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How to Preach Without Notes
When I became an ordained minister, I preached from a full manuscript. I wanted to deliver each sentence exactly as I typed it in my study. This method of sermon delivery forced me to read my sermons to my congregation.
One summer, I attended a pastor's conference where I observed the guest preacher delivering marvelous sermons without resorting to any written source. I admired his ability to maintain eye-to-eye contact with his listeners, holding their attention throughout his sermon. Before the conference concluded, I was able to ask him to explain his mthod of note-less delivery.
"It's a matter of memorized acrostics," he said. Then he outlined the steps which made him a skilled pulpiteer. I would like to share these steps with all who aspire to note-free sermon delivery.
(1) From an outline, write your sermon in full manuscript form. Read and revise it until you are satisfied with the sermon.
(2) Select a key word which suggests the content of each major point.
(3) Compose a vertical acrostic of the first letter of each key word. If possible, cause your acrostic to form a word.
(4) Memorize the vertical acrostic, making sure you can deliver the content symbolized by each letter.
(5) Compose a similar acrostic for minor points subordinate to your major points. Familiarity with these minor acrostics should eliminate their final necessity.
(6) Familiarize yourself with the contents of your acrostics until you can deliver this material without notes.
(7) Deliver your sermon from your memorized acrostics rather than from your notes.
(8) To prevent a mental blackout during your first few "note-less Sundays," have your sermon outline available but not used.
Now let me illustrate these steps, using excerpts from one of my own sermons.
God's Light for Man's Blackout
(An Advent Sermon)
Do you recall reading of the Great Blackout of 1965? Joel Nederhood described it as "an electrical failure which drenched 80,000 square miles of northeast American and Canadian cities in total darkness for twelve hours."
.... twelve frantic hours for thousands of commuters trapped in New York's dark subways.
.... twelve frightening hours for thousands confined within elevators suspended between floors.
.... twelve frustrating hours for surgeons performing operations in hospitals.
.... twelve embarrassing hours for the power company, which could neither locate nor remedy the malfunction.
Such a catastrophe teaches us how brittle is our technology. Leslie Weatherhead is right when he asserts that a power failure reduces much of man's modern gadgetry to sophisticated junk.
Ancient Israel walked in a spiritual blackout until God turned on the Light of the World. Through the centuries before Christ's advent, God gradually turned Israel's spiritual darkness into revelation-light.
One Light Bringer was the prophet Isaiah. Approximately seven centuries before God entered human history in Jesus, Isaiah brought hope to his exiled countrymen by proclaiming a vision:
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. They that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined ..." (9:2)
More than seven centuries would lumber across the stage of Israel's history before God would fulfill Isaiah's vision in a carpenter from Nazareth who would astonish His hearers by announcing:
"I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life." (John 8:12 RSV)
We who have the advantage of retrospect know that Jesus proved to be all He claimed to be. Those who have walked in His light have not groped in darkness but have found Him a "lamp unto their feet and a light upon their path."
But those who have spurned His light, lest He change them, have wallowed in their own morass. Many have lived with guilt-feelings and self-contempt. Many have lived prodigal lives in swine pens instead of enjoying sonship in their Father's house.
Yet before we cast stones at those who refuse to let God's light expose and purge their sins, how about our lives? How about our rejection of Jesus' light? Are we guilty of rationalizing our frail loyalty to Christ as "impossible perfection and unattainable idealism"? Do we not keep our discipleship on a "sensible level" -- governed by what others are doing, rather than by our heart's grateful response to His sacrificial love for us?" ...
Using this portion of my sermon for illustrative purposes, let me demonstrate how I prepared this message for note-less delivery. First the principle, then the application.
(1) From an outline, write your sermon in full manuscript form. The foregoing is so written.
(2) Select a keyword which suggests the content of each major point. Keywords selected were:
Blackout (opening illustration)
Israel (Israel's blackout)
Prophecy (Isaiah's vision)
Spurned (light produces darkness)
(3) Compose a vertical acrostic of the first letter of each keyword. My acrostic of major points (for this portion of my sermon) was:
B (Blackout of 1965)
I (Israel's blackout)
P (Prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled in Christ)
S (Spurned light produces groping in darkness)
(4) Memorize this vertical acrostic (B-I-P-S) of major points.
(5) Compose a similar acrostic for subordinate points. My acrostic of points subordinate to point B was:
S (Subways)
E (Elevators)
S (Surgeons)
P (Power company)
My acrostic of minor points under major point B was S-E-S-P.
(6) Familarize yourself with the contents of your acrostics. I carried my acrostics with me on a 3x5 card, memorizing them before Sunday's usage.
(7) Take your acrostics into the pulpit. Note-free delivery can reward this discipline.
I used this method of sermon delivery for many years with satisfaction. I commend it to all who aspire to note-free sermon delivery.
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