Preaching without notes

8 01 2010

I’m a convert to preaching without any notes.

I know it’s not for everyone, but I reckon more preachers could do it if they wanted to.

I’ve preached evangelistically without notes for years, by memorising certain talks that I knew I would get to repeat many times. But I’ve not thought it “worth it” to preach all the time without notes. Until now.

I recently preached 5 talks at the Queensland CMS Summer School, one talk each day. With the exception of one point in my last talk, during which I was struggling with a severe stomach bug, I didn’t forget anything I had planned to say. I really enjoyed the freedom of not using notes, and was surprised by how much detail could still be offered without them.

Why is it good?

There are several things I can think of, but three things stand out.

1. The ability to connect to hearers is greatly enhanced away from a lectern. I’ve preached a lot with notes and without, and there’s no question in my mind that without notes, connection is better. I feel better connected, and from feedback it seems that hearers do too.

2. The freedom to “reshape” the talk as you go can be very useful. Sometimes I don’t like being locked into my notes, and certain parts of a talk might be crying out for further comment or a slightly different direction. I think the vibe of “the moment” is key here, and it’s all intuition, but preachers know what I mean, I’m sure. Now, I used to improv when using notes anyway, but it can be awkward then returning to notes after an unexpected improv bit. By not using notes at all, this problem disappears.

3. There is a need to be more connected to the text being preached than to the notes of the sermon. I used to need to know my notes and the text, but now I only need to know the text.

Drawbacks?

Surprisingly, I never felt at risk of forgetting what I’d planned to say, so that was not a drawback.

Also, as mentioned above, I had suspected that details might suffer, but this was not the case. In fact, I think details were communicated more clearly this way than they have been with notes at various times.

A common assumption is that learning the talk will add so much time to preparation that it is not worth the effort. I agree, if it does take a lot of time, but if you can work out a method that does not require much time, this is not a problem. I think I’ve discovered a way that works for me, so it adds maybe an hour of extra work.

I think the main drawback is that 70% of the feedback I received (especially from other preachers) included some comment or question about preaching without notes. There’s a risk that it (at least initially) distracts from the message. Which is kinda counter-productive, huh? But once people get used to it, I think that problem disappears.

Posted by Con Campbell

About these ads

Actions

Information

22 responses

9 01 2010
dave miers

this is good. thanks con.
do you find yourself going shorter or longer without notes?

10 01 2010
Con Campbell

Good question Dave. It can be a bit harder to predict: using the same length of “mental notes”, one of my talks went for 27 minutes, while another went for 51. My hunch is that they would tend to be longer unless deliberately keeping it tight, because of the freedom to expand at will.

9 01 2010
HJ

Good post Con. I agree with it all. However, I think quite a lot of the ‘wrong people’ also agree with you. There has been a bit of an influx of verbose aussie preachers going without notes recently, and it usually manifests itself with a lot of hand gestures and increased volume, but not increased clarity or gravitas. Surfing a few church sites and watching church welcoming videos is good evidence of this. I think highly organised and intelligent people should preach without notes, but I don’t think everyone should go down the path.

Do you find watching sermons with a lot of gesticulating distracting? Or is it just me?

On the flip side – I think there’s a lot of suitable people out there who need to give it a go, which I think it what you’re getting at!

10 01 2010
Con Campbell

I do find it distracting, though, interestingly, I have found myself to “gesticulate” less when not using notes. I think it’s because the connection with hearers is naturally stronger, and perhaps more conversational, so the rest of it is toned down somewhat. Then again, I might just be becoming more conversational again anyway.

9 01 2010
Jeff Downs

You may want to check out Dr. John Carrick’s inaugural lecture from this past December, and his defense of The Extemporaneous Mode of Preaching.

9 01 2010
Redpooba

The idea is great and the results can clearly be worth it, but what if I preach two different sermons, morning and evening services. It can really be a lot of ‘stuff’, but I try and use very minimal notes.

10 01 2010
Con Campbell

Haven’t tried it, and yes it would be harder. I did 5 talks on consecutive days, which was manageable. I reckon morning and evening would be doable too, if both talks were prepared right.

9 01 2010
Jeff Downs

I will see how this works out practically this sabbath, as I will be exhorting at 2 services (different places). I hope not take my manuscripts with me.

