Thursdays with Todd: 3 Reasons to Write Out Your Sermon

In the past, Dr. Lawless has raised the question about preaching from notes. Whether you carry notes into the pulpit or preach from nothing but an open Bible, I encourage you to consider these three benefits of writing out a full sermon manuscript before preaching your message:

  1. A manuscript helps bring clarity to our thinking. Expanding upon William Boyd Carpenter’s lectures on preaching at Cambridge (1894), W.H. Griffith Thomas offers a popular framework for sermon preparation: “We must think ourselves empty, read ourselves full, write ourselves clear, and pray ourselves keen.”1 Writing gives clarity to the thoughts and feelings we experience in our study and helps shape them in the most logical manner. If we omit this step, we may create unintended confusion as we explain, illustrate, or apply our message. Pastor Alistair Begg agrees: “We may believe that we have a grasp of the text, only to stand up and discover that somewhere between our thinking and our speaking, things have gone badly awry. The missing link can usually be traced back to the absence of putting our thoughts down clearly.”2
  2. A manuscript makes the message accessible to others. Like audio and video sermons on a church’s website, uploaded manuscripts give people all over the world access to biblical content. And, what preacher has not been helped by the written sermons of others? When Susie Spurgeon looked upon her late husband Charles’ collection of printed sermons, she recalled the Puritan Thomas Goodwin’s words: “Sermons preached are, for the most part, as showers of rain that water for the instant…but printed sermons are as snow that lies long on the earth; they are longer-lived, they preach when the author cannot, and–what is more–when he is not.”3
  3. A manuscript helps preserve the sermon for posterity. Benjamin Franklin wisely advised, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.”4 Writing out our sermons extends the life of our messages. Even after we have died, our messages live on via the internet and/or published works. Think about it this way: if the average sermon contains 2,500 words and the average book about 66,000 words (roughly 250 printed, book pages), the preacher who writes out a full manuscript will generate enough content to produce anywhere from 2-4 books a year. What a lasting influence upon the kingdom!

Preachers, what other reasons would you give for writing out your sermon?

To read more from Dr. Linn, visit his website at


  1. W.H. Griffith, The Work of The Ministry (London: Hodder And Stoughton, 1910), 209-212
  2. Alistair Begg, Preaching for God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 53.
  3. As cited by Mrs. C.H. Spurgeon in Ten Years of My Life in the Service of the Book Fund (London: Alabaster, Passmore, and Sons, 1886), 206. 
  4. Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1738.


  • Alan Stoddard says:

    Numbers 2-3 barely matter. No one cares to read a written sermon of today.

    Number 1 is legit.

  • Joe Pastor says:

    Manuscripting a sermon also helps eliminate the “gravy” while keeping the “meat.” It helps to tighten and streamline the message. BTW, I do also have people in my church who, when they’re gone, prefer to receive a manuscript to review the message; for some, they’d rather skim a manuscript than spend 30 minutes listening to or watching a message.

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    Among the benefits I have found to writing a manuscript are:
    1) I stay within the time limit I have allotted myself or I have been allotted.
    2) I am more likely to stick to the point and I am less likely to ramble, chase rabbits, or go off on a tangent.
    3) I use more succinct language. I can go over a manuscript, simplify my language; make it spoken conversational English, not written literary English; and explain briefly in easily understood words and phrases terms the congregation, particular unchurched or non-Christian guests may not understand.
    4) I can do a better job of the two parts of the sermon where I am the weakest—the introduction and the conclusion.
    5) I can weed out extraneous and unnecessary material which may draw attention away from what I am seeking to say in the sermon.
    6) I can deliberate plan repetitions and vary them to reinforce what I am saying.
    7) Writing out the sermon may suggest illustrations that I otherwise may not have thought of. It also helps me to evaluate the effectiveness of the illustrations that I have chosen.
    8) When I preach again on the same text, it helps me to emphasize different aspects of the text. I have a record of what I have treated and how I have treated it.

    I would also add that there is an art to reading a sermon from a manuscript. One does not read that sermon directly from the manuscript but reads a phrase or two quickly and silently and then repeats them out loud from the heart.

    I would also not be too quick to dismiss how someone else preaches as not “legit,” not the way of preaching that younger preachers favor. If the preacher’s congregation is attending to what he is saying and acting on it, he is getting his message across to that congregation. All congregations are not the same.

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    To say no one cares to read sermons today is a very broad generalization. It might have been more accurate to say, “I don’t care to read sermons.” If you want to study John Wesley’s theology or Charles Spurgeon’s theology, you must read his sermons. If you want to study the theology of the early Church Fathers and the Protestant Reformers, you must read their sermons. In Decades, a collection of sermons, Heinrich Bullinger, introduces the reader to early Reformed theology. The sermons were composed to teach Reformed theology to Bullinger’s congregation in Zurich and in the reformed Church of England, they served as the Church’s first theological textbook. Videos, audios, and electronic books are wonderful, but if someone hacks the power grid or a super solar storm knock out the power grid and the battery on your laptop or tablet is dead, where are you? You may argue that I don’t need to read their sermons, I have the Bible, but what are Paul’s letters but sermons in epistolary form. Maybe one of the reasons that recent surveys show that Americans are theologically-illiterate as well as biblically literate is that they do not read sermons as well as their Bibles. All three benefits Dr. Linn gives are “legit.”

  • Robin Jordan says:

    “Biblically literate” should have read “biblically illiterate.” I have experienced power outages in my area in which I had no access to the Internet and no electric light. However, I was able to read works such Wesley’s Standard Sermons, Bullinger’s Decades, Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels or one of my Bibles, sitting near my open front door, while it was day light. I could make a rough draft of a sermon in a notebook. The day was not an utter waste.

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