Thursday is sermon writing day for me. And after almost 18 years this old dog is trying to learn a new trick - writing the sermon in such a way that it can be quickly memorized and preached without using the manuscript.
I call this "preaching without a net."
Having the manuscript in the pulpit with you is the safety net. And I believe that most pastor preach with manuscript in hand. My feeling for so long was that I spent a lot of time writing the sermon, spent a lot of time trying to craft memorable thoughts and ideas so there was no way that I wasn't going to preach from the manuscript. Hey, I might forget the most important point of the sermon (and what's the point of that?).
But our website manager, Dan, has been posting video of some of my sermons for those in our congregation who are unable to worship with us and want to hear God's Word. And as I watched some of these sermons I found myself disappointed.
Because I was so focused on the manuscript I often was looking down at the page I was preaching on at the very moment I should have been making eye contact. Here were some of the most important thoughts of the sermon being preached and I was looking down instead of seeing the hearers. That was really bothersome to me.
Two weeks ago I walked out on the tightrope. There was no net underneath me. And I began my sermon. About 18 minutes later I had finished. I was still breathing! I still had a pulse! I lived through my first sermon without having the manuscript nearby.
Last week as I prepared the sermon I wrote it in such a way that I could remember the important points I wanted to make. I spent some time on Friday and Saturday practicing. Sunday went well. I didn't get lost. I didn't forget the main points. And I maintained eye contact throughout the message. It seems to go well. The reviews from my toughest critics - my family - were positive.
Please understand that I'm not implying that somehow I'm a better speaker and pastor than those who preach from a manuscript. Listen, preparing and delivering a sermon is the toughest job for most pastors. It's an opportunity to deliver the powerful, life-giving Word of God to people who are hungry for a word of peace and hope. Who wants to blow that opportunity.
For nearly 18 years now I've wanted to preach without relying on the manuscript. No reason to rush into things, right? Pray for me, won't you. This Sunday morning I'll be stepping out on the tightrope again. That's a big part of preaching without a net.