Preachers, have you ever wondered what other preachers' preaching notes look like? What do they take into the pulpit?
I recently examined the outlines and notes that various pastors and preachers take into their pulpit. Each organizes, abbreviates, and progresses through a text or topic in different ways. Here are some of my takeaways.
- Writing out much or all of your sermon by hand has benefits.
- I'm sure part of it has to do with the fact that most preachers over 40 years old have more commentaries in hard copy form than electronic, unlike us youngsters. But I'm also sure that a lot of has to do with how writing things out by hand especially aids comprehension and summarization, rather than copy-pasting and quoting.
- - Abbreviation not only cuts down on paper, but also aids in allowing the preacher to see more of the sentence at a glance (and saving keystrokes on the keyboard, I'm sure).
- Some preachers abbreviate to such a degree that it's unreadable to anyone but themselves. And that's fine. Preaching is just as much of an art as a science.
- More content rather than less content helps the preacher progress in his thought rather than a barebones outline.
- One recently-booted-from-his-church preacher just had two sticky notes with scribbles on it, but he's the exception, it seems. Most write more than less. The point is not just to work through an outline, but to teach a topic or passage to a congregation.
- A structured outline is not always a necessity.
- This was a tough one for me to swallow. I was taught to use a structured outline. But a progression of thought and connection with the audience seems to take priority over structure.
- Every preacher is different, so every preaching manuscript is different.
- Don't try to be like someone else. Philip Brooks said it well—preaching is truth poured through personality. Your personality is different than mine. And that's fine.
- Editing again and again is normal.
- Some preachers use colored pencils or colored highlighters. Most of them have sections crossed out, sentences nixed, corrections made.
- Preaching notes will differ depending on the text/topic, as well as how seasoned you are in preaching.
- My notes for Sunday school look much different (though similar) than my sermon notes, which both look different than my notes for a quick devotional. And they certainly look different than when I'm preaching for a youth group or a Christian school chapel.
There are lots of examples available, but I'm including below some examples that have been most helpful for me. (I'm intentionally focusing on the form rather than the content or theological background.)
Joshua Harris's blog posts on various manuscripts/notes:
Other sources that have been an encouragement to me include Gary Reimers's sermon outlines, and Bryan Chapell's book on sermon models. And another resource from Chapell I just discovered seems helpful as well: