Preaching Articles

Sermon Manuscripts

Preachers aren't actors. We don't have to memorize our "script," although many effective preachers take a 12-page manuscript into the pulpit. Likewise, pastors aren't stand-up comedians. We aren't required to "take the stage" armed only with a few thoughts scribbled on a piece of paper, though many good pulpiteers use only a simple outline. There are merits and drawbacks to both of these radically different approaches.

A full manuscript allows you to craft more pregnant phrases that tend to stick in the mind of the hearer. The manuscript approach protects you from tangents that might lead you away from the main points of the text. The downside to a manuscript is that you are tempted to interact more with your notes than with God and people. It’s harder to follow the prompting of the Spirit when you are locked into a specific direction.

Using Outlines

The benefits of an outline are that you keep the big picture in front of you and tend to consistently move in that direction. Using fewer notes means that eye contact and interaction with people will happen more frequently. Many folks who use outlines say they go into the pulpit with a sense of freedom and confidence that they might not get with a manuscript.

The downside of an outline is that it is easy to miss important details of the text. Outline preachers tend to preach longer because they are tempted to chase thoughts that occur to them in the preaching moment. Also, off-the-cuff humor and illustrations are usually underdeveloped and might not convey your intended meaning.

Something In Between

I use something between an outline and a manuscript. I write out certain parts of the sermon verbatim. The parts are phrases that I think will help expose the text, phrases that will stick with people. I often close the sermon by leaving people with questions to chew on. When I do this, I write them out very carefully and usually project them on a screen to focus the congregation on the questions.

But I also step into the pulpit with bullet points that highlight the big ideas I want to communicate. This allows me to keep the sermon moving forward in a logical flow, and more importantly, leaves room for me to hear from the Lord in the "preaching moment." I can camp out on a particular verse or skip a particular illustration as the Spirit leads.

There is not a prescribed biblical manner for preparing and delivering your sermon, which means you have freedom to explore your particular style as you prepare a sermon and proclaim the gospel.

You may enjoy taking a look at this blog series by Josh Harris, where he posts the preaching notes of several well-known pastors, showing you what they take with them into the pulpit.

Darrin and Amie have been married since 1993. They have four children: Glory was born in 2000, Gracie was born in 2002, Drew was born in 2006, and Delainey was born in 2009. In 2001, Darrin and Amie moved to St. Louis and planted The Journey. Pastor Darrin's first book, Church Planter, was released in August 2010, and his next book For the City, written with Matt Carter, is set to be released in spring 2011.

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Dennis Cocks

commented on Oct 24, 2013

I am a manuscript preacher. I use a 12 font size of no more than two lines (about two sentences) long. I color all my points (main and sub) bold green. When I use a Scripture reference that we don't look up together (for lack of time) I color the verses red. Stories or illustrations are blue in color. All of this helps me keep my place better as I deliver the sermon. My sermons are usually about 45 minutes which is about ten pages for the manuscript. I read over the sermon many times before I preach it and I have learned to read and be able to keep eye contact with the people at the same time. Of course while I'm preaching other thoughts come to me from the Holy Spirit along with other Scriptures and I share them as I'm going along and it is easy to get right back to where I was when I left the manuscript. I appreciate the author not condeming one way over the other (as others have done before, especially those who are against using a manuscript) but advocated something in between. Good article.

John Powers

commented on Oct 24, 2013

This is a very well written article. I found it very helpful and interesting. I too, am glad that the author didn't promote one style over another. I also appreciate the comments of Dennis Cocks of New Hope Baptist Church. I found his tips extremely helpful. I had never thought about color coding my manuscript.

Lafern Cobb

commented on Oct 24, 2013

The Holy Spirit leads us all and then uses our own voices to speak to His People. Notes? Ipads? Reading the sermons or expounding with 3 points written on a napkin. Let's get the Word of God out there whatever our style. What I remind myself every time I preach is, this is God's Pulpit and He is allowing me to speak! Awesome thought! It's not about me, it's about God. Sometimes I have one word printed boldly on a sheet of paper. Sometimes I have several pages of notes. Sometimes I open my Bible and never use the notes I have worked so hard to prepare. If there is one place we can all find complete unity it is in the fact we all want to be vessels used by the Master Potter!

