Posts Tagged ‘Pastors’

Preaching Without Notes

No podium? Where do I put my paper?!

Over the years, I’ve been asked about the pros and cons of preaching without notes. Most notably (pun intended), people ask about the process of preaching without notes and how they can learn to do it. At the onset, let me state that preaching without notes is not for everyone. It is largely based upon how a person thinks, processes and communicates information. Having said that, however, I do believe that  every preacher should have at least one sermon in their heart that they could preach with or without notes if called upon at a moment’s notice. That’s a part of our call to be “instant in season and out of season” (II Tim 4:2).

Before I address a few practical ways to begin the journey toward preaching without notes, it’s important to clear up a few misunderstandings about preaching without notes.

Preaching without notes does NOT make you a better preacher.

Some of the greatest preachers use notes…some of the worst do not (and vice versa). Preaching with or without notes does not make you a better preacher. A bad preacher with notes will probably be worse without them, and a good preacher will not improve his or her preaching by simply dumping the manuscript. My pastor is a great preacher who’s been preaching for nearly 50 years and has always used a manuscript. They key is to find what works for you.

Preaching without notes is NOT the same as preparing without notes.

Some believe that preaching without notes is a shortcut, while, in actuality, the opposite is true. Preaching without notes still requires the discipline of writing a manuscript or outline.  It also requires extensive study. The preacher who preaches without notes must not only study the text intently, he or she must study his or her notes about the text carefully. Preaching without notes is not for lazy preachers. In fact, there is no place in ministry for preachers who are lazy and unwilling to “study to show [themselves] approved” (II Tim 2:15).

Preaching without notes is NOT about MEMORIZATION…it’s about MEDITATION.

You have to spend time WITH your notes if you want to speak WITHOUT them. If we rely on memorization we can fall prey to the demon of forgetfulness 🙂 Preaching without notes is not about memorizing your manuscript or outline verbatim and then reciting what you have memorized. It’s about meditating on the Word and marrying the message so that it becomes a part of you. There’s a reason the psalmist hid the Word in his HEART and not his HEAD. When the word is in your heart, the heart pumps it to the rest of your body. If it’s just in your head, you can forget it and lose it altogether.

To be sure, preaching without notes requires practice. It is through the discipline of practice that one can reach a comfort level to preach without notes. Here are a few practical tools to aid in the practice process.

Master your manuscript.

Every beginning preacher should start out using a full manuscript. A manuscript involves putting the entire message on paper and using that manuscript to deliver the message. Manuscript preachers must master their manuscript and not allow the manuscript to master them. Many preachers are slaves to their manuscript and pay more attention to the paper than the people. No one wants to see the top of your head for 45 minutes! Establish and maintain good eye contact with the congregation. Engage and connect with your audience. Don’t just read your manuscript…deliver your message.

Get in line with an outline.

Once you have mastered your manuscript you can move to the next phase – using an outline. Remember that preaching without notes is a weaning process. I do not recommend jumping straight from a full manuscript to preaching without notes. An outline is a good bridge to use to travel across to “No Note Land.” When using an outline, I recommend writing out full sentences instead of fragmented thoughts. These bullet points serve as springboards for the message that you have studied and hidden in your heart.

Let go of the net.

Once you have become familiar and comfortable with the process of preaching using an outline, it’s time to launch out and begin preaching without notes. At this stage, however, I do recommend that you still take the outline to the pulpit – with the intentions of not using it. Keep the outline tucked away in your Bible or someplace it is readily accessible. This way it serves as a safety net in case you find yourself in trouble. After doing this a few times, let go of the safety net. Leave the outline at home and preach what God has placed in your heart!


A few years ago, I was on my way to church to celebrate my Pastoral Anniversary. Customarily, this is the time of year when the church pauses to honor and appreciate the work and ministry of the Senior Pastor. While this should have been a time of rest and relaxation for me, I found myself in a semi-depressed state. I had been dealing with several challenges in my personal life, as well as in the ministry, and, quite frankly, I was in no mood to celebrate. In fact, prior history had taught me to expect at least one major crisis to creep up during the week of my anniversary.

Can I get a tow?

As I drove to church pondering these thoughts, I noticed something out of the ordinary on the side of the highway. A huge tow truck had broken down and was stuck on the side of the road. The instrument designed to help others when they were broken was now broken itself. I immediately began to think of myself and other pastors and spiritual leaders who have devoted their lives to helping the broken. Many pastors serve as “spiritual tow trucks” helping to transport people in their churches and communities from brokenness to healing. But what happens when the tow truck is in need of a tow? Where does the pastor go when he or she is broken down on the side of the highway of life?

Recent revelations of indiscretions and failings amongst prominent men and women in the pulpit only serve to highlight the need for all clergy to have a safe place where they can go, be open and transparent, and, ultimately, be healed. While there is no excuse for sin, we must be careful that in our haste not to CONDONE sin in the pulpit, that we CONDEMN the servants in the pulpit. Pastors, like the parishioners in the pews, are human beings with flaws and faults. It is imperative that we do not flaunt the flaws of others nor magnify their mistakes.

While the individual is held personally responsible for his or her actions, we do all hold a corporate responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all – including men and women of the cloth. Clergy and congregations must provide mechanisms for the pastor to find healing when he or she is broken. The Army sends wounded soldiers home, but most pastors are required to heal while still on the battlefield!

The highway of ministry is littered with broken down tow trucks of pastors who, for whatever reason, were never afforded the opportunity to heal. While it is important that we provide mechanisms for these broken down tow trucks to be towed to safety, it is even more important for us to provide preventive maintenance to ensure that no pastor finds him or herself in need of a tow.

While many in the pulpit and pew hold a “Physician, heal thyself” mentality, there are some things that require external assistance. Even doctors have to go to the doctor sometime. Every pastor needs a pastor. Additionally, every pastor should invest the time and money in seeing a professional counselor. Many pastors spend a lot of time engaged in the counseling of others, yet never receive counseling themselves. As a Nationally Certified Counselor with a Masters in Pastoral Counseling, I was required to go through counseling. When you spend so much time dealing with other people’s issues it is often difficult to deal with your own. Counseling helps.

In addition to counseling, many pastors and spiritual leaders simply need rest! The vast majority of pastors are overworked and overwhelmed. Many do not have the luxury of a sabbatical or retreats, but these are essential aspects of a healthy spiritual life. Like that old tow truck, if we don’t take time to REST, we will eventually RUST.

Those of us who have ever been towed back to health by one of these “spiritual tow trucks” must do our part to ensure that they never find themselves broken down on the side of the highway of life. An African proverb states that, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Similarly, it often takes a collaborative effort to tow a tow truck. Clergy and congregation, pulpit and pew, must work together to ensure each other’s collective mental and spiritual well-being. When done correctly, it probably looks something like this.