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6 reasons why I still write out my sermons

This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. When I was still in elementary school, we had to do these ‘presentations’ on a certain subject. I loved doing those! While many of my classmate trembled with fear at the thought of being in front of the class, I actually look forward to them. Doing research, gathering all this knowledge and then telling others…what’s not to love? And I usually did great. I only wrote down some bullet points to make sure I didn’t forget anything but for the most part I barely looked at them and just chatted away.

I still love being in front of a group. I love to teach and I love to preach. Only now I don’t use bullet points or outlines, I write my message out completely in a manuscript. I’ve done it ever since I’ve started preaching and I’m still doing it. It’s a decision I’ve had to defend a few times, as many people told me it’s better to preach from outlines only. You’re not tempted to read instead of talk, you’re not looking at your paper the whole time, you make more eye contact with the audience, these are just a few reasons I’ve heard for why you should use outlines only.

Well, I’ve always been a stubborn one and I kept using my own preferred method of writing the whole sermon out as a manuscript. I did however try using outlines a few times with some shorter messages and found out I had good arguments for using a manuscript. Here’s why I prefer to write my message out in a manuscript:

1. Accountability

My husband often reads my sermons to give me feedback before I craft the final version and this is very helpful to me. He’s very good at analyzing my reasoning and regularly finds fault with some of my reasoning, which I can then correct.

I have also on several occasions sent my message beforehand to people who needed to hear/read it before others. One instance was when I was about to give a very strong pastoral message and wanted people on the pastoral care team to know before hand what was coming so they could prepare.

2. Exact timing

With an outline, it’s a bit of a guess how long your sermon will be. I know that I need about 5 minutes for every 500 words I write (mind you, this differs from preacher to preacher depending on how fast you talk and how strict you stick to your text!), therefore I can time my message almost to the minute.

Because I write my sermons out, I almost never run out of time or preach too long

3. Beauty

I love language. I love using rhetoric means, smooth and captivating transitions, and ‘refrains’ (a short phrase that keeps coming back, I’ve explained this a little in my post on Six powerful ways to end your sermon). I always try and use fresh imagery, new ways of describing familiar things. And I’ve found I can’t do that quite as well in my head, using an outline only. I love the act of writing and in writing out my sermons, I find the right words and style. Maybe I’m nuts that way, but in the silent time I spend writing the manuscript of the sermon, I often get the most beautiful sentences or refrains in my head. Beauty matters!

4. Structure

Writing out my sermon helps me to structure my messages. I spend time thinking of a great way to start my sermon, I come up with smooth transitions and I most certainly agonize over the right ending. And then when I’ve written the whole thing, I can see if the structure works.

5. Analyzing

When I have a first draft of my message written out, I spend time analyzing it. Is my key message coming across loud and clear? Does everything contribute to the key point I’m making? Are the personal stories I’m using functional, do they contribute to the key message or do I need to cut them? How are my transitions? Do I experience a natural flow when I read it? Is my language understandable for the audience I’m preaching to, are there no Biblical terms I need to explain further?

6. Staying on track

When I’m preaching, I have a print out of my manuscript right in front of me. That doesn’t mean I read from it all the time, as a matter of fact I usually only glance at it. But it helps me to stay on track, to stick to what I have prepared and not digress too much.

Does this mean that you should write out your message as well? Absolutely not. You need to find out what works for you. Maybe you’re one of those people who needs to stay clear from the paper so you don’t read, but actually talk. Maybe having only an outline works like a charm for you. I don’t know. I’m just saying you shouldn’t dish writing out your sermon just because some people say you shouldn’t. Find out what works for you and then stick to it.

Do you write out your sermon or do you use an outline? In either case, why does this work for you? I’d love to hear some more arguments for the outline only-side just to balance it out!

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0 thoughts on “6 reasons why I still write out my sermons

  1. You make some great points; I try to write out my intro and conclusion but I’ve found for less notes that I have with me on stage, the better my sermons are. So I try not to use a manuscript, but everybody I guess has to do what works best of them.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I couldn’t agree more with what you said. There’s no one best way to prepare your sermon, you have to do what works for you.

