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I had the chance to preach three times last summer at The Macrina Community, which my wife, Sarah, and I led throughout the summer. It’s been an interesting experience, preaching to such an intimate and small community (the first time I preached, there were two people; this last time there were four). When I was writing the first sermon, I sat down and took care of it the good ‘ole Princeton way—manuscript style: thought through what I wanted to say, typed it up, had my manuscript with me and preached from it. To two people.

So, that was probably more my fault than Princeton’s (using a manuscript while preaching to two people)—but I’m not the first to think that perhaps taking preaching courses at Princeton Seminary messed up my ability to preach. It’s not like I was the world’s best preacher before going to Princeton, but I felt very comfortable in front of a church, working off an outline, engaging in a more conversational style of preaching. After just one year of preaching at Princeton, I felt like I was 100% stuck to the manuscript. I’d type it up, and then try to preach a more conversational sermon, and it just didn’t work.

So, like others I’m sure, after a preaching course and post-seminary, I think I’m (re)learning how to preach and perhaps figuring out what style works well for me right now. The past two times I’ve preached at Macrina, it’s gone very well. What I’ve been doing is to start out by sitting down with the text, thinking about where I want to go with it, and then begin by typing out a stream-of-consciousness style of manuscript. It’s normally about four pages single-spaced.

Then I sit with that for a day or two, make edits to it, and read it through a few times. The day before I’m going to preach, I’ll sit down with the manuscript and make a rough outline based off the manuscript. Then by the time I’m actually preaching, I find that I’m not even really reading the outline, but I have it there as a “safety” in case I get stuck or need to remember the direction I wanted to go. I’m sure this is nothing life-changing for any of you who have been preaching for years (!), but it’s simply what I’ve been doing recently and find that it’s working very well for me.



Adam Walker Cleaveland is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Ashland, Oregon, and has been blogging at Pomomusings since August 2003. You can also find him blogging at Dazed Dad. He lives in Ashland, OR with his wife Sarah who is pursuing a PhD in Spirituality at the Graduate Theological Union.

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Colin Bain

commented on May 4, 2012

When I went through seminary, a colleague had the problem of trying to squeeze his style into the seminary style. Needless to say he didn't win the preaching prize! Point being, we all thought he was a great preacher. The bit that's missing in deciding style, is feedback and some measure of efectivness. We all need these measures to really decide if what WE feel is right, really is effective. Good to raise the issue, thanks

Fernando Villegas

commented on May 4, 2012

One must always be relearning the craft of preaching. I began preaching at the age of 12, and I would certainly hope that the sermons I preach now are different from back then! Some time back I was going through some of the sermons I preached when I was in college (when I preached from outlines) and then from my first couple years as a pastor (when I often preached from full manuscripts), and I realized I could never be able to preach those sermons now--my style and philosophy of preaching have changed too much! Makes me wonder how I will be preaching 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years from now...

Mark Nielson

commented on May 4, 2012

There is always something to learn with preaching. I have preached for 32 years at the same local congregation. I have done everything from a full manuscript to an outline and sometimes totally memorized text and message. I find that connecting with my people has higher priority that saying everything exactly the way I want to say it. Communicating God's truth is humbling. To get up on Sunday morning and proclaim "thus saith the Lord" is not to be taken lightly. Whether you are preaching for 2 or 200 or 2000 you must put in due diligence and then rely on the Holy Spirit to communicate truth!

Lawrence Rae

commented on May 4, 2012

I appreciate the movement back to an outline. After about 40 years of preaching, I find it leaves space for my Father to insert any points I may have missed in my preparation. There is always a number of things to be said His way.

Lawrence Rae

commented on May 4, 2012

I appreciate the movement back to an outline. After about 40 years of preaching, I find it leaves space for my Father to insert any points I may have missed in my preparation. There is always a number of things to be said His way.

Robert Walderman

commented on May 5, 2012

It is a great honor and a great responsibility to preach God's word. As someone once said, 'There may be a small crowd, but there is never a small sermon!"

Beverly Birchfield

commented on May 5, 2012

I find my use of a manuscript leaves much to be desired, I feel trapped by it. I have prayed to be able to break free, it does give me confidence but I feel, more often than not, that it lacks spontaneous insert. This could be that I am basically a writer and enjoy the writing part of message preparation. Thanks for the insight...hope I can implement some of your points.

Robert Sickler

commented on May 5, 2012

When we preach are we working for the church or for the Lord. We seek human approval because it is instant gratification ... God can really take his time in letting you know you done good. Still, I for one, seek God's approval over that of people. I always seek the Holy Spirits help in preparing a manuscript ... then, I generally preach it to the Holy Spirit. Maybe to a heavenly host, but I know for certain that the Holy Spirit is listening. I accept the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and make appropriate changes ... then I preach the sermon to the Holy Spirit again. Sometimes I preach it once and I am at peace and sometimes I go to the pulpit and struggle

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