As a lot of you know, I write a sermon manuscript virtually every week.
I am able to work several weeks ahead, so while I write one almost every week, it’s not the one I’ll deliver that coming Sunday. That one, of course, has been written several weeks earlier.
But what’s the purpose of a sermon manuscript? Why write so much of what you are going to say?
The purpose of a manuscript is to disappear.
Yes, the manuscript gets prepared for, typed out, looked at, and prayed over all so that it may get out of the way.
Because, as many of you know, while I write the sermons out I end up delivering them without any notes.
I heard a seminary professor say one time “write your sermon out and then leave the paper in your office when preach.” I’ve taken that to heart for 29 years.
Here are five reasons why this process works for me:
First, in contrast to Travelocity, which urges us to “wander wisely,” preachers who preach “off-the-cuff” tend to wander foolishly. It is painful for preacher and congregation alike when said preacher keeps talking, hoping that something good will come out. It rarely does.
Second, I think to talk. People come in two shapes: those who talk to think and those who think to talk. Some people process their thoughts while verbalizing them; if you’re kind you call them loquacious and if you’re feeling less charitable you call them long talkers. I cannot think to talk — it’s why I’m a poor debater and an even worse “arguer.” I’m simply not quick on my feet and only after a heated argument think “Doh! That’s what I should have said!”
Other people process their thoughts before verbalizing. This is my natural wiring. If I were to preach “off the cuff” my messages would wander around trying to find something interesting to say and never arrive. So I think — and pray and prepare and write — before I talk.I internalize rather than memorize.
Third, the time I spend with a manuscript the week before delivery is NOT to memorize it. It’s to internalize. There’s a huge difference. A memorized sermon comes off as an actor reading lines from an invisible script. An internalized sermon is one that inhabits the preacher’s very being all week long. I pray that by internalizing the message I know and live the things the Scripture says and the things that I can’t wait to say from that Scripture. On a given Sunday I will say most but not all of what was written down . . . as well as a few things that weren’t written anywhere. But that carefree sponataneity is only possible in the context of careful preparation.
Fourth, the more you write, the better you get. The good thing about keeping sermon manuscripts from 1990 — when I printed them out on a tractor-feed, dot matrix printer — is that I can grimace at those earlier efforts and give thanks for steady improvement in the years since. That gives me hope for more improvement to come.
Fifth, the wordsmithing and precision involved in preparing a sermon manuscript makes it easier for our worship arts team to supplement the sermons with music and images that fit well.
So the reason I spend all that time writing a manuscript is so that when the time comes, it will be long gone.