John Broadus was a pastor and professor of preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1800′s. Charles Spurgeon regarded Broadus as “the greatest of living preachers.” According to Wikipedia, the Church historian Albert Henry Newman said that Broadus was “perhaps the greatest man the Baptists have produced.” Brodus’s classic Homiletics textbook On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons remains a must-read for all seminary students.

Broadus identified four basic methods of sermon delivery:

  • Reading: The preacher takes his manuscript into the pulpit and reads from it.
  • Reciting: The speaker repeats from memory what has been written and learned.
  • Extemporizing: The plan of the discourse is drawn out on paper and all the principal points are stated or suggested, but the language is extemporaneous.
  • Freely delivering: After thorough preparation, the preacher goes into the pulpit without notes or manuscript and without conscious effort to memorize the sermon.

The method chosen will determine how much paper is brought into the pulpit. I do not want to set down rules on how much we should read or rely upon notes. Much will depend on the speaker and the hearers. However, if there is a danger in our days it is probably too much reliance upon notes. We are all horrified at the idea of someone going into a pulpit unprepared and just rambling around for a time. However, the Reformed Church is perhaps in danger of going to the other extreme, of having such over-prepared sermons that the amount of paper required to preach them is increasing more and more -  as is reliance on the manuscript.

This is happening at the same time as the people, especially younger people, are going in the opposite direction. People want to be spoken to personally, directly, and relationally. President Obama understood that before he was President, although since inauguration he has resorted mainly to the autocue, diminishing his appeal. In the UK, the present Prime Minister, David Cameron, burst on to the scene at a Conservative Party Conference when he spoke passionately about his vision for the future of the UK, and what caught everyone’s imagination was that he did it without notes. After the Blair/Brown years of polished marketing and spin, it seemed much more authentic.

We should always remember that while our pulpit paper may contain what we want to communicate, it can also become one of the greatest barriers to communication. Often the preacher’s eyes are more on this than on their congregation.  Pastor Al Martin commented on this:

The issue is not how much written composition is done in the study or how much written material is brought into the pulpit. The issue is how much dependence upon and preoccupation with written material is manifested in the act of preaching. To state the matter another way, the issue is how much mental and physical attachment is there to one’s paper. At the end of the day we are not so much concerned with issues of paper and print, but with the issues of eyes and brains.

And listen to these strong words from Dabney:

Reading a manuscript to the people can never, with any justice, be termed preaching…. In the delivery of the sermon there can be no exception in favor of the mere reader. How can he whose eyes are fixed upon the paper before him, who performs the mechanical task of reciting the very words inscribed upon it, have the inflections, the emphasis, the look, the gesture, the flexibility, the fire, or oratorical actions? Mere reading, then, should be sternly banished from the pulpit, except in those rare cases in which the didactic purpose supersedes the rhetorical, and exact verbal accuracy is more essential than eloquence.

Shedd argued that young preachers should from the very beginning of their ministries preach at least one extemporaneous sermon every week. By this he did not mean preaching without study or preparation – quite the opposite. Extemporaneous sermons require more preparation in many ways. What he meant was reducing your sermon to a one-page of skeleton outline, and becoming so familiar with it, that referring to it during the act of preaching is minimized. Then, throughout your ministry, try to reduce the size of the skeleton, and dependence on it, more and more. Let the ideas be pre-arranged but leave exact expression of them to the moment of preaching.

Shedd gives these requirements for extemporaneous preaching:

  • A heart glowing and beating with evangelical affections
  • A methodical intellect – to organize the sermon material into a clear and logical structure
  • The power of amplification – or the ability to expand upon a theme
  • A precise and accurate mode of expression
  • Patient and persevering practice

To these we might add, prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit for each and all of these requirements.

Tomorrow, I’ll pass on seven steps I’ve followed to help decrease reliance on paper in the pulpit.

  • Anonymous

    Looking forward to part 2 brother. I would be interested to know if you use “mind mapping” when composing a sermon. Recently, I have used my iPad in the pulpit in such a way in preaching. What do you think.

  • kurtmichaelson

    Thanks for this post! I’ve preached with notes and would like to eventually rely less on them, but not to be without them while preaching.I’m currently reading Lectures to My Students by Spurgeon and it is a great book, for a newbie to the pulpit like myself.

  • Werner

    Although I agree generally with the above, I have read that Jonathan Edwards read his sermons word for word. Of course, the Puritan era was much different.

