It could be said that there are as many styles or methods of preaching as there are preachers. Each pastor has a unique personality with a voice all his own, a particular temperment, body presence and facial gestures.
There are, however, what we might classify as major styles or approaches. Some preachers speak extemporaneously. That is, they may prepare ahead of time, perhaps develop an outline of major points to make; yet when they deliver their sermons, they “make up,” if you will, the text for the message as they speak before a congregation. Other preachers, perhaps the largest group, prepare and develop a substantial outline of the points and subpoints to present, then deliver their sermons with notes, making those points and “filling in the blanks” with on-the-spot connective comments, elaborations and Illustrations.
The third major historic tradition is the manuscript method. Preachers who preach from a manuscript prepare very thoroughly, spending healthy portions of time fashioning their sermons with the best language and formulation of thought of which they are capable. In New England and other locations for much of our national history, this method was the standard procedure for many preachers in preparation and delivery.
It is my view that this method remains the best approach for the production of the best sermon content and for the long-lasting spiritual growth of parishioners. It remains — at least for me and many colleagues in ministry today — the method which is most appropriate for our presentation of the Gospel and through which we find the finest opportunity to develop and communicate God’s Word to a world that needs more than milk. I believe we need the meat of the Scriptures. The following are some of the values and benefits of employing this method.
Preparing a manuscript forces the preacher to spend sufficient, intentional time in study, thinking about the message and meaning of a particular passage, analyzing the biblical material, formulating and preparing articulation of the major themes to be presented. What usually results is a more well-crafted and thoughtful presentation of God’s Word than might otherwise be offered.
Whereas with extemporaneous preaching or preaching with notes, one might argue there is afforded greater eye-to-eye contact between preacher and congregation, such attention does not ensure that the sermon will embody substantive material. Moreover, it does not follow that manuscript preachers do not have sufficient eye-to-eye contact. Skillful manuscript preachers will learn how to present themselves and look at the text when they need to and when they do not to provide for a very pleasing delivery which keeps parishioners’ attention. After all, if the sermon is interesting and well crafted, parishioners will naturally maintain their focus.
When preachers provide well-prepared and articulated sermons, there is a greater potential for parishioners to receive a worthwhile body of persuasion and instruction. The persons in the pews will benefit more in the long run — their body of engaged biblical material will enlarge and deepen when they are exposed to a manuscript prepared sermon. There is a greater growth potential fostered. Why?
One of the reasons why growth may be greater is because of the power of the variety of word usages which pre-thought affords. So often, preachers who deliver sermons extemporaneously or with limited outline notes will utilize the same terminology over and over simply because the on-the-spot vocabulary of most of us in American society today is not as broad as we might wish.
Of necessity for many, this writer / preacher included, pre-thought and articulation is needed to provide as varied an array of word usages as possible to produce many word concepts to define, describe and illustrate the sometimes unfamiliar and theologically mature themes of Christianity. Needless to say, hearing the same language over and over is not as interesting as a well-crafted and descriptive body of language. Communication will be more effective, the experience of listening to sermons will be more interesting, and therefore, the learning potential will be greater.
Another value of writing sermons is that the material presented may be preserved in print and distributed to parishioners subsequently for their further consideration, digestion and reinforcement. My experience has been that parishioners developed an eagerness for Scripture study when they knew that they would be receiving the pamphlet-size productions of my sermons. They valued collecting and reading them for through-the-week continued study and personal edification. A hunger for God’s Word was cultivated.
It is very useful as well for preachers to prepare their sermons in writing because they produce a body of theological formulation which enables them to evaluate which aspects of the Christian corpus they have covered in their preaching and teaching and which themes and passages or books of the Bible they have neglected. The experience of writing sermons thus aids in the planning process for future sermon development.
Similarly, by submitting to the discipline of writing sermon manuscripts, pastors soon realize they are producing a body of theological insight which reveals their theological orientation and positions. At some point in one of the churches I served I decided that the congregation and I would both benefit from my preparing and delivering a series of sermons dealing with the major categories of Christian belief.
Because I was intentional about this task, with the additional foresight that the preserved material might be useful as literature for church membership classes, I was very careful to articulate in language which was not only faithful to the Scriptures, but also accessible to learners, written with as fine a quality as I could provide. The result was that the people grew immeasurably as they heard the messages on Sundays, received in short order the printed copies, then eventually were able to consult the whole collection in a bound format.
I wrote my theology of the Christian faith, and, as years passed, when persons would ask me where I stood on this or that issue or concept, I was better prepared to respond because I had taken the time to think about many subjects, and in the course of studying and articulating developed statements and descriptions which otherwise may not have come into place. The experience revealed and / or developed my theological Orientation. I had a better understanding of where I stood theologically, and so did others.
By writing and producing sermons in print, the instructional influence and ministry can be extended to a wider audience as the sermons may be passed to others, one-on-one to Inquirers, in classes, through the mail to seekers and potential worshippers. The potential for extended witness is created when sermons are in print.
Taped sermons are very valuable tools for ministry to others, particularly those with sight difficulties and those confined to their homes or nursing care facilities. For those not experiencing those challenges, having printed sermons enables them to locate fairly quickly key ideas they wish to remember by simply marking the location of the items in question. The material may be referred to over and over again as desired.
I have found that a greater bond of love and appreciation is developed between pastor and parishioners and that they are more focused on the application of God’s Word in their lives when they possess and may refer to the collection of sermons produced. They have the pastor’s instruction with them in their homes. It helps cultivate a more total lifestyle awareness of their obligation to take seriously the teachings of the Scriptures and to apply them to their everyday circumstances. In time of despondency, parishioners may refer to sermons which focus attention on God’s care, their need to persevere, how they can cope and so forth.
Additionally pastors will develop the satisfaction and assurance that their ministries of the Word will have lasting effect. Even when they may move on to other venues of service, their articulations will remain with the people and be a continued source of learning and encouragement. Preachers will have deposited a legacy with those under their care.
Printed sermons may also be of benefit to Sunday School and small group teachers and leaders in support of their Christian education efforts. The sermons may become a part of the body of literature on a particular subject for a class.
Pastorally speaking, a sermon manuscript may be very helpful for the preacher to guard against saying things off-the-cuff which, without forethought, may be unintentionally hurtful to someone in the congregation. It is too easy for pastors to put their feet in their mouths, so to speak, when they have not taken the time to think about the possible consequences or implications of their words.
Finally, our appreciation for manuscript sermons should be heightened when we realize the great inspiration and instruction we receive by reading the preserved sermons of John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, George Whitefield, the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards and so many others of the past and present. When we realize the great influence these preachers had in peoples lives in their own day and of the countless others through the years, we come to the conclusion that writing and preserving sermons has great value and ministry potential.

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