About Sermon Notes

Last week Dr. Michael Krueger wrote an article that I linked to on Monday in which he discussed the use of a full manuscript when preaching. He was not arguing against having one so much as he was appealing to preachers to avoid using a manuscript in the wrong way. I found his arguments to be helpful. I think this point is especially significant:

One of the major drawbacks of writing a sermon is that very few people can write a sermon in the kind of language that can effectively be preached. What makes for effective written communication is not always what makes for effective oral communication. Indeed, they are often like two different languages–the pace, the style, the cadence, and even the vocabulary can be notably different.

I have a friend who preaches from a full manuscript. He enlarges the font to 28 points and does a good deal of page flipping. But I don’t feel like he is reading the sermon to me. At the same time I’ve also seen preachers – especially younger guys – be so tied to their manuscript that they have little eye contact with their people. When that happens, a sermon is more like someone reading a bedtime story. And it can produce the same result.

While preaching from a manuscript may not be the best, writing one can be helpful. Dr. Krueger says:

The benefits of writing out a full manuscript are many. It forces the preacher to think clearly about each of their points and how to develop them, it helps the preacher think through transitions between points (something often overlooked), it helps keep the sermon within the desired time limit, and the exact wording allows for more theological precision.

I would typically type out a full manuscript, trying my best to write so that it had the same style I used when I was in a conversation. I rarely, if ever, brought that manuscript into the pulpit, but writing it gave me the opportunity to plan what I wanted to say more carefully.

After my full manuscript was complete, I’d boil it down to a working outline. I had a template in Microsoft Word that arranged the margins so I could trim the pages to 9×6 inches. That size fit into my Bible and was less visible and easier for me to fit on the pulpit.

Mine was a typical outline of headings and subheadings, but I would include reminders of things I wanted to stress and full paragraphs here and there if I wanted to be extra sure to state something precisely. If I had a quote or other Scripture on a visual, I would highlight a note to myself in yellow so that I was prompted to advance PowerPoint. I would end up with 3-5 9×6 sheets after trimming them down. So instead of taking 5-6 full-width pages with me, I could look at a smaller, narrower, sheet and that kept me on target.

Some pastors preach without notes. I admire guys who can do that and stay on task. I needed an outline. You may have learned something different, or you may be trying a variety of approaches to learn what works best for you. And in the end, that’s probably the best criteria for determining what kind of notes you use: what works best so that you communicate God’s Word in natural and clear manner?

Author: Peter Bogert

Married to Laura, with three adult children, 7 grandchildren. I’m an avid baseball fan, and I enjoy listening to audiobooks about military history, and reading Theology. I was ordained a Baptist pastor and served two churches over a 41 year period. After a three year hiatus I'm glad to be serving at Calvary Bible Fellowship Church in Coopersburg, PA. And I’m glad you stopped by!

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