Okay. I have to admit. Preaching is different for me lately. I’ve never been manuscript preacher (except in seminary preaching classes when my professor made me write a manuscript). For a long time I simply had notes in the margin or my bible, or kept an outline stored in my mind. That’s how I preached. Yes, I sometimes preached a little long (some would say “a lot” long), but I felt freedom to “chase rabbits” (or, if I want to sound really pious “follow the leading of the Holy Spirit”) in my preaching. I felt freedom in preaching.
As I grew older, I became more reliant on a written outline. I would take the mental outline of the sermon and write it on paper, usually on 5″ X 8″ paper that fit easily in my bible, and I would preach from the outline. The outline kept me more focused, and prevented me from chasing too many rabbits (er, I mean from following the Holy Spirit too much–Should I say that?). Though sometimes still a bit long, I didn’t get run off from my church. I think it had to do with age and not being able to remember things as much. Or, maybe I just had too many things to remember. The long and short of it is that my preaching style changed as I grew older.
Well, my preaching style has changed again. I’m now pretty much a manuscript preacher. They say “necessity is the mother of invention,” and that’s the case as I’ve learned to manuscript preach. We have three services at FUMC, Monroe, and I get to preach all three of them almost every Sunday. Our first worship is at 8:30 a.m., the second at 9:30 a.m., and the final one is 10:50 a.m. I’m not sure who decided on those times, but I’m almost certain it wasn’t my predecessor. Would he do that to himself? Surely not! It’s a mad rush to get from the 8:30 worship to the 9:30 worship every Sunday. I blow by people in the hallway between the sanctuary and the fellowship hall like I’m rushing to a fire (sorry, folks…you’ll just have to forgive me if all you get is a wave on the pass through). When I get to the fellowship hall on Sunday morning, the worship has already begun. Sometimes, I feel like an interloper. The time between the 9:30 worship and the 10:50 worship is not quite so bad. At least I have a few moments to stop and shake a few hands along the way (and make another stop I’ll not mention here). I guess if I preached shorter sermons I’d have more time. Well, that’s the purpose of writing a manuscript every week.
A manuscript really keeps me focused. A manuscript keeps me from chasing rabbits (okay, so I’ll chase an occasional one). A manuscript keeps me on time (and that’s important when running up and down the hall between worship). As I reflect on becoming a manuscript preacher, I hear the voice of my old preaching prof Donald Demeray as he advocated the benefits of writing a manuscript. He told us then that writing a manuscript would bring clarity to our thought process. Yeah, so maybe he was correct, but I was young and knew it all, so…
Another thing I’ve discovered is manuscripting has increased my preparation time. My sermon prep time has increased by a minimum of two hours a week. Oh, I still do the outline, but having done the outline, I still have to write it all out. Then, having written it out, I write and re-write until the message says exactly what I want it to say (there’s that clarity thing again). The hardest part of writing a manuscript is deciding what not to say! I tell you! I leave a lot of good stuff OUT of the sermon! I hear Dr. Demeray’s voice again saying, “You have to preach next Sunday, too.” I now just put the things I don’t say away until I come to the next sermon. Sunday does come every week, and dang, it feels like it comes every three days. Anyway, I used block 12 – 14 hours per week for sermon preparation. Now, I block 14 – 16 hours per week. Is that enough? Probably not, but do you know how hard it is to devote 14 – 16 hours per week to sermon preparation?
Does any of this sound like I’m complaining? I hope not, because I’m not. It’s just that I preached a sermon this past Sunday on mutual submission, and I left a LOT of stuff out of the sermon. Still, the sermon was 19 minutes long (Scripture reading does NOT count as sermon time, thank you very much!), and with communion and graduate recognition, we still ran a little over time (hey? cut me some slack—I’m not the perfect pastor!). I often wonder if I can say anything substantial in 17 – 19 minutes, but that’s usually all the time I have in preaching a sermon. I suppose my previous congregations wish I had been a manuscript preacher. I’m sorry they had to endure my 30 minute sermons.
I’ll stop now because I’m told that, like sermons, blog posts can also be too long. I’m searching for a lesson in the blog today, and I’m not sure I’m finding one, except maybe we’re never too old to learn new things. Not much of a lesson, but then again, I’m not the perfect pastor, so…
Until next time, keep looking up…
One thought on “Learning a New Way to Preach…”
I agree with you, Lynn. When I started ministry an outline was what I used. But now I write a manuscript every week, though my goal is to get to the place where I know it so well that I could hit most of my message (especially the high points) if the dog ate my manuscript. Having a dual point charge that requires a 10-15 minute commute, plus a typical late start at my early church, a manuscript disciplines me to choose carefully what to say. But the best thing I like about writing a manuscript is that it allows me to consider how to speak in a what that will challenge without offending. Sometime off of the cuff, my mouth will get ahead of my brain and writing a manuscript allows me to think carefully not only what I want to say, but how to say it. And yes, Sunday does seem to roll around so quickly! Good word! Thanks, Lynn!