As a young pastor, I faced the unexpected wrath of a church member who couldn’t believe I used notes when I preached. “I want a pastor who only follows the Holy Spirit,” she told me—and then never returned to the church. Since then, I’ve debated pros and cons of using notes, and I’ve preached both ways. Here are my general thoughts:
Reasons I Like to Use Notes:
- They push me to stay on target. I usually use an outline (not a manuscript), but even an outline helps keep me from wandering off topic.
- They help keep me focused throughout the message. Much can happen unexpectedly in a service that distracts a preacher. When that happens, having notes in front of me helps me not lose focus.
- They help me during forgetful moments. Those moments don’t happen often, but I realize I’m getting older. . . . and I’m honest enough to admit notes become a “security blanket” in case those moments happen.
- They generally keep me from extemporizing during the sermon. I realize the Holy Spirit can always redirect me mid-sermon, but I often regret my unplanned words.
- They work well in churches that use visual presentations of sermon outlines. That is, I can have my bullet points from my Powerpoint directly in front of me as I preach—and I don’t veer from what I’ve given the church ahead of time.
Reasons I Like to Preach without Notes:
- I’m not limited to the space just behind the pulpit. I feel more comfortable moving toward the audience if I’m not tied to an outline on the pulpit.
- My eye contact with the congregation is better. There’s no way around this fact: I look more directly at the people if I don’t need to look at notes.
- I spend more time in preparation. Again, I’m simply being honest here. If I know I won’t have notes with me, I spend more time making sure I know the sermon well.
- I’m often more relaxed during the sermon. I assume that happens because of the three reasons listed just above this one.
- Our goal, regardless of approach, is to magnify Jesus and communicate the gospel clearly—not to impress the listener. Any leaning toward the latter purpose necessitates repentance before we step into the preaching role.
- Each preacher must find his own most effective approach. We’re all different, and what works for me may not be the best approach for someone else.
- The belief that preaching without notes is somehow more dependent on God or more spiritual lacks warrant, in my judgment. Dependence is about lifestyle—something much, much bigger than preaching style.
- Preaching’s not about us. Never has been. Never will be.
Okay, let us hear your thoughts.