web analytics

Preaching – text or no text?

Do you preach from a text or not?

One can preach form a full, prepared text,
a partial text,
or no notes.

If you use a text, I think that it should not feel “read”.

One hint for those who use a full text, practise it aloud. Read the last paragraph aloud. Then read the penultimate paragraph, followed by the last paragraph aloud. Then the last three aloud. Go backwards all the way in this manner until you get to the start. That way you have practised the start of the sermon a bit, and you know the sermon more and more thoroughly as you progress. It takes about 20 minutes to rehearse a 10 minute sermon in this manner.

I have heard it said by someone listening to a sermon, “if you cannot remember what you are saying, how do you expect us to?”

Anglican tradition is more from a printed text, Roman Catholic tradition is more without such. Hence, we have lots of sermons from the time of John Henry Newman being an Anglican, but little from the time he was a Roman Catholic. We see this pattern in the current pope.

What do you do? Ideas, hints, helps for others?

[Update: there’s more discussion on the Liturgy facebook page]

Similar Posts:

8 thoughts on “Preaching – text or no text?”

  1. when i was preaching–before medical leave–i wrote the sermon in my head. i rehearsed it in my head. i would go into the pulpit with stepping stones (as if needing such to cross a river) memorized (the points to be made) along with transitional movements from stone to stone. these were a construct in a conversational/narrative form of preaching where the stor-y/ies were what made tbe stepping stones and steps between applicable and accessible in everyday kind of ways.
    G Lake Dylan (United Methodist, USA)

  2. Good morning Bosco
    As you know, I did my homiletics training in the Methodist tradition, where we were taught to write our sermons out in full as a discipline, both in terms of preparation and a way to keep one on track when preaching (I once had a vicar who would go so far off the point in the middle of sermons that he seldom found his way back, but I digress …)
    In my broadcasting days I would always encourage announcers to practice ‘writing as you speak’. We are (mostly) taught to ‘write proper’ at school, with correct grammer, word usage, etc, but few of us actually speak that way. These days I still write my sermons out in full (ok, to be honest, not for midweek services – those are off the cuff usually), and as I do I ‘hear’ my own voice in my head. While I seldom preach precisely what I wrote, the diction and grammar usually matches my spoken patterns.
    That said, who wouldn’t want to be able to preach like MLK!

    1. Thanks so much, Brian. I think you make such an important point. It is really the flip side of making sure that it does not feel read. This means if one writes a whole script, that script needs to read as one would speak, including repetition and emphasis. The way one prints out the text, so that it’s easy to see and one’s place is not lost, is also significant. Blessings.

  3. I’m not very good at reading from a full script in a way that sounds as if I’m speaking to people in a natural way and in a way that doesn’t lead me to look down too much. Sometimes I will write out a full script on the computer (not polished), then write out (by hand) enough notes to aid my memory (usually fills 1-2 A4 sheets in total), and the outcome is a mixture of me remembering what I wrote and speaking off the cuff. At other times I don’t get as far as a full script on the computer before writing notes. Seems to work okay for me personally: I feel as though I’m actually talking to the people in front of me, and they tend to find it possible to listen to me. (I’m normally speaking in churches where a fairly conversational/informal style is expected, by the way.)

    1. Thanks, Anthony. That was an approach I didn’t mention in the post, but I know another priest who does that, first producing a full text and then turning that into notes. This person preaches very well. You also bring up the need to work to your own strengths. My own way of preparing varies with the formality of the service style. Blessings.

  4. Well, I am looking forward to this discussion, Bosco!

    One of the best books on preaching I ever read (now long out of print, but it’s quite easy to get from online second-hand dealers) is Donald Coggan’s ‘Stewards of Grace’ (written in 1958). In it he recommended the habit of writing out your text in full as a discipline (his memorable phrase was ‘Many a heresy has come out of the preacher’s mouth in the pulpit because it never stared him in the face in the study first!’), but then reducing it to notes and preaching from the notes.

    I’ve followed this practice for over twenty years now and I have never regretted it. The full text helps me to be exact. Then on Friday morning (I don’t do sermon work on Saturdays) I practice-preach the whole sermon through from the full text, after which I reduce it to notes. I put the notes in my Bible, and that’s what I preach from on Sundays.

    1. Thanks, Tim. As you see, you are now the second to recommend this approach. When Archbishop Rowan Williams was here, I heard him preach a couple of times. He was erudite, profound, and connected with the community. He preached without a single note. Yet his sermon appeared on his website. I saw no evidence of anyone recording what he said – I still wonder what process was involved. Blessings.

      ps. there’s more discussion on the Liturgy facebook page

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.