Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Experiment in Preaching

A friend who in his late fifties took a new pastorate said that he had written the last sermon he ever intended to write, meaning that he planned to use the vast collection of sermons that he had built up over his career and produce nothing new.

I have in my paper and electronic files every sermon I have ever written; I even have the outlines, some of which were lifted straight out of the back of my trusty Thompson Chain Reference Bible, from my first halting efforts, which were quite different than my later halting efforts.

I have at times “re-preached” some of my “greatest hits”; in so doing I heeded the wise words of my wise father who once told me, “If it was worth preaching once it’s worth preaching twice.” And if it’s worth preaching twice maybe it’s worth preaching thrice or more!

Over the last twenty-five years I have written full manuscripts for 99% of the sermons that I’ve preached and 90% of the time I’ve taken that manuscript into the pulpit with me.

Last Sunday I began an experiment that consists of the following elements:

1. I am studying for and thinking about the sermon as always.

2. I am writing down the one main point that I want to get across.

3. I am seeking one good story, biblical or not, that will make the one main point.

4. I am writing down an introduction.

5. I am writing down a concluding sentence.

6. I am taking no notes with me into the pulpit.

7. I am trusting the Spirit and my experience; after all these years I should know both pretty well.

The thing about experiments is that sometimes they lead to helpful discoveries and sometimes they blow up in your face…


  1. As with most things in the universe, preaching works by different strokes for different folks in different yokes. I had my first manuscript-ectomy by force after 4 years of comfortable reliance. After a while, I learned to like the freedom and even manage to trust the spontaneous part of the Spirit occasionally. What I don't like is the pew-sitters who equate scriptlessness with Godliness, thereby rejecting the notion that the Spirit can also hang around the keyboard on Thursday morning. I also appreciate the power of a well-crafted phrase, for which your plan leaves room. Enjoy!

  2. As a fairly new preacher, I've had to wean myself away from using the manuscript. I like to take my Kindle up to the pulpit, loaded with my outline and the verses that I will be using. It's worked so far, but we all know what happens to technology from time to time.

  3. I am also a fairly new preacher. I have tried with manuscript and with outlines and I prefer the manuscript. I found I look at my papers a lot less with a manuscript than with outlines. The thoughts have to process from my mind through my lips past my hands and by that time they are more firmly lodged in my memory. There have been Sundays where I have walked to the pulpit carrying a 15 page grammatically correct, accurately spelt, immaculately formated sermon--and not looked at it once.