One of the most helpful techniques I’ve discovered during my calling as a preacher is learning to preach without notes. It’s changed the way I approach writing my sermon, the way I deliver it, and the engagement with my audience. Below is a quick video where I answer:
- Why is it important to preach without notes?
- What improvements have I seen since I started preaching without notes?
- How do I remember everything?
- Any tips & tricks concerning preaching without notes?
Hopefully, you find this video helpful. If you’d like to learn more, check out my book on the topic: Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact.
Full Video Transcript:
I think it’s important to preach without notes for two major reasons. One is you will engage with people and not paper. Sorry if I’m speaking to some of you who your notes consist of your iPad. So you’ll be interacting with people instead of device, [00:00:30] and Lord, just this personal pet peeve. I think that preaching from an iPad just amplifies the awkwardness of preaching from a manuscript. Maybe that’s a generational thing. But I want to engage with the people who are in the congregation and not the paper that’s on my lectern or my pulpit.
The second reason why I believe it’s important to preach without notes is it establishes you immediately as having so much credibility [00:01:00] with your congregation. Even if you are an excellent preacher who uses notes, I promise you, you will be that much more excellent without them.
So what kind of improvements have I seen since I’ve gone without notes? Well, I learned how to do this while I was in seminary. I had an internship at a church that happened to be an African- [00:01:30] American, a small African-American church in central Kentucky, and the pastor there let me preach once a month or so. Early on, I had my manuscript because every word that I had prepared had to get preached, didn’t it? He never would tell me I was doing a good job. Never. Not once. Finally, because words of affirmation are my love language and I wasn’t getting none. So finally I was like, “I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to preach that message without any notes.” I wrote [00:02:00] that manuscript. I went over that manuscript. I internalized that manuscript. When I preached that first sermon without notes, finally, my senior pastor said, “You’re going to be okay.”
I’ve been doing this thing noteless for 30 years or more. The improvements, again, from doing it without notes is complete engagement with the congregation. Get this. If I forget something, if I get lost, [00:02:30] no one knows it but me. So you can talk around it. You can fake it for a minute or two until you recapture your train of thought or remember where you were in the flow of the sermon, and no one will be the wiser. They will remember that you preach without notes. They won’t remember that paragraph that you forgot because it was never on their radar screen to begin with.
[00:03:00] How is it that I remember everything that I was wanting to say or everything that I had prepared? Well, I don’t. I don’t remember it all. There’s always something that I forgot, but that’s okay because the benefit of preaching without notes far outweighs whatever minor thing I may have forgotten.
Now, as far as the techniques that I go through to internalize a message, I do rehearse it every day, Monday [00:03:30] through Saturday. Yeah. In front of the bathroom mirror and yeah, that helps me sound out a sermon. So it actually can help me, “Oh that doesn’t need to get said. This could be said this way. This wording needs to be altered.” There’s nothing quite as good as sounding out a sermon before you actually deliver it. There’s that daily rehearsal.
The way my mind works … Your mind might not work this way … All [00:04:00] I can do is tell you what works for me. I do remember where things are on the page. So if I have an eight or a nine-page manuscript, I remember sort of chunks and paragraphs and what comes next. One of the things that I always remember, I try to have something every week that I can’t wait to say. I know it’ll be controversial or I know I’ll be emphatic, but I know that I just can’t wait to say that. When I [00:04:30] know that part is coming up on my memory page, I can feel my adrenaline start to flow a little more strongly, and my blood pressure gets up, and hopefully I deliver that section of the message with a real oomph to it.
If you’re wanting to go noteless, first of all, I recommend preaching from the Bible. Actually having [00:05:00] a tangible, not digital, a tangible Bible up there. I think that’s part of your toolkit. At the very least, you can tape a piece of paper adjacent to your scripture for the day with a word or two that helps you with the flow of the message so that when you read from the scripture, you can also jot at the word flow for your message … Not a page full of notes, just [00:05:30] a word or two that helps you remember those areas you really want to make sure that you don’t forget. In the big picture, you’re engaging with people. You’re not engaging with paper. In the big picture, if you forget something, you can say it the next week. No one will be the wiser.