Preaching Without Notes

Preaching Without Notes

No podium? Where do I put my paper?!

Over the years, I’ve been asked about the pros and cons of preaching without notes. Most notably (pun intended), people ask about the process of preaching without notes and how they can learn to do it. At the onset, let me state that preaching without notes is not for everyone. It is largely based upon how a person thinks, processes and communicates information. Having said that, however, I do believe that  every preacher should have at least one sermon in their heart that they could preach with or without notes if called upon at a moment’s notice. That’s a part of our call to be “instant in season and out of season” (II Tim 4:2).

Before I address a few practical ways to begin the journey toward preaching without notes, it’s important to clear up a few misunderstandings about preaching without notes.

Preaching without notes does NOT make you a better preacher.

Some of the greatest preachers use notes…some of the worst do not (and vice versa). Preaching with or without notes does not make you a better preacher. A bad preacher with notes will probably be worse without them, and a good preacher will not improve his or her preaching by simply dumping the manuscript. My pastor is a great preacher who’s been preaching for nearly 50 years and has always used a manuscript. They key is to find what works for you.

Preaching without notes is NOT the same as preparing without notes.

Some believe that preaching without notes is a shortcut, while, in actuality, the opposite is true. Preaching without notes still requires the discipline of writing a manuscript or outline.  It also requires extensive study. The preacher who preaches without notes must not only study the text intently, he or she must study his or her notes about the text carefully. Preaching without notes is not for lazy preachers. In fact, there is no place in ministry for preachers who are lazy and unwilling to “study to show [themselves] approved” (II Tim 2:15).

Preaching without notes is NOT about MEMORIZATION…it’s about MEDITATION.

You have to spend time WITH your notes if you want to speak WITHOUT them. If we rely on memorization we can fall prey to the demon of forgetfulness :-) Preaching without notes is not about memorizing your manuscript or outline verbatim and then reciting what you have memorized. It’s about meditating on the Word and marrying the message so that it becomes a part of you. There’s a reason the psalmist hid the Word in his HEART and not his HEAD. When the word is in your heart, the heart pumps it to the rest of your body. If it’s just in your head, you can forget it and lose it altogether.

To be sure, preaching without notes requires practice. It is through the discipline of practice that one can reach a comfort level to preach without notes. Here are a few practical tools to aid in the practice process.

Master your manuscript.

Every beginning preacher should start out using a full manuscript. A manuscript involves putting the entire message on paper and using that manuscript to deliver the message. Manuscript preachers must master their manuscript and not allow the manuscript to master them. Many preachers are slaves to their manuscript and pay more attention to the paper than the people. No one wants to see the top of your head for 45 minutes! Establish and maintain good eye contact with the congregation. Engage and connect with your audience. Don’t just read your manuscript…deliver your message.

Get in line with an outline.

Once you have mastered your manuscript you can move to the next phase – using an outline. Remember that preaching without notes is a weaning process. I do not recommend jumping straight from a full manuscript to preaching without notes. An outline is a good bridge to use to travel across to “No Note Land.” When using an outline, I recommend writing out full sentences instead of fragmented thoughts. These bullet points serve as springboards for the message that you have studied and hidden in your heart.

Let go of the net.

Once you have become familiar and comfortable with the process of preaching using an outline, it’s time to launch out and begin preaching without notes. At this stage, however, I do recommend that you still take the outline to the pulpit – with the intentions of not using it. Keep the outline tucked away in your Bible or someplace it is readily accessible. This way it serves as a safety net in case you find yourself in trouble. After doing this a few times, let go of the safety net. Leave the outline at home and preach what God has placed in your heart!

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13 Responses to Preaching Without Notes

  1. Natasha says:

    Awesome!!!!!!!!

  2. Thank you, Im not a preacher but trust me, this helped me alot! :-)

  3. Quay says:

    Great blog sir! it’s going to help me a lot. I’m still at outline stage. I’m inching towards no notes lol. With the Lord’s help.

  4. kristal pearl says:

    Great blog Pastor…what stood out the most was “It’s about meditating on the Word and marrying the message so that it becomes a part of you”. I have always admired the delivery of your message.

    You are very polished and its a blessing to have a Pastor that takes the time to Hide the Word in his heart…..like Paul said “paraphrasing” we have to be careful not to preach others to heaven and we ourselves be castaway/unfit for the kingdom. So thank you for being a partaker and taking the time to Meditate on the word…its like eating meat thats been seasoned and marinated just right! God bless

    • TWH_PhD says:

      Thank you Kristal! How are you and little Ebony Pearl doing? Can’t wait to see the newest addition to the Graham and Mount Calvary families :-)

  5. LaToya R. Jones says:

    Great blog. I’m not a “preacher”, howwever I minister through poetry across the pulpit so this blog helped a lot. I have been challenged to memorize my pieces so they can delivered with more intensity. The time I tried to go off of memory didn’t go well and now I understand why. I need to marry my work & allow it to come from the heart & not my head. Now I see how to take my ministry to the next level. Thanks :-)

    • TWH_PhD says:

      LaToya, I’m glad to hear that this post was applicable to you beyond the scope of the preaching ministry. Thanks for sharing!

  6. traycee gales says:

    Wonderful and well stated.

  7. AHAaaaaa… Wonderful!!! I have been looking for this…

  8. Brandon Timmons says:

    Great instruction. Thanks for helping this young preacher.

  9. Sonia Briggs-Wiggins says:

    Great blog, Bishop! I especially like the reference to “…marrying the message…”. Made me kinda say “um………….SELAH”!! Thought-provoking for all of us who carry this great message. Blessings!

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