  2. Great write up Rachel. I too write out my messages word for word. The only exception that I have is any personal illustrations, which I like to get away from my notes with. I have found that writing out word for word keeps things orderly and I retain more, which allows me to move away from my iPad and speak.

    Some people may say that it takes the Holy Spirit out of the mix, but I can’t agree with that. Inspiration when writing is the same inspiration when speaking. Thanks for sharing your process of preparation. I appreciated reading it 🙂

    1. I completely agree with you. I do also write out personal stories, just to make sure I don;t include too much details and make them too long. I have a tendency to add more and more details when I speak, so I have to be careful there. In writing them out, I can see and check how I;m doing time wise and decide to include more or less details. Generally, I don;t really look at the paper anymore when I tell the story, but because I’ve prepared it so well I know I don;t have time to add this or that detail.

      What you’re saying about the Holy Spirit is so true. This is one of the arguments you’ll see often against writing your sermon out, is that the Holy Spirit won’t be able to inspire you. As if God wouldn’t be able to lead and guide you in the preparation process…Of course you need to stay open to promptings during speaking, God can always change your plans. But to use that as an argument to say you shouldn’t prepare your sermon or write it out, that’s a false argument.

  3. Hi rachel, i to always write out my lessons. However, i m having difficulty “letting go” of the paper. In 2 weeks my next lesson is scheduled. My lesson is ready, but i plan to add a column with key words next to the “normal” text and see if it helps me to be more free and make more contact with listeners. I agree with all your points and have one additional: blackouts. I ve had them a couple of times and written out lesson helps to overcome them always!

    Groetjes, daniel (met iPhone, sorry voor de zbelvauten)

    1. Good to see you here brother 🙂 It’s the biggest drawback of writing out your stuff, not being able to let go of the paper. In my experience it comes with practice and some neat tricks, like using a large font (I use Arial 14 points so I can read it from further away) and making certain keywords or transitions red so I can easily ‘find’ them if I want to know where I am or what’s next. And yes, if you’re someone who’s prone to having blackouts, having a written out text is a huge safety net that will give you confidence. Good point! It’s great that you’re experimenting and trying out things, just keep practicing until you find what works for you…maybe in your case using an iPad would work? (it would certainly be a great excuse to buy one, right? 🙂

      1. Wow, Rachel, that was a great read. You made some excellent points.
        For the longest time, I’ve always used bullet points for keeping track of my thoughts, and i would preach from that. A couple friends of mine attend Oak Hills church and they told me Max Lucado’s sermons are word for word, straight from the paper, and i had the same thought how can the Holy spirit move while Ge’s preaching .. But I’ve recently wrote out my first sermon and it was an incredible difference. I helped me stick to what the topic was and also, i must personally, writing i would almost say it felt like i reach a deeper level of thinking nd meditating over what God was trying to say through me. Also the beauty in this is that, you DON’T have to stick with it 100% but just like with anything it’s better to hav e more than Not enough.

        1. I couldn’t have said it better myself Timothy! I keep telling people that they have to do what works for them, no matter what others do. I still write out my sermons and it works very well form me. There’s freedom in Christ and also in sermon prep 🙂

  4. After teaching for fourteen years, mainly English, I write out the message and rehearse it. Maybe it is in front of a mirror, my dog, or my wife. This helps me gauge the time and keep things concise. Then, I ditch the manuscript and use an outline for the actual message. This helps me keep things natural. Thank you for the article! I will pass it on to some of the folks I coach! You have captured some of the best reasons for using a manuscript to prepare!

    1. You’re very welcome Andrew! Yours sound like a perfect prep: first the full manuscript and then an outline so you keep it natural.

  5. […] for your sermons. Know your audience, know your central message, know your ending. Personally, I still write all my sermons out, because it helps me to think about beginnings, transitions, key points, and […]

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