I’ve been preaching or communicating from a stage for almost 20 years, and over the years I have tried all kinds of different styles, methods, and strategies. I’ve sat on a stool. I’ve worn suit coats. I’ve worn flip flops. I’ve used an outline, no notes, and word for word manuscripts.
I’m always trying to improve my craft and honor God’s calling on my life, so If there is a “tweak” or tip that can make me better, I want to try it.
After almost 20 years I’m beginning to feel comfortable with my delivery style, preparation routine, and I’ve decided to use a word for word manuscript. I’m not saying I will use a manuscript forever, but for the last few years I have used a word for word manuscript, and it has helped be more confident in my preaching. Let me give you 5 reasons why:
1. I’m confident I’m prepared
When I step to the pulpit with 5-8 pages of notes that I have processed, typed, and read through during the week I have confidence that I’ve done everything I can do to prepare. It doesn’t mean I will deliver it perfectly of course, but at least I’m not wondering how I’m going to start, transition, and end. I have become so accustom to a manuscript that in those rare instances when I walk on stage with a few notes or small outline, I’m a nervous wreck. I’m not suggesting that someone who uses outlines or a few notes scribbled down isn’t prepared, I’m just speaking for me, and the confidence of knowing I’ve been diligent in my preparation helps be confident in my delivery. Very rarely do I walk off the stage thinking, “I wish I would have said…”
2. It helps me stay within my time frame
It took a few months to learn my cadence and timing, but eventually, I figured out that (for me) every page will take around 3-4 minutes to communicate. I also know that I will stop probably once per page and say something unscripted. Knowing that, I assemble a 7-8 page manuscript so my sermon will be 30-35 minutes in length. Like clockwork, if I don’t use a manuscript I go over my timeframe, mainly because I don’t know how to end my sermon. Which leads to my next reason…
3. It keeps me from rambling
Preachers love to hear ourselves talk. When I’m not prepared to the best of my ability, I waste valuable time rambling or going down rabbit trails that don’t serve the greatest purpose for my sermon. I’m usually too dependent on the reaction or feedback from the congregation so I ramble until I feel like I made sense or connected, which usually takes way too long. This is especially true at the conclusion of the message. My dad always calls it “landing the plane” and if I don’t prepare how I’m going to land the plan during the week I just keep circling the runway repeating myself.
4. It keeps the content fresh
When I don’t thoroughly prepare my sermons, I end up winging it, and when I wing it, I end up preaching the same sermon over and over again. It may have a different title or scripture reference, but after 10 minutes of winging it, I end up making the same points I always make when I wing it. Every preacher has certain issues or soap boxes they are passionate about, and a lack of preparation lends itself to be ending up on the same soapbox I always end up on. A manuscript keeps me from retelling the same stories over and over again off the cuff. It forces me to find fresh research and stories because I’m structuring the message days in advance.
5. It allows me to reformat messages for different mediums
This is probably my favorite reason. When I have a 7-8 page manuscript, I have the ability to reuse the content in a variety of different ways with very little effort. I can create 2-3 blogs, or send out a recap email, or write a book in the future, simply by copying and pasting from my manuscript. I may need to make a few edits, but by taking the time to type out my sermon, I’m creating reusable content and killing three birds with one stone. Consistently, even when I have the best of intentions, if I don’t manuscript my sermon I never go back and type blogs or emails after the fact. Also, as a bonus, I can search past sermons and reuse them in new sermons if I feel the content is helpful. After years of using manuscripts, I have a digital catalog of hundreds of thousands of words available with a simple search.
These are just a few of the reasons I prefer using a manuscript, but I will admit that I’m still learning how not to be so glued to my notes. That’s the biggest feedback I get from other preachers who don’t use a manuscript. They say, “I don’t’ want to have to be glued to my notes.” That is a valid concern. Eventually, I want to get far enough ahead in my prep that I have time to memorize certain parts of the sermon, but for now I just do my best not to look down as much as possible.
Whether you use no notes, a few notes, or a lot of notes I encourage you always to be tweaking your preparation and delivery. Don’t be afraid to try something new or learn from someone else. The best communicators are always improving.