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.
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