I know it is a practice verboten in every theological college and seminary I can think of, but I still take a full script into the pulpit with me each week. Sure, I occasionally go off-piste and say things that aren’t written down and, no, I don’t just stand there reading it like an emotionless automaton uploading factual information.
Engaging with the people in front of me, regular eye-contact, sounding interested in what I’m saying and delivering my applications by holding the gaze of specific individuals all still happen. I don’t think anybody would feel like they’re just listening to some notes being read.
But why use a script when preaching? Isn’t it generally accepted ‘best practice’ to take a handful of jotted notes on a small flashcard? Isn’t it better to get as far away from your prepared notes as you can so you can most fully engage with the people in front of you?
Before we even get into my reasons for using a script, it bears saying this is not a matter of scriptural fidelity. Despite what many ‘preaching experts’ seem to imply, the Bible does not insist on minimal notes or scriptless preaching. This is one of those adiaphora things that should be based on the temperament and preference of the speaker and the context in which he speaks. If you find you preach better without notes, then don’t use notes. If you find notes make you more effective, then use notes. I’m not convinced the Lord is bothered by the amount of paper you use when you preach. With that caveat, here are three reasons why I use a script.
Essentially, I am prone to forget what I planned to say when I stand up to say it. I prepare the meat of my sermons around 3-months ahead of time. I then spend the week running up to delivery editing and tweaking it. It is difficult for me to remember everything I read 3-months ago. Even on those rare occasions that I can remember most of what I intended to say, a pithy statement worked out in my office has to undergo a several day journey up into the pulpit and subsequently from my head to my mouth. Even if the essence of the thought remains, the pithiness is often lost. When I have my notes, I am able to carefully consider the words I will use and then deliver them as intended on the day because they are there in front of me.
Due to the large numbers of Iranians and Afghans in our congregation, much of our service takes place bi-lingually. Most significantly, we translate the sermon. Now, it does our translator no good to be given three or four bullet points on the morning. I might know what I intend to say, but he doesn’t. Having a script lets our translator know exactly what I’m going to say (or, if not exactly, close enough) and takes away the need for him to translate on the hoof as thoughts come out of my mouth. For the sake of the 40% of the congregation who won’t understand a great deal of my ‘talking around my notes’, I make sure that I have a script that I largely stick to so that our Farsi-speaking contingent hear the same sermon as the rest of us.
At our weekly home groups, it has been our practice to take the main points of the Sunday sermon – particularly the main points of application – and dig into them a bit further as a group. Having a script allows me to pull these points out fairly easily for use midweek. Moreover, it allows me to review what I said and understand how I came to those points of application. This tends to make the midweek discussion more fruitful and valuable and we talk around the key points.
Though we record our sermons online, occasionally (and it is occasional, to be honest) people ask if they can have a copy of my notes to think through at home. Having a full script gives me something I can offer them straightaway. What is more, a full script helps their home study much more than a few sketched bullet points which mean very little to anyone except the speaker.