I want to take the next few posts to reflect about the idea of preaching without notes. While preaching without notes may seem to some as either impossible, or to others as the ideal, there are incredible ADVANTAGES and DRAWBACKS.
I remember the first time I preached without notes. It was actually an accident. I was asked to preach at my dad’s United Methodist Church in South Plainfield, NJ. And before I got up to speak, I had gone through a very intense preparation period. Which was the following:
- Write Message (3-4 days).
- Finish Message the Friday before I preach.
- Refine message.
- Practice, practice, and practice.
I don’t know how many times I practiced this message. It must have been between 5-6 times during the weekend. This was while I was still in seminary before I worked for a church. I was ready and excited!!
When I got up to preach, I brought my manuscript up with me. The set-up in most Methodist churches is that the preacher is on the sides, and the altar is in the middle. But because I’m a “walker” or can’t stand still, I stood in the middle and put my script on the side. And then I started preaching and I didn’t stop.
By the time I finally got to the end, I realized that I hadn’t turned any pages in my notes. In fact, I didn’t even look at them at all. The entire time I connected with the audience, was able to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and obedient in the moment. It was then, I realized the power of preaching without notes and how it can be a benefit to those that I preached to.
Like anything, there are a lot of benefits to preaching without notes. When you preach without notes it shows that you have:
Mastered the Content.
Not only do you know what you are talking about, it has actually become a part of you. So that when you get up to speak, your not sharing information, but you are sharing something that has transformed you and your heart. You don’t need to refer to notes, because it is who you are. When you can get to that level of mastery in your content, then you can put more of your focus in the moment on your audience. Preaching without notes enables you to:
Connect with Your Audience.
When you aren’t fumbling around trying to find your place in your notes you can maintain eye contact, you can read the audience and know how to craft your content in a way that will make the best connection and most impact on those you are speaking to. I think breaking eye contact with your audience can be distracting, but if you can maintain it throughout the message, people benefit from it. And if you’ve mastered your content and the passion drips from your words, it will connect powerfully with people. Preaching without notes can create:
Greater Flexibility to yield to the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones talked about preaching in the Spirit. And for him, it meant that he would often start preaching and then the Holy Spirit in the moment would rework his outline and he would preach a different sermon then the one he had planned on delivering. In the same way, when you are not tied to your notes, you can take your content in any direction you feel the Spirit leads. You can cut stuff, add stuff, or find fresh new ways of saying things that aren’t written down. Preaching without notes takes a great deal of preparation, but the Holy Spirit will use the preparation when you are in the moment.
Preaching without notes can be a powerful tool, however, it does have its DRAWBACKS. When you preach without notes you:
Whenever you preach without using notes you will not speak with precision. You’ll generally have your big ideas, but the crisp and clear transitions will not be there. You won’t be able to speak word for word what you’ve written down. In fact, you’ll probably have a lot of times where it won’t sound as erudite. Precision is needed especially if you preach a message where you need people to understand exactly what you are saying and what they should do. For sensitive messages, preaching without precision can be difficult. That lack of precision will mean:
As you preach without notes, you will at time forget something. You may miss a transition, an illustration or sometimes an entire point. The more you preach without notes the better at it you will be and you won’t miss as much, but when you preach without using notes you may forget something, and that can be frustrating especially if you want to land on certain ideas. You will have to have less ideas when you are preaching without notes. The other drawback is:
Need More Time to Prepare.
Preparing to preach without notes can take hours and hours to prepare for. In fact, the preparation can be more consuming than the writing and the research. You’ll need to practice for many hours, and then memorize the parts that you want word for word. Like most things, the more you do it the better you get, but there is still a lot of time that will go into the prep part so that you are ready to preach. And most preachers have to balance caring for their souls, their families, their congregation and preach every week.
Should I preach without notes?
The answer is complicated: Yes and No. When I was a youth pastor, I preached to our youth group every week and I used notes. I needed them because balancing the weekly responsibilities didn’t provide me the time to preach without notes. But when I preached Sunday morning to the adults, I prepped it so that I could preach without notes. Because I wanted to put my best foot forward to our congregation knowing that I would be addressing new people, new families and new students.
I would recommend if you are a pastor of a small staff or no staff that you pick and choose which Sunday’s you want to go without notes. Use your notes on a regular Sunday, but then prepare to go without notes on Christmas or Easter or any BIG DAYS where you will need to be able to have maximum audience connection and maximum Holy Spirit sensitivity.
It will stretch you as a preacher to preach without using any notes and even be a blessing to your congregation. Here’s a Great Book called, “Preaching without a Net.” on this subject.