10 01 2010
Rick Wadholm Jr

I always preach with only bare-bones notes (after having spent extra time going over more extensive notes and rehashing what I will cover, illustrations, etc. again and again). I preach a minimum of 3 times per week (it used to be a minimum of 5) with each time being a different text and therefore a different message. I have found that it is easier to keep the audience engaged and to respond appropriately. I do always keep some notes handy just in case I need to remind myself of something, but it is rarely used. I allow the text to give me the cues to the message that I have worked on. Thanks for the good thoughts Con.

10 01 2010
Con Campbell

Thanks Rick, yes, I think allowing the text to remind oneself of the message prepared is key for this.

10 01 2010
Ben Hudson

Thanks Con,

I recently had a go without notes for the 1st time on a camp. I felt there were some trade offs, but overall a net gain due to the reasons you’ve listed.

Any chance you could elaborate on your method for memorising the sermon in an 1hr?

10 01 2010
Con Campbell

Will do so in a future post, Ben.

10 01 2010
Peter Kutuzov (Kutz)

Hey Con,

Thanks for your encouragement Con, I was there at Summer School and I appreciated your speaking God’s word and reminding us of those who have died so that we might have it.

A question I have is whether you still work up a ‘full-text’ version of what you’re actually going to preach. Also, what is the method that you use to memorise?

10 01 2010
Con Campbell

Thanks Peter! I don’t work up a full text, but never have. I’ll talk about my method in a future post.

10 01 2010
Haydn

Con, this is one of the reasons why I like your sermons. Not relying on notes gives me greater confidence that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re speaking from your HEART. It also lets you to make eye contact and engage with your audience more. Great work and nice blog :D

10 01 2010
Con Campbell

Thanks, Haydn!

10 01 2010
lthopper

Hey Con,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. I agree with what you said about no notes. I have found the benefits to be similar to what you have said.
I did find the book: ‘Preaching Without Notes’ by Joseph M Webb helpful.

One thing I have been wrestling with is what you referred to as ‘improv’ (wouldn’t expect you to express it any differently as a jazz man). Here’s a quote from Piper from an interview he gave on preaching.
“I pray for self forgetfulness, for fullness of the Holy Spirit, for love, for humility, for passion, for zeal, for prophetic utterance that may come to my mind while I am preaching so that I can say things that I hadn’t prepared that might penetrate where nothing else would.”

Got any thoughts in response?

11 01 2010
Tim Omrod

Thanks for this post Con – I appreciate hearing preachers without notes, I typically find them more engaging and help me to engage better with the text.

However, I had an interesting discussion with someone about this recently, and they said that they lost confidence in a preacher who doesn’t use notes because it appears like the preacher hasn’t spent as much time preparing and is just “making it up as he goes along”.

Whilst obviously this persons perception is generally not true, no-notes preachers spend just as much if not more time in preparation, it did strike me as something worth considering.

Con, I’m interested to know what you think about this?

Tim

11 01 2010
Con Campbell

Thanks for the comment and question, Tim. I think if it becomes an excuse for lack of preparation, then that’s deplorable. However, the proof is in the pudding. If the content is well prepared, it will come across. If not, it will also be evident, whether with notes or without.

11 01 2010
Latest Links | blog of dan

[...] Preaching without notes [...]

12 01 2010
Andrew

Con, heard a lot of people say they were very encouraged by the talks at Summer School, so well done, and I’m sorry I didn’t make it along to hear it.
I look forward to hearing more about your method for going without notes, because I am a full text preacher, and on the occasions when I have tried to go with just a few notes I haven’t been pleased with the results. I would like to engage more with the congregation, but in my efforts I’ve felt the content was less complete and I didn’t engage more with the congregation anyway. Sounds like maybe I need to go the whole hog and lose the notes all together!

12 01 2010
Jeff Downs

Andrew,

I would encourage you to listen to Dr. John Carrick’s message The Extemporaneous Mode of Preaching. Because I am a student at Greenville Seminary and sat under John Carrick, I was “forced” to preached with out a manuscript. When I finally broke from it, and did the necessary work, and the Spirit did his work, things went well. I said to myself, that I would never preached from a manuscript again.

Due to a lack of time, I was not able to reduce to notes, and therefore took a full manuscript with me into the pulpit (PM service). I knew the material well enough to interact with the congregation, but not as much as I’d like to.




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: