For years I was convinced that I needed a full manuscript in front of me to preach. I don’t have a great memory and was not able to memorize the sermon no matter hard I tried. My wife tried to convince me to ditch the manuscript but I didn’t have the confidence.
The first time I preached without a manuscript was not a planned event. I was preaching at a funeral with a packed church. The person who did the eulogy ended up gathering my notes together by mistake. I walked up to my empty pulpit and had to make a decision. I could awkwardly ask the man to bring back my manuscript or I could just preach.
With a very sincere prayer, I preached.
People in my congregation commented that I preached better than I usually did on a Sunday. I was forced to do what I had always though I couldn’t do. I still write full manuscripts. They help me to organize my thoughts and I also post my sermons online. But I never bring the manuscript to the pulpit. I give my manuscript to the projectionist for the PowerPoint and then never see it again.
The key mind-shift for me was giving up on the pressure to memorize the written sermon. I want to preach the same content but I don’t feel the need to reproduce the exact same words. The next shift was gaining confidence that I could make up the sentences while preaching. I realized that I was making up the sentences in front of my computer and so I could do the same thing while preaching.
I have experimented a few times with using a manuscript in the pulpit and the results have always been disappointing. I truly believe that every pastor can preach without a manuscript. If you can write a sermon, you can preach that same sermon from just a few notes.