Do You Preach From a Manuscript?

Dr. Ray Pritchard

This question arrived yesterday from a young man just starting in the ministry. I’m going to take a stab at it and then invite others to weigh in. 

"Perhaps this is a question you could post on your blog. I’m a young guy just starting to preach. I’m still learning how to exactly formulate my notes and thoughts for good delivery on Sunday morning. Currently I prepare a pretty detailed outline. But I’ve benefited greatly from preachers like yourself who do an entire written manuscript. I noticed that Brian Bill seems to do this. I’m curious how this works. Do you just read the entire thing? Do you memorize it? And how do you make the reading dynamic?"


1) Like most preachers, I have changed my style more once than during my ministry. In my earliest days, I preached without notes. Later I preached using extensive notes (10-14 pages). Still later I preached from a manuscript. Later I preached using brief notes (a page or so). These days I vary what I do depending on the message, the topic and the audience.

2) Obviously there isn’t one right or wrong way. You have find what works for you.

3) That said, in today’s world I think we can safely say that the fewer notes you use, the better. That’s true for most people–not for everyone.

4) The great enemy of preaching from a manuscript is that you lose eye contact with the audience. It can sound like a lecture instead of a sermon.

5) I have utilized a complete manuscript in the pulpit mostly when I was preaching on a controversial topic and needed to choose my words carefully.

6) I have been manuscripting my Sunday messages for almost 20 years. However, I rarely did a manuscript in advance. I might type the introduction and the conclusion, with an outline in-between. I completed the manuscript after I preached, not before.

7) That’s one benefit of sending out my sermons via a weekly email, a practice I started in late 1997. I don’t think I would have gone to the trouble of writing the sermon out after Sunday if not for the sermon email.

8) I also found that my notes varied greatly from week to week. I used more notes if I was dealing with a difficult passage, less if I was speaking on a topic I was familiar with. And I varied also depending on what kind of week it had been. At the end of a hectic week, I might use more notes because of the stress of the preceding days.

9) I think young preachers especially should write out their sermons because it forces them to think clearly. 

10) Once it is written, mark it up, underline it, highlight it, and practice it. But don’t memorize it! A memorized sermon usually sounds . . . memorized.

11) What should you take into the pulpit with you? Most people take some notes with them. If you can do it all without notes (and without rambling), that’s an excellent way to communicate.

12) Make sure your introduction is ready to go. People decide within 30 seconds whether or not they need to listen to what you have to say. Better to read it than to wing it on the spur of the moment.

That’s my two cents. I would love to hear from other preachers how they do it. And I would love to hear from people in the pew. Does it bother you if the preacher has a manuscript? Does it matter one way or the other? What seems most effective? Click here to offer your comments.

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