Preaching Articles

Through the years I have admired pastors who can preach without notes. I have marveled at their ability to deliver powerful, heartfelt, life-changing messages without having to be propped up by a stack of papers. Given my personal wiring, I sadly concluded that paperless preaching was forever beyond my reach.

Then one afternoon as I reviewed my sermon notes for the weekend service, I suddenly realized that the message was so well written that I could remember it all—the sequence of introduction, points, stories and applications. The next day when I stepped out of my pulpit and simply shared the message from my heart, something powerful happened—the freedom, the connection with my congregation, the interactivity and the authenticity of the witness shared absolutely hooked me.

Let me share with you 10 points for paperless preaching that have worked well for me since that memorable day five years ago:

1. Start Early—When you have a guest speaker scheduled for your weekend services, use that week to begin work on a new sermon or series of sermons. Study your passage, organize your research and process your thoughts. Then on the Monday morning before preaching that new sermon, start writing. Try to complete the manuscript by Tuesday or Wednesday. Thursday and Friday can then be devoted to internalizing your message so that you are free to preach without notes.

2. Begin With the End in Mind—The decision to preach a sermon without notes needs to be made before the sermon is written, not after. This simple but important step will enable you to think and write in a way that is memorable, both for you and the congregation.

3. Keep It Simple—Operate around a single, central theme. Develop a simple, memorable outline. Craft simple sentence structures. Use no more than five points—You can’t remember more than five points, and neither can your people.

4. Sleep on It—As you drift off to sleep the night before, go through the sermon in your mind. First thing after your wake-up prayer the next morning, stay in bed long enough to go through it again. This is a great way to lock the message into your short-term memory bank.

5. Tell Stories—Jesus’ sermons were memorable because He told so many stories. People love stories, so pack them in. I find that my most effective sermons are 30–40 percent story based. The stories are easy for me to remember and easy for my congregation to remember as I drive a point home.

6. Create a Cheat Sheet—Create a bare bones outline of your message that can fit on a single sheet tucked into your thinline Bible. If you ever get stuck, the trigger points on your cheat sheet will get you going again. Your cheat sheet is also the place to put notable quotes that will need to be read word-for-word.

7. Get the Messenger Ready—Getting the messenger ready is just as important as getting the message ready. Though it all, keep your heart right with God. Go into the worship service well rested and well hydrated. A small high-protein snack may also prove helpful to your adrenaline management while preaching.

8. Relax—When you relax, the inner springs of thought flow with greater freedom. Take a calming walk around the block before the worship service. Retreat to your church office, put the headset on and move through some muscle relaxation exercises. Steady your nerves, whisper a prayer, set your butterflies free to fly in formation.

9. Let It Go—You don’t need to have every little word and every little detail on your manuscript memorized. Just remember the basic ideas and the sequence of materials. Don’t sweat it if you forget a few lines or even a whole section of your message. As long as your message flows well, no one will ever know the difference. Your improved ability to connect with people through paperless preaching will more than compensate forgotten pieces of the message.

10. Go for It—When it comes time to preach, take the leap of faith. Grab the brass bar as it comes flying your way. Your careful preparation and God’s faithful empowerment will hold you secure. Your growing success as a paperless preacher will score appreciative “tens” in the changed lives of those you minister to.

Dan Martella has spent the last 36 years pastoring churches in California, Utah and Massachusetts.  He currently serves as the pastor of the Healdsburg and Cloverdale Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Northern California.  He also serves as the managing editor for Best Practices for Adventist Ministries, a Christian leadership development e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders in the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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Larry Easton

commented on Apr 29, 2014

I don't worry about "being paperless." I concern myself with delivering what the Holy Spirit has provided during the previous week. I worried about it for a long time, and then I found out that David Jeremiah and D. James Kennedy wrote out their entire sermons. Praise God, I am not inferior like many would have me believe.

Kirby Lloyd

commented on Apr 29, 2014

I am in the same boat Larry. I have long thought myself inferior to those who preach without notes, but I have found there are times that I actually walk away from my notes and share and have that connection with the congregation. But my notes keep me on what the Spirit has put on my heart through the week. With or without notes? Who cares as long as Christ is preached!

Dwight Wood

commented on Apr 29, 2014

Dan. I have for years struggled to preach from a manuscript but have never been able to master it because I get lost. I learned to preach from an outline which over the years became shorter and shorter until finally became unnessarly. As I read your article, I was amazed of how many points I have found myself doing without ever labeling them. It is just what has worked. Thanks for putting it into a clear presentation. It is wonderful how the Holy Spirit works!

Troy Heald

commented on Apr 29, 2014

I think it is important to note that God has called you (and I and each of us) to preach. He hasn't called me to preach your sermon or you to preach mine. We are all unique and God uses that to minister to His glory. It isn't bad to look at other models and maybe even use them to some extent but don't ever forget that we need to be who we are. If I preach someone else's sermon (sytle, thought, format, etc.) than I have to ask the question, why am I here at all? Be who we are to God's honor and Glory and He will be honored and glorified. Personally, I use an outline (about 3-4 8.5x11 pages) but as I prepare and go over my notes, I stray and allow God to use thoughts and points that come to mind as I preach. It isn't memorized and it isn't without notes but both. The key is know the text inside and out and it becomes easy to share in a smooth and thoughtful process.

