I didn’t always want to be a preacher. In fact, public speaking used to scare me to death. I actually got started in ministry as a worship leader.
In middle school and high school I led my youth group in worship twice a week. It wasn’t always very good, but somebody had to do it.
I would stand in front of the group, acoustic guitar in hand, with a music stand directly in front of me, and lead worship while staring at the stand the whole time. I never looked up. I never moved around. The stand had my undivided attention.
It wasn’t until I was in college and volunteered for the band of a large church that the veteran worship pastor told me I had to ditch the music stand. I panicked. What if I forget the chords? What if I mess up the lyrics? I am not good at memorizing music. I’m going to fail! Everyone will laugh at me!
But the worship pastor didn’t give me a choice. And I’m so glad he didn’t!
Ditching the music stand forced me to memorize the songs. It wasn’t as hard as I thought. It caused me to look up and engage with the audience. It helped me to internalize the music so I could actually worship freely on stage without thinking about it. My performance improved, and the audience response was incredible.
The music stand was a crutch that was holding me back from reaching my full potential as a worship leader.
What does this have to do with preaching?
Just as I was tied to my music stand, many preachers are tied to their pulpit and their notes. They are hiding behind what feels like a tool to help them, but in reality is a crutch that keeps them from reaching their full potential.
Cutting notes down dramatically or eliminating them entirely will force you to internalize the message and naturally improve your delivery.
How this benefits you:
- You will speak more from your heart. Even if you wrote the notes from your heart, you communicate the opposite to your audience when you have to look at notes to find what to say next.
- You will sound more natural and less rehearsed.
- You will have more eye contact with your audience. Research shows that good eye contact makes you come across as more confident, honest and likeable.
- You will be able to walk the stage when you aren’t chained to your notes. Good movement on stage will increase your audience's attention. Our brains naturally tune out stationary objects.
- Your favorite preachers probably rarely use their notes. The best preachers internalize their message and speak passionately from their heart. This is probably why you like them so much.
- If you miss a point because you didn’t look at notes, nobody will notice but you. Your audience has no idea what you planned to say.
Just like throwing out my music stand helped my worship, throwing out notes (or using fewer notes) can dramatically improve your preaching. This doesn’t mean you prepare any less. Memorizing a song takes more time than reading a music sheet. Preaching without notes takes more preparation because you have nothing to fall back on.
If the thought of preaching without notes terrifies you, then you have proven my point. You are too dependent on your notes!
Don’t believe me? I double triple dog dare you to give it a shot.
What do you have to lose? You might preach a bad sermon. Or you may just preach your best sermon yet!
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