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Over the years, I’ve been asked about the pros and cons of preaching without notes. Most notably (pun intended), people ask about the process of preaching without notes and how they can learn to do it. At the onset, let me state that preaching without notes is not for everyone. It is largely based upon how a person thinks, processes and communicates information. Having said that, however, I do believe that  every preacher should have at least one sermon in their heart that they could preach with or without notes if called upon at a moment’s notice. That’s a part of our call to be “instant in season and out of season” (II Tim 4:2).

Before I address a few practical ways to begin the journey toward preaching without notes, it’s important to clear up a few misunderstandings about preaching without notes.

Preaching without notes does NOT make you a better preacher.

Some of the greatest preachers use notes…some of the worst do not (and vice versa). Preaching with or without notes does not make you a better preacher. A bad preacher with notes will probably be worse without them, and a good preacher will not improve his or her preaching by simply dumping the manuscript. My pastor is a great preacher who’s been preaching for nearly 50 years and has always used a manuscript. They key is to find what works for you.

Preaching without notes is NOT the same as preparing without notes.

Some believe that preaching without notes is a shortcut, while, in actuality, the opposite is true. Preaching without notes still requires the discipline of writing a manuscript or outline.  It also requires extensive study. The preacher who preaches without notes must not only study the text intently, he or she must study his or her notes about the text carefully. Preaching without notes is not for lazy preachers. In fact, there is no place in ministry for preachers who are lazy and unwilling to “study to show [themselves] approved” (II Tim 2:15).

Preaching without notes is NOT about MEMORIZATION…it’s about MEDITATION.

You have to spend time WITH your notes if you want to speak WITHOUT them. If we rely on memorization we can fall prey to the demon of forgetfulness.  Preaching without notes is not about memorizing your manuscript or outline verbatim and then reciting what you have memorized. It’s about meditating on the Word and marrying the message so that it becomes a part of you. There’s a reason the psalmist hid the Word in his HEART and not his HEAD. When the word is in your heart, the heart pumps it to the rest of your body. If it’s just in your head, you can forget it and lose it altogether.

To be sure, preaching without notes requires practice. It is through the discipline of practice that one can reach a comfort level to preach without notes. Here are a few practical tools to aid in the practice process.

Master your manuscript.

Every beginning preacher should start out using a full manuscript. A manuscript involves putting the entire message on paper and using that manuscript to deliver the message. Manuscript preachers must master their manuscript and not allow the manuscript to master them. Many preachers are slaves to their manuscript and pay more attention to the paper than to the people. No one wants to see the top of your head for 45 minutes! Establish and maintain good eye contact with the congregation. Engage and connect with your audience. Don’t just read your manuscript…deliver your message.

Get in line with an outline.

Once you have mastered your manuscript you can move to the next phase—using an outline. Remember that preaching without notes is a weaning process. I do not recommend jumping straight from a full manuscript to preaching without notes. An outline is a good bridge to use to travel across to “No Note Land.” When using an outline, I recommend writing out full sentences instead of fragmented thoughts. These bullet points serve as springboards for the message that you have studied and hidden in your heart.

Let go of the net.

Once you have become familiar and comfortable with the process of preaching using an outline, it’s time to launch out and begin preaching without notes. At this stage, however, I do recommend that you still take the outline to the pulpit—with the intentions of not using it. Keep the outline tucked away in your Bible or someplace it is readily accessible. This way it serves as a safety net in case you find yourself in trouble. After doing this a few times, let go of the safety net. Leave the outline at home and preach what God has placed in your heart!

Dr. Tejado W. Hanchell (TWH_PhD) is a 21st century “leadership liaison” whose passion is to help connect people and organizations to their purpose. He is a coach, consultant, and counselor and is a leading strategist on leadership and succession planning for churches, non-profit organizations and corporations. Dr. Hanchell has over 15 years of leadership experience and brings a wealth of wisdom to help enhance lives and increase productivity. He currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Mount Calvary Holy Church of Winston-Salem, NC (“The Church Committed to do MORE”) – the “Mother Church” of the Mount Calvary Holy Church of America, Inc., where he also serves as General Secretary and International Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministry under the leadership of Archbishop Alfred A. Owens, Jr.

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Darryl Woodson

commented on Jul 16, 2012

I appreciate this article greatly! I have been making the transition to going noteless , myself. Although it is a lot more work for me and very tedious at times. It requires me to make my sermon: simple to follow and simple to understand. It requires me to "make sure" my sermon "makes sense" to me first. Last but not least - requires me to PRAY a lot more and rely on the HOLY SPIRIT more than before. But in the end I am finding a greater freedom and greater flow in my preaching. Thanks again Dr. Hanchell - this is well written

Pastor Sandy .

commented on Jul 16, 2012

Thanks for this, Dr. Hanchell. I am one of those who has NEVER presented a sermon without my 'script', and I'm not sure if I could, but I am willing to take your thoughtful comments, and begin to make a transition. It would certainly keep me from being tied to the pulpit, as I see other really effective preachers doing! It would just take a 'leap of faith', and a little motivation from articles such as this! Blessings!

Tim White

commented on Jul 16, 2012

Since God did not grant me much of a memory (best I can remember), I don't leave home without notes. I trust God to lead me in preparation and He is faithful, utilizing the gifts He has given me. I am thankful that some can free themselves of the tether of notes, but I never shall. I am content with that calling.

Michael Morton

commented on Jul 16, 2012

I appreciate the article although I tend to agree with Tim White. I've found a good compromise is the tablet. I can walk around with a 10 inch tablet in my hand and still keep my full manuscript. Best of both worlds. I do agree that one should have that sermon that you can preach at a moments notice. I think that sermon should be a "Come to Jesus" sermon. After all isn't that what a pastor should always be ready to do: bring people to Jesus.

Nigel Foster

commented on Jul 19, 2012

Like Darryl, I really appreciated the "nudge" your article gave me to do what my heart longs to do: really engage my listeners rather than my script. It takes more work, but the benefits of me marinading in my message for days beforehand have been tremendous. I'm still at the outline stage, but praise God, there's wind beneath my wings. I agree it doesn't make you a better preacher, but it does feel much more natural for me personally. Bless you.

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