In an issue of the newsletter, Haddon Robinson writes: “While rules governing good writing also apply to the sermon manuscript, a sermon is not an essay on its hind legs because what you write serves only as a broad preparation for what you will actually say. Your manuscript is not your final product. Your sermon should not be read to a congregation. Reading usually kills a lively sense of communication. Neither should you try to memorize your manuscript. Not only does memorization place a hefty burden on you if you speak several times a week, but an audience senses when you are reading words off the wall of your mind.

“Agonize with thought and words at your desk, and what you write will be internalized. Rehearse several times aloud without your manuscript. Make no conscious effort to recall your exact wording. Simply try to get your flow of thought clearly in mind. When you step into the pulpit, your written text will have done its work to shape your use of language. Much of your wording will come back to you as you preach, but not all. In the heat of your delivery, your sentence structure will change. New phrases will occur to you, and your speech will sparkle like spontaneous conversation. Your manuscript, therefore, contributes to the thought and wording of your sermon, but it does not determine it.

“Writing a sermon differs from writing an essay or a book. Write as though you were talking with someone, and as in conversation, strive for immediate understanding. Authors know their readers need not grasp an idea instantly. Readers can examine a page at leisure, reflect on what they have read, argue with the ideas, and move along at any rate they find comfortable. Should they stumble across an unfamiliar word, they can get up and consult a dictionary. If they lose a writer’s path of thought, they can retrace it. In short, readers control the experience.

“Listeners, on the other hand, cannot afford the luxury of leisurely reflection. They cannot go back to listen a second time. If they do not take in what is said as it is said, they will miss it completely. Should they take time out to review the speaker’s argument, they will miss what the speaker is saying now. Listeners sit at the mercy of the preacher. Speakers, unlike writers, must make themselves understood instantly.” (The article is adapted from Robinson’s book Biblical Preaching.)

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