Why I Write Sermon Manuscripts

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 26 years.

There are two reasons why this process works for me:

1.  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 talk to think — 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.

2.  I internalize rather than memorize.  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.

3.  A happy — and originally unintended — consequence is that it has been relatively simple for the manuscripts to become books.  People take a look at Head Scratchers, The Storm Before The Calm, The Shadow Of A Doubt, and now Solve and ask, “where do you find time to write all these books?”  The answer is that I’ve been writing them all along.  I just didn’t know it!  (Well, I had a pretty good idea by the time of Solutionists/Solve.)  But the editorial team at Abingdon is able to take those sermon manuscripts, compare them with the Good Shepherd sermon video, and come up with the best of both worlds.

So the reason I spend all that time writing a manuscript is so that when the time comes, it will be long gone.

Until someone really needs it.


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