I have the privilege of preaching every Sunday.
After all, I get to present ideas on a wide range of topics lifted from the most popular book in the history of humankind.
That book, of course, is the Bible.
Two years ago, I was encouraged by a mentor to try preaching one Sunday without notes. I still remember shuddering when he recommended it.
Just thinking about it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in terror.
Oddly enough, before I made this decision, I was never one who carried many notes with me into any pulpit.
I was taught how to preach by Haddon Robinson.
Dr. Robinson spent his life teaching men and women how to preach one “Big Idea.” He also demanded that we do so without notes.
Preach What Pours Forth
This was different.
You see, I learned to internalize the message and then follow point-by-point the message I had internalized. I often used a skeletal outline dotted with a handful of thoughts I deemed crucial and essential.
More times than not, I’d write the entire sermon, or significant portions of it, and then spend hours practicing before the big day.
The pressure to discover and use the most precise wording possible was great!
One day a friend gently suggested, “Biz, you don’t need notes. Just leave them behind and preach what pours forth.”
So, I tried it.
That was two years ago.
I haven’t brought a single note with me into the pulpit since that day.
I may use notes again one of these days. But for now, I go forth with my Bible in hand and preach what pours forth.
This decision was personally disruptive and congregationally renewing in a multiple of ways.
I am going to give you a few examples of how this was (and is) disruptive and the ways in which it’s bringing renewal.
Then, I am going to encourage you: “preach what pours forth!”
The Disruptive Renewal of Preaching Without Notes
First, it disrupted my subtle self-reliance.
I recognized, early on, that I had become reliant on the work I did during the week. Such reliance is NEVER wrong. In my case, however, it stymied me on Sundays, at times. I spent far too many Saturdays stewing over the Sunday morning sermon because I didn’t have the Big-idea fully developed. This stewing made me irritable and testy with my family and friends. Melissa learned, early on, to walk softly on Saturday nights!
What is so sad about all that is the fact the worry, angst, and aggravation – even cloaked in study and preparation – never, ever, made a valuable contribution to Sunday morning!
Second, it led to a renewed reliance on God’s Spirit.
This is closely tied to the previous one! I work hard at my craft. As such, I read all I can on the task of preaching, and I spend hours of time studying and discussing the passage every week. Since I made this shift, I notice that I am far more at peace with a sense that the message isn’t there yet.
I am learning to trust that by the time I stand before the church, the message will already be there – waiting to greet us.
Such an experience frees me to be open to the Spirit’s moving in ways I never was before. I often go in without a crisp Big-idea. It’s rare that I have the main title. And, though I know the passages for the week, I may not even know the order they will take. Of course, it makes previously prepared notes impossible.
It bugs our sound and tech guy and causes those who select our songs to spend their own time with the Spirit (who knows more than I do anyhow) as they choose the songs week by week.
Yes. I am a worship leader’s worst nightmare!
Third, it changed my weekly preparation routine.
Soon into this way of preaching, I became more aware of my posture before the passages. I’ve always said that we must allow the Bible to read and interpret us before we attempt to read and interpret the Bible. Now, I was living that reality. I began just ‘living’ with the passages for the first few days.
Praying over them.
Meditating on them.
Going back and forth with the Lord during the week.
After a day or two of this contemplative approach, I shift to the traditional Bible study methods I learned in seminary. Where they were once the driving force of my weekly preparation, they are now an important but much smaller part of my preparation.
Doing the hard work of exegesis is still something I do every week. It’s also vitally important work that helps us check our impressions with the wisdom of the ages. It’s now supportive work, rather than the only work of the week.
It also changed the way in which I presented the sermon.
Rather than a talk I felt compelled to give to listeners; I began to see it as a conversation I was having with them.
It’s more than that, though. When I deliver a message today, it’s a three-way conversation between the Lord, myself, and His people.
The dynamic this creates is one of ‘withness’ between the congregation and me.
Ever since I made this adjustment, there has been freedom and a sense of God’s presence alive within us in a more palpable way. I remember a few months into the change how many Pillar family members commented on how powerful the services had become.
No one could put a finger on it, but I felt the Lord was moving in new ways because of this one change!
And even though there are a few pitfalls to watch out for – which I will begin to address in my next post – I still encourage you to preach what pours forth!
Disrupting to Renew!