Jeff Hagan

commented on Apr 29, 2014

I am right with you Larry and Kirby. I too have always felt inferior or less "talented" but it was all of my own doing. I finally realized God was directing my studies and sermons as I wrote them out and the Holy Spirit was using the content regardless of how it was delivered. We can also go back much further than Kennedy and David Jeremiah for people who preach from full manuscripts. John Calvin, for instance, would directly read his sermons and would do so for over three hours with miraculous results. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" was, and continues to be, one of the most powerful messages ever delivered. And guess how it was delivered? It was read straight from a manuscript. As long as we are being obedient to God and His Word, and true to ourselves as God has created us, Hiw Word will not be without impact. With that said, I have nothing against an article written given information and suggestions for preaching without notes. I am not against such articles, but I think it would have been more acceptable to all if a disclaimer of some kind was inserted stating a "paperless pulpit" may not be God's plan for every preacher.

Chester Jacobs

commented on Apr 29, 2014

Dan, I enjoyed your article. I found it to be very helpful. For years I have been wanting to be able to spread my wings and preach with maybe just notes. Thanks for sharing your insight.

Brian Coffman

commented on Apr 29, 2014

Great advice. .. I would love to preach without notes. Some of his advice I cannot do at this time. I have to preach three different messages a week and I cant take all week to prepare one sermon. Plus beind boivocational I also work another job. But I would love to get to that place someday, and this article I believe will help me get there. Thank you Dan.

Chester Jacobs

commented on Apr 29, 2014

Wow! Brother how do you manage to do what you do?!

Jesse Bingaman

commented on Apr 29, 2014

I am bivocational as well. This makes sermon prep much more difficult. I never seem to be able to be properly prepared before Saturday. Wish you the best.

Steven Nash

commented on Apr 29, 2014

The preachers I admire most preached without notes though for many years I was terrified at the idea. What if I got up there and forgot everything! Then I decided to give it a try, and it has been liberating. I study well, get the message into my head and heart, write out word for word what I intend to say (I post this weekly on my blog), and then I preach, bringing only a 5.5x8.5" "cheat sheet" in my Bible. The message will always vary a bit from what I wrote, but each week it seems God overcomes my weakness to accomplish His purpose.

Stephen Ventura

commented on Apr 29, 2014

I am an associate pastor at my church and when I have the privilege to share the word of God I have to do manuscript form. I am not gifted AT ALL with story telling. I fumble with my words in everyday conversations. I believe "paperless" preaching is a gift. I do prefer manuscript form though because I can get deep into the word without tripping up and giving false info. I also believe the congregation needs more meat and less stories thats why I use manuscript form because I can cram much more truth and be precise with my wording when doing so. Also, I can always edit my manuscript but I can never go back and edit something I said from the pulpit. Between myself and our senior pastor, we both have different preaching styles and the congregation sees that. They know what to expect when either of us is up at the pulpit and they enjoy both styles because they love God's word. I have to always remember I am sharing what God reveals to me and He knows who I am and my style of speaking and he will use me as I am. A pastor should never feel as if he has to be like another. Be confident in your style and know that God can and will be glorified by what you say if you are submitted to exalting Him. Never for our glory but ALL for Him.

Jeremy Holmes

commented on Apr 29, 2014

We are all wired differently. I have ADD. I find it impossible to maintain a flow of thought without very detailed notes. I have made attempts at using various forms of prep - from notes free to bare bones outline or detailed outlines all the way to manuscripts. I have found that manuscripts are the best solution for me. As I have matured in my speaking style I do find it easier to be flexible as long as I have the manuscript right there to fall back to. I have had fellow ministers make comments through the years alluding to the idea that no notes or bare bones is somehow better or speaks to more spiritual maturity - I have learned to ignore this, knowing these comments to be based in simple ignorance. Many of the 'best' speakers use manuscripts - they work great as long as you put prep time into being comfortable with it so you aren't constantly looking down and sounding like you are reading.

Justin Stephney

commented on Apr 29, 2014

Fantastic word Dan, Ive gone from paper to iPad mini in the short time i have been preaching. Everything you stated is more than achievable looking forward to having a crack!

Dishon Gathome Kihuria

commented on Apr 29, 2014

This has been my way of preaching which has brought about great impact to the cogregation.more so with I.T system

Clarence Bolton

commented on Apr 30, 2014

I write my Sermons out every week and have absolutely no guilt. I have heard many preachers preach without a manuscript and they were all over the place and took forever to preach the message. I have used outlines and felt OK but I am real comfortable with the manuscript. I am just as familiar with the text as the "paperless" folk. I ask God what He wants me to preach, allow Him to lead me during the research, then preach. Some paperless folk should use a manuscript so they can stay on point. Manuscript preachers - take it from me - if God wants you to preach without a manuscript - you would be doing it. God likes diversity. Embrace it!

Richard Prahl

commented on May 1, 2014

Just a reminder to all of the way great is my story...At my first pastorate, I would stay up nights thinking about what I was going to preach Saturday night I was praying for nothing more than a thought...I wanted everything just right. About 1:00 a.m. in the morning. I found a card (3x5) on that card were these words, "If I wanted a perfect message I would have called an angel." I have preach with notes, with out notes, mistakes and all, God has bless. We don't have to be great orator, just great lovers of God. I forgot to say I have not been able to locate that card from September 1996.

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