One of the issues preachers face as they begin their preaching ministry is whether to manuscript their sermons or to preach from notes or without any notes at all. And strong opinions are presented for each position. So which is the best approach? The basic answer is that it depends on the preacher. Which approach enables the preacher to most effectively communicate the sermon? For some who are better extemporaneous speakers, the manuscript often gets in the way. Others find security and direction in the manuscript. It is often just a matter of personal preference and giftedness.
And yet, I would like to make a case for manuscripting the sermon. I know written communication and oral communication are different, but that difference can be taken into account as we develop the manuscript. That is, we can write in an oral style. Remembering that distinction, putting our sermon in manuscript form has some distinct advantages.
Precision. Writing the sermon in a manuscript form will enable us to be more precise in our language. Often, the first word that comes to mind is not the best or most forceful way to express the idea we want to express. As we develop the manuscript we can replace the initial word with a more precise word or a word that more accurately expresses our thought. Writing regularly tends to improve a person’s grammar and syntax.
Process. Putting the sermon in manuscript form will also help with the flow of the sermon. One of the most often voiced complaints about preachers is that we ramble. We just seem to get up and talk without knowing where we are going or how we are going to get there. Writing the sermon in manuscript form will provide an opportunity to see how one section flows into another, how the various sections are connected, and to determine if a thread of purpose connects the entire sermon. Clarity in the ordering of ideas is enhanced by putting the sermon in manuscript form.
Promptness: An often overlooked value to putting our sermon into manuscript form is that it will enable us to better control the length of the sermon and the time required to deliver it. Over a period of time, we can determine how long the sermon will be based on how many pages are in the manuscript. This will enable us to determine the other elements of the worship service and will help us keep the service within a certain timeframe.
Permanence: An additional benefit of putting our sermons into manuscript form is that it provides a permanence to the sermon that will make it available for later publication. And it will also remain as a source to which to return when preaching a later sermon on the same text or subject.
Famous preacher of Riverside Church, Harry Emerson Fosdick, summarized the issue like this: “Writing forces careful consideration of phraseology, makes the preacher weigh his words, compels him to reread what he has written and criticize it without mercy, constrains him to clear up obscurities in thought and language, begets discontent with repetitious mannerisms, and allows the preacher, before he mounts the pulpit, to listen, as it were, to his own sermon as a whole and judge whether it would hit his nail on the head were he an auditor."