I was sitting in a pizza parlor across from a retired clergy who had invited me out to lunch. As we sat and ate he shared with me some wisdom. I was a child when he was the pastor of my home church. Now he was retired and was proud that I was in the ministry. This was really the first time that we had chatted together, one-on-one. He was a dynamic pastor that enabled a congregation to relocate and thrive in a new part of town. He has great leadership ability and I completely respect him as a minister.
With that said, yes here is the big BUT, I would now, five years later, disagree with his advice. The piece of advice that was shared over a piece of pizza was that to really and truly connect with a congregation you have to preach without notes. You have to leave a manuscript behind. He was basically telling me that those who preach from a manuscript are placing those pieces of paper between them and the congregation. To effect the best change and to make the best connection, one had to leave those papers behind.
There is truth in this. There is truth that a manuscript can be a rigid wall of separation between preacher and congregant. I am a manuscript preacher but I think now with almost a decade of preaching behind me I do not see that as a constant and firm truth.
I stay with a manuscript because it fits me the best. I do not do well off the cuff and I do much better with well thought out points and a planned progression in my sermons. Yes, I have read Joseph Webb’s book Preaching Without Notes, and he would agree that this is part of the process. I find my attention then turns to the memorizing and not the purpose behind the words I am speaking. For my personality and preaching style the manuscript seems to be the best avenue for doing quality preaching. (that is if my sermons are quality, I’ll let you and God decide that).
I use to think that only quality preaching was done by one who stepped away from the pulpit, could preach the sermon without notes, and had a keen mind to memorize five pages of material. But I think I was merely envious of a style or skills or talents I do not have. God has created me in a way he so desired. My gifts, graces, and talents have been given to me in order to be the best minister, preacher, and pastor I can be.
I am who God has created me to be. I preach in the best manner I can to be the most effective, passionate, and connected to my congregation. I have learned to attempt to perfect those characteristics instead of the ‘style’ it is done in. We, preachers, practice our sermons and perfect our preaching in order to get out of the way and let God come through. We practice in order to be transparent. Once we have found how to do this, we need to continue.
Now that the pizza has long been digested in my belly, I still look at that conversation with joy but also with disagreement. Going from a manuscript, right now in my ministry, allows me to get to that transparent place. So what if I am not like the other “cool” preachers. I am being who God has created me to be and I am making connections with my congregation and that is all God asks us to do.