing prep for a sermon, but I also know that I don’t have the option of making a day of my week a sermon prep day. If I am going to get a good 6-8 hours of reading in before writing and practicing, that has to be grabbed in the evenings. And that means my Saturday has to be empty. Which it rarely is. Sadly, I find myself writing too late in the night and then walking it through Sunday morning.
Those hesitations aside, the next chance I have to preach at my home church, I’ll probably do a little of what Landon suggests. Maybe dropping the ending, or perhaps another section of the sermon and just writing in note for that segment. I can see working on it, but I also know that God has gifted each of us uniquely, and that there may be some of us who better serve our congregations by learning to use the manuscript well.