If You Ever Catch Your Preacher Reading...

If you ever catch your preacher reading their sermon it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that.

In twelve years I’ve heard a few sermons. Quite a few have been given by someone reading word for word a prepared manuscript. Just as many have been given by someone who had no use for notes, an outline or anything pre-prepared. In all these sermons, however, I don’t know I’ve ever questioned someone’s sincerity based on their preferred method of sermon delivery—to manuscript or not to manuscript. There wouldn’t be anything else worth writing about if everyone shared that same idea. To associate the passion, sincerity or faithfulness of someone giving a sermon (there not all given by pastors) with their choice or preference of how they deliver a sermon is a mistake. But it seems to me a common presumption of many.

Following a church service a member was helping clean up the chancel area. The fact I remember a group of people helping with the clean up tells me it must have been a holiday service (Christmas, Easter, etc), but I can’t recall. This particular member came across my typed, double-spaced, already prepared sermon on the pulpit. When our eyes met the member had just finished reading over what was written and replied, “I thought you preached from here (pointing at the heart).” I replied, “I do, but if it’s not here (on paper) you’ll be sitting there (pew) a little longer than you might appreciate.”

The same person preaches the same sermon whether it’s written or not. Why would I, as a listener, suggest that person is offering anything less than what is really on their hearts if their sermon is given (what are other ways to say that: give a sermon, deliver a sermon, preach a sermon…?) one way or the other? Listeners’ preference does not constitute the preacher’s (or whoever) sincerity. Maybe someone else’s sincerity should be called into question? I’ve detracted two paragraphs about that I realized were a bit rantful. I’ll probably post them later.

Here are a couple of thoughts and/or question that come to my mind regarding these two methods of sermon delivery:
1. Is what the sermons says any less true if a manuscript it used?
2. What is wrong with carefully thought out words?
3. If someone practices a sermon to forego using notes, is that insincerity?
4. Who says it’s not from the heart if it’s written down?
5. If preachers go past 20 minutes people get squirmy and accuse the preacher of being wordy; so (see question/thought #2)
6. I have the same kinds of thoughts about writing prayers. Written prayers are from the heart just as much, sometimes more, as a prayer offered off the cuff.

There are many reasons someone would not be comfortable giving a sermon without notes—many good reasons, too. If it’s written down I won’t forget to say it. If it’s written down I’ve had a chance to review it, critique it and challenge what is being said. I can also hear the words myself. Spontaneity’s chance for that only comes when it is too late.

I’m a 20/80 sermonizer (nice word, I thought). Roughly 20 % of the sermons I give are typed and are used during the sermon time to keep me on track. The other 80% of the time I do not use notes. As far as I can recall no one has ever said I was any less sincere when I used the notes. In addition, I really don’t think most people can tell the difference.

So, there’s my thought(s). What are yours? Please leave a comment and share your ideas.

Stay blessed…john

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