Preaching to God’s people is a massive honor. Glacial. Shepherding through the proclaimed word is one of my greatest joys and challenges. I am humbled that people at Redeemer Church actually come back—that anyone comes back.
I used to always enter the pulpit with outline in hand, but no longer. I now preach from a full manuscript—2,500 words or so.
Why did I make the change? Three reasons.
It all began with a blog series by Josh Harris where he posted sermon notes/manuscripts from various preachers.
Some of the great preachers of our day use manuscripts. I had no idea. Mark Dever, Ray Ortlund,C.J. Mahaney, John Piper — all of them are manuscript guys. It seemed that the preachers with thousands of miles on their tires typically wrote a manuscript.
This left me scratching my head and thinking, “Why don’t I manuscript? These guys are heroes of mine. They must know something I don’t.”
I then noticed that the hyper-gifted pastors of our day and of old: Spurgeon, Driscoll, and Chandler — are outline guys. Again, I began to think, “I’m most definitely not at their level of gifting. Why in the world am I outlining?”
I came to the conclusion: I need a manuscript.
Outlining was I all knew. I didn’t know there was another reputable way. If am I honest, I sneered at the idea of a manuscript. It seemed like a crutch.
A crutch that I needed.
Here’s the deal, this may not be true of you, but it was of me, I was outlining because I subtly thought I might be as gifted as my heroes—but I was in the embryo stage. “Just give me time. Trust me.” Or maybe I knew I wasn’t as gifted, but hey, maybe I’ll turn out to be. Both are stinky.
I had to confess my pride and be “ok” with manuscripting. It didn’t mean I would be less of a preacher. Nor was it going to stifle the work of the Spirit. Rubbish. Have you been blessed by the preaching of Piper or Ortlund? Duh.
I was writing an outline from pride and avoiding a manuscript because of pride. Solution? Repent—and write a manuscript.
And boy, I’m glad I made the switch.
The first descent from the stage, after breaking the manuscript in, my wife leaned over and said, “Do that every week.”
And that leads to the second reason why I ditched the outline and stayed with a manuscript.
This discipline—I assure you, it is a discipline!—improved my preaching.
Writing a manuscript allows me to play with sentences and words days before I preach, not seconds like in an outline. Preparing a manuscript lets me retool and fortify sentences for their maximum human delivery. Manuscripting lets me work with fresh and new ways to say the same thing, as opposed to saying the same thing in the same way—over and over and over.
Outline preaching, from a shallow well of knowledge, will scrape for words in the preaching moment. And this can tend to many “umms” and “uhhhs”, or you’ll repeat yourself—often. But this can be lessened, nearly eliminated, with a manuscript.
Instead of trying to figure out how to say something in the moment, manuscripting enables me to think of many ways to say a phrase, point, or story, etc.
“Dog Story” in an outline, can turn into a powerful anecdote with exact language to weave throughout the sermon.
Preaching from an outline provides guides and cues; but I will wander from the path, chase something, and maybe wind up in trouble. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt. No bueno.
A manuscript helps me know exactly where I am headed, how I’m getting there, and what I plan to say on the way there. All the verses I want to reference are there and won’t be forgotten. I’ll think of others while preaching, and I’ll quote those too.
The manuscript is your friend, not the Gestapo.
Writing a manuscript has improved my preaching, especially my desired time frame.
I’m not captivating enough—if at all—to hold a crowd for fifty minutes to an hour. Forty minutes is my goal. Thirty-five would be better. Writing a manuscript provides a word count. And by trial and error, I know my ‘word count to sermon length’ ratio. 3,000 words is too long. For this reason alone, I’m sure Redeemer Church is grateful for the manuscript!
If you think that a manuscript will hurt your delivery; don’t let it. Pretty simple.
Be familiar with your manuscript. Read it multiple times. By the time to preach, I have probably read my sermon five times. I’ve labored in the writing, editing, formatting (bolding, highlighting, etc.), and preparing my Keynote slides. By Sunday, I know my manuscript pretty well.
Be so familiar with your manuscript that you could preach without it—but won’t.
I don’t know how many times someone has asked for my sermon notes, and until I had a manuscript, with every reply I felt like a dunce.
“Well, I guess I could give them to you, though they wouldn’t help you much. It’s just an outline.”
Wow. That’s helpful. *Facepalm*.
But by having a manuscript I can provide a helpful resource. And now we are able to post my manuscript along side the sermon audio on our church website.
Say you get invited to preach somewhere on the book of Jonah. Hey—lookie there!—you already have sermons ready. You’ve already spent the hours in exegesis, reading, illustrating, and applying the text. You’re ready to rock-n’-roll.
When I have a busy week, sure I regret being committed to writing a manuscript—but I don’t regret it Sunday afternoon. I’m glad I made the switch.
What do you think? What do you use and why?