  • David Murray

    Werner: It’s true that Edwards did initially read his sermons. However, under the influence of George Whitefield, Edwards was convicted of the power of extemporaneous preaching and shifted his sermon delivery accordingly. No longer did he use the manuscript, but rather he made the conscious decision to shift away from notes. See “Dying to Preach” by Steven Smith (p156) for supporting research.Jerrold: I don’t use mind-mapping for sermon prep. I suppose I’m in the groove with what I do and am a bit reluctant to change it. However, I think a mind-map might help many of our hearers “see” what we are saying better than a traditional outline.Kurt: Glad your reading “Lectures to my students.” It was the first book I read on preaching and I keep going back to it.

  • C. M. Sheffield

    I’ve preached since I was sixteen. I’ve never taken anything more than a rough outline into the pulpit. And while I spend a great deal of time in preparation each week, I don’t write out a manuscript (though I certainly see the value in it). In the times that I have, it left me fumbling over myself in an effort to remain “on text.” “Power of amplification” is certainly a blessing. And it stems from being intimately acquainted with one’s subject. That is why it is essential for the preacher to be fed by that text which he intends to feed others with. He must know the power of it, so that he may freely expound upon it with a passion that leaves his hearers convinced that their very lives depend upon the truth preached.

  • Dean

    For quite some time I thought about going note free. Honestly, the only thing holding me back was fear. (Though my fear went by many different names!) A couple of weeks ago I read “Preaching On Your Feet” by Lybrand. I decided to make the transition from full manuscript to no notes at all in one leap, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve preached three weeks without notes and I know I am preaching with greater passion and am experiencing a wonderful connection with the listeners.

  • John Bohannon

    One of the marks of expositional preaching is to allow the substance and structure of the text to drive the substance and structure of the sermon. I have found that when this is fleshed out in sermon preparation that I am more prepared to preach without notes. How so? The reason for this is that the actual Scripture becomes my notes. Maybe, and I pray, it is in like manner to what has been said of the Puritans, “For the Puritans, the sermon is not just hinged to Scripture; it is quite literally exists inside the Word of God; the text is not in the sermon, but the sermon is in the text . . . put summarily, listening to a sermon is being in the Bible.”A final thought, I concur with Dean that Lybrand’s “Preaching On Your Feet” is a useful read in helping to encourage and instruct pastors in this direction.

  • George Lawton

    I have preached essentially without notes for more than 11 years. On rare occasions when I feel I must exactly state whatever needs to be said, I do a manuscript. But since I rarely preach from a manuscript, I do it poorly, so those sermons miss the very mark I feel I must get to.

  • Jamie Gunn

    As one who has not had any formal training as a preacher but who is nevertheless required to preach as an elder in a small house church congregation, I find this topic to be very interesting.My own practice is to prepare fairly extensive notes but in outline form (including paragraphs of content) so it is easy to “zero-in” on the exact text. I indicate citations I want the congregation to read with me by using red bold text. (Optional citations are red but not bold.) I use italics to stress important words or ideas and indicate keywords by italics and boldface. In practice, I try to preach the material without heavy dependence on the paragraphs of content, focussing rather on the citations, important words or ideas along with the keywords.Notes are important as I send the files out to the congregation in print or as PDF files via email. I want the congregation to actually listen to the words I’m speaking as I believe that effective, convicting preaching is Spirit-dependant and I think the congregation must listen to what the Spirit says, not be distracted by note taking (It’s NOT a lecture, folks!).Anyway, just a few thoughts from the trenches.

  • Mark Loughridge

    Last year I struggled with eyesight problems and for most of the year was legally blind (slightly better off than being fully blind!). That meant I had to find a way to preach without reading or writing.For part of the year I was able to use a large marker to write out the outline.But the key I found to freedom was to write as little as possible, and to consturct the sermon in my head. Once I had an outline I would ‘preach’ it in the study. Usually on a Thursday. Then preach it again Friday. And then Saturday morning. By this stage I knew the outline inside out, and better still things were developing in each point – applications and insights.On Saturday evening I preached over it again, this time aiming to chop it down to 30-35 mins.Sabbath morning – another once over before preaching it live.For me I think the key was doing most of the working out in my head and using what would normally have been writing time (pen on paper) as preaching time.This preaching time wasnt just about ‘learning’ the sermon, but about axtually ‘writing’ it without pen and paper.