The Note-less Preacher

Well, my preaching nightmare finally came true this past Sunday morning.

I forgot my notes down in my study and didn't realize it until I was started with the Scripture reading just before the message.

I forged ahead, a bit tentatively at first, but it came together, I think.
Afterward I told my small Sunday School class and they said they hadn't noticed. I'm not sure if that's good or bad...

How about my fellow pastor-blogger friends. Have you preached without notes often/ever? The current pastor at the church where I grew up uses no notes pretty much every Sunday am... He says if he can't keep it straight in his head, it's probably too complex for the congregation to absorb.

I might try this again soon, this time intentionally...


  1. I have preached without notes, sort of. I have preached with a one page sheet with my main points and various sub-points/illustrations on it. I don't mind doing it, and am working at doing it more often. I would agree with the pastor you mentioned, but for the fact that my memory sometimes fails me at the most inconvenient times.

    At the last banner conference someone asked the speakers about whether a person should use notes, they unanimously said that preachers should strive to get away from notes. I'm not sure if I agree with them, some great preachers have preached with notes and some have preached without notes. I figure notes/manuscripts are fine as long as the person using them is willing to deviate from them if the Spirit so leads.

  2. I have done it, and it is a freeing thing. It is mostly fear that keeps me from it.

    One of the great Presbyterians of the 20th century, Clarence E. N. Macarntey (FPC Pittsburgh) wrote a helpful little tome "Preaching without Notes" and he makes a great case for it. I would also look at the Preacher's Bible, aka DM Lloyd Jones PReaching and Preachers.

    de Witt would use notes if he was sick or exhausted. Krahe never used them. Both were incredibly effective preachers. As my models, their ghosts haunt me (of course, de witt is very much alive!). I want to be where they were at my age (34). M. Craig Barnes, probably the best PC(USA) preacher I have ever heard, doesn't use them either, and is incredibly effective.

    One of Macartney's points is that whatever you lose in accuracy (in terms of staying true to what you have written in your notes), you make up for in connection. In short, more gets through than is lost. I think he is probably right.

    Still, there have been great note preachers, and great manuscript preachers, too!

  3. Oh yeah, and Macartney says that once a man goes noteless, he must never go back.

    i went noteless, then went back. No hope for me.

  4. Yup Ken, no hope for you. I guess there is a little hope for me since I never went completely noteless. ;)

  5. I use notes, mostly because I refer to a good number of other biblical texts, and want to place the Bible's inter-connectedness front and center to my congregation. I use a 8.5 x 5.5 insert sized sheet to keep things straight. I find that the less I put on the outline, the better the sermon, and that the Spirit's presence and power are felt.

    Garrison Keillor has a story of Rev. Lundquist (or whomever) who lost the middles pages of his manuscript, so he just read very slowly. It was hilarious.

  6. I made the horrible mistake of waiting until Sunday morning to print out my sermon this past week. It turned out that the computer had crashed on me; I couldn't get it all back in time to make it to worship so I had to preach it without the text in front of me.

    I pretty much always write out a manuscript, but most of the time I don't look at it except to make sure that I get any quotes right. I aim to read through the text of the sermon 6-7 times before preaching it so that I get a good feel for the individual words and overall flow of the sermon.

    I've also had several occasions of being asked to preach off the cuff. I actually enjoy these moments since I feel freer to engage the congregation with better eye contact, etc.

  7. I'm a manuscript preacher. I develop the text of the sermon as I continue to pray about it and rehearse the points I want to make in the sermon. Of course, it never comes out the same when I actually preach. I don't read the manuscript. But it keeps me from chasing rabbit trails.