Robert Fa’atoia-Collins

commented on Nov 1, 2013

I totally agree LaFern, it's the best attitude that each of us should have when we a God's mouth piece for a dying world. It reminds me of the Bible Prophets. In the OT there were two or three Prophets in one city, yet they did not contradict each other and object to each other different method. They just stood boldly for God and tell it like it is. Blessings

Clay Gentry

commented on Oct 24, 2013

I appreciate the sentiment of this article. There are different ways of presenting the word. However, I'm a little baffled by a couple of points in this article about the Holy Spirit. You said, when using a manuscript "It?s harder to follow the prompting of the Spirit when you are locked into a specific direction." Who are you or we to say that the Holy Spirit didn't lead us to write the manuscript in the first place exactly the way He wanted it? Furthermore, how do you know it's not Satan who is tempting you to depart from you Spirit inspired specific direction of you manuscript? And why does the spirit only prompt us in the "preaching moment"? I believe in a Spirit that's big enough to prompt me on Thursday when I'm writing out my notes. Your view on Spirit inspired preaching seem somewhat subjective to me.

Clarence Lawson

commented on Oct 24, 2013

Clay, of course the presence and spirit of the Lord is there to direct our prep time in our studies and wrighting of our manuscripts. That does not mean however that He has abandons us during the delivery of our message. I really like the authors take that it is not an either or proposition. God works in our lives through the whole process.

Edwin Crozier

commented on Oct 24, 2013

I am reminded of a preacher story I once heard. A young man who wanted to preach found himself at lunch with two experienced preachers. He decided to pick their brains about the sermon preparation process. The first preacher described the hours he spent in study, then the hours he spent in outlining and crafting the message, then the hours he spent in practicing the presentation. The second just shook his head and said, "Well, I put more faith in the Holy Spirit. I spend a lot of time with the people and don't have time for all of that. But the Spirit helps me. I often get in the pulpit, open my Bible and just start preaching. I let the Spirit guide the message and I think nothing of it." To which the first preacher responded, "Yes, well, I've talked to some of the members of your congregation. They don't think much of it either."

Mr. Loren D

commented on Oct 24, 2013

I too appreciated this article and like Dennis Cocks I also color code my notes... You could call mine a manuscript as well since someone else could probably just read it and should make enough sense (without too much left open). But when actually preaching it serves as a guide and I am free to break from it when the spirit leads or if I happen to lose my train of thought it is easy to get right back on track by glancing down and reading a line or two... here is the breakdown of what my "notes" look like. I use 12 pt font single spaced and in strict outline format: I., A., 1., a., 1), a) etc. Introduction, Outline, Conclusion are bold orange. Main points "I, II, etc" are in Small caps bold in Dark Blue. sub points are bold italics, Illustration are marked with "Ill" in bold purple. scripture references are bold in Dark Green, quoted scripture are in Dark Red unless they are words of Jesus then just Red. This serves me very well in the pulpit because it is easy to glance down and see right where I am at or to "catch my notes up to where I am" - I also preach from a tablet instead of a printed off notes... makes "scrolling my notes easier than flipping pages". I usually preach between 30-45 min on about 5 pages of notes

Denn Guptill

commented on Oct 26, 2013

I have been preaching for 30 years now and have gone from a colour coded manuscript to point based notes, still using colour for various points. Now I use my tablet and simply load my PowerPoint slides. Keeps me from missing a slide and provides the road map I need for my message.

Dennis Ledford

commented on Oct 28, 2013

I'm curious as to what tablet you use? Ipad or android?

Mr. Loren D

commented on Oct 29, 2013

I don't know what Denn uses but I use my HP Touchpad with WebOS while preaching - it may have been discontinued but it is by far the best OS I have found... that being said I can also dual boot the Touchpad in either WebOS or Android - but when I need to smoothness and reliability (during preaching) I always use WebOS

Mr. Loren D

commented on Jan 22, 2017

Update: now I use an iPad mini for preaching.

Robert Fa’atoia-Collins

commented on Nov 1, 2013

Thank you for the article. No matter what method we use, God will speak though us to get His Word out there to our dying world. So Preach It my friends and fellow Sons and Daughters of the Living God.

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