I’ve always been a scribbler.
I enjoyed writing stories for my sister when we were growing up, then reading them aloud at night. I wrote news stories and documentaries in my former career. I read voraciously- some would say (like my better half) a bit obsessively. And as a preacher, I’ve labored over multi-page manuscripts, working words and crafting phrases that would communicate what was in my heart and in my head.
I love words. I love how you can paint pictures with them and inspire, crush or rescue the human spirit with them. I love how they look; organized and orderly, marching across the page ready to carry out their job.
About a year ago, I decided I wanted to move from being a “manuscript” preacher to a more extemporaneous style. A dangerous move. This means standing up at the pulpit without a sheaf of papers. I liken it to walking the tightrope with no net below.
I’ve been moving in this direction slowly, until one day, I hope to walk into the pulpit with just my Bible and some words written in the margin of the day’s text.
For now, I am working with a one page outline.
It takes twice as much preparation to do this, I’ve discovered. I have to know the Biblical text well. Really well. I have to practice my sermon several more times than usual – all in my head. It has to sound right. It needs to flow effortlessly. It needs to feel absolutely natural and comfortable. Whatever words I do write down have to mean so much, they each must carry a huge burden of responsibility.
So why do it this way? Besides the fact that I am stubborn and restless (challenging personality faults), as much as I love the written word, I love even more being able to engage visually with the congregation. The manuscript doesn’t afford me that in the manner I’d like.
And perhaps more illogically, I want to be surprised. With or without manuscript, the Spirit of our Lord is faithful and present when the word is rightly preached, but there seems to be more gracious space when I’m not bound to the sequence of page after page. Perhaps this is simply one person’s experience. Mine. Perhaps this is a relative newbie speaking. Yet when I am able to physically move away from the anchor of the pulpit and preach, I feel a part of the congregation and the Word becomes incarnate in all gathered.
This certainly isn’t the way to preach or meant for everyone. Fred Craddock wrote, “Every method [manuscript and extemporaneous sermon] pays a price for its advantages. Those who prefer the freedom and relationships available to the preacher without notes will not usually rate as high on careful phrasing and wealth of content. Those who prefer the tightly woven fabric of a manuscript must … accept the fact that a manuscript is less personal and its use is less evocative of intense listener engagement. ‘(Preaching, p. 216)
God continually calls us to risky places. This is one for me. All I can do is say yes, prepare the best I can and then let go. I’m not sure I’ll be successful at this. Time will tell. But the journey alone will be exhilarating!