As a general rule, preachers need not preach from a manuscript. No doubt there are exceptions to this rule. Some can keep their manuscript, zeal, and connection with their congregation all at the same time. But those are the exception. Some take a manuscript with them, and because they’re well studied, don’t have to stick to it overly much. Great. But, again, as a general rule, preachers do not need to use a manuscript.
And, in my opinion, most preachers shouldn’t. Or at least not often.
Frequently a manuscript sermon seems stiff. The preacher has lost his normal freedom that he has in conversation. You may know this preacher. He’s animated, zealous, and enjoyable in conversation. You have benefited often by conversing. But he seems like a different person while preaching. Why can’t he just be himself? True, when declaring God’s Word, we are certainly not about our “normal business.” But that doesn’t mean we stifle our natural abilities that God has given us.
Our hearers need light, but they also need fire. Both are essential. And, though I can heartily agree that true zeal generally comes first through true knowledge, if this true knowledge has touched our hearts, won’t we normally be able to communicate it without reading from a manuscript? We must be well studied, but shouldn’t being well studied assist our words to freely flow? As Charles Spurgeon, speaking about the best method for getting ready to preach, said
“…store your mind with matter upon the subject of discourse, and then to deliver yourself with appropriate words which suggest themselves at the time. This is not extemporaneous preaching; the words are extemporal, as I think they always should be, but the thoughts are the result of research and study.”1
Dr. Steve Lawson has said something to the extent that preachers ought to use the least amount of notes that they can, while still preaching well.2
I have heard Iain Murray say in a lecture or sermon that no man can preach.3 I believe that. None of us without God’s help can preach, no matter how we prepare and use notes. We must have God’s help! And yet, generally speaking, I have little doubt that preachers would preach better without a manuscript.
We want to be passionate, not fake, but filled with zeal when we preach. We never want it said that we are boring! But manuscripts as a rule do lead to less spontaneity and more disinterested hearers.
My preaching brethren, we must know ourselves. Each of us are different. But, as a rule, we would be better off without a manuscript while preaching.
1Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 153. See his whole excellent chapter entitled “The Faculty of Impromptu Speech.”
2I do not have the exact quote. It was most likely from this series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcwME05aPck&list=PL4sbg6ng23C7CHOnSyuHsVGnko6Pyedni. For a good, balanced approach watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=632INyBjchI.
3I believe he was quoting another man.