Preaching without notes (1)
My friend Dr. David Murray has graciously permitted me to reproduce part (1) of his post on extemporaneous preaching from Head, Heart, Hand. You can read the original post here.
John Broadus was a pastor and professor of preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1800′s. Charles Spurgeon regarded Broadus as “the greatest of living preachers.” According to Wikipedia, the Church historian Albert Henry Newman said that Broadus was “perhaps the greatest man the Baptists have produced.” Brodus’s classic Homiletics textbook On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons remains a must-read for all seminary students.
Broadus identified four basic methods of sermon delivery:
- Reading: The preacher takes his manuscript into the pulpit and reads from it.
- Reciting: The speaker repeats from memory what has been written and learned.
- Extemporizing: The plan of the discourse is drawn out on paper and all the principal points are stated or suggested, but the language is extemporaneous.
- Freely delivering: After thorough preparation, the preacher goes into the pulpit without notes or manuscript and without conscious effort to memorize the sermon..
The method chosen will determine how much paper is brought into the pulpit. I do not want to set down rules on how much we should read or rely upon notes. Much will depend on the speaker and the hearers. However, if there is a danger in our days it is probably too much reliance upon notes. We are all horrified at the idea of someone going into a pulpit unprepared and just rambling around for a time. However, the Reformed Church is perhaps in danger of going to the other extreme, of having such over-prepared sermons that the amount of paper required to preach them is increasing more and more – as is reliance on the manuscript.
This is happening at the same time as the people, especially younger people, are going in the opposite direction. People want to be spoken to personally, directly, and relationally. President Obama understood that before he was President, although since inauguration he has resorted mainly to the autocue, diminishing his appeal. In the UK, the present Prime Minister, David Cameron, burst on to the scene at a Conservative Party Conference when he spoke passionately about his vision for the future of the UK, and what caught everyone’s imagination was that he did it without notes. After the Blair/Brown years of polished marketing and spin, it seemed much more authentic.
We should always remember that while our pulpit paper may contain what we want to communicate, it can also become one of the greatest barriers to communication. Often the preacher’s eyes are more on this than on their congregation. Pastor Al Martin commented on this:
The issue is not how much written composition is done in the study or how much written material is brought into the pulpit. The issue is how much dependence upon and preoccupation with written material is manifested in the act of preaching. To state the matter another way, the issue is how much mental and physical attachment is there to one’s paper. At the end of the day we are not so much concerned with issues of paper and print, but with the issues of eyes and brains.
And listen to these strong words from Dabney:
Reading a manuscript to the people can never, with any justice, be termed preaching…. In the delivery of the sermon there can be no exception in favor of the mere reader. How can he whose eyes are fixed upon the paper before him, who performs the mechanical task of reciting the very words inscribed upon it, have the inflections, the emphasis, the look, the gesture, the flexibility, the fire, or oratorical actions? Mere reading, then, should be sternly banished from the pulpit, except in those rare cases in which the didactic purpose supersedes the rhetorical, and exact verbal accuracy is more essential than eloquence.
Shedd argued that young preachers should from the very beginning of their ministries preach at least one extemporaneous sermon every week. By this he did not mean preaching without study or preparation – quite the opposite. Extemporaneous sermons require more preparation in many ways. What he meant was reducing your sermon to a one-page of skeleton outline, and becoming so familiar with it, that referring to it during the act of preaching is minimized. Then, throughout your ministry, try to reduce the size of the skeleton, and dependence on it, more and more. Let the ideas be pre-arranged but leave exact expression of them to the moment of preaching.
Shedd gives these requirements for extemporaneous preaching:
- A heart glowing and beating with evangelical affections
- A methodical intellect – to organize the sermon material into a clear and logical structure
- The power of amplification – or the ability to expand upon a theme
- A precise and accurate mode of expression
- Patient and persevering practice
To these we might add, prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit for each and all of these requirements.
Tomorrow, I’ll pass on six steps I’ve followed to help decrease reliance on paper in the pulpit.
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!