Monday, May 21, 2012

Preaching without notes - dangers

Last week I taught in the Center for Excellence in Congregational Leadership (CECL) at Green Lake.  I greatly enjoy being with CECL pastors though one of them told me I had completely ruined his preaching (but then he thanked me for the challenge! He did smile.)  One key ingredient of my teaching (requested by the organizers)  is an issue I touched on recently in a post - preaching without notes.  As one of you responded back then - there really does seem to be a current buzz about this topic.  And controversy!

It needs to be stated bluntly that there are DANGERS attached to preaching without notes.
  • it elevates technique.  As Adrian Reynolds posted: "Authenticity in preaching does not come from the use or lack of notes, but from a preacher so engaged in the Word, so convinced of its relevance for today, so gripped by the power of the gospel that conviction is powerfully and spiritually evident - notes or no notes."  Mode of delivery should never be exalted over content.
  • it boosts ego. Because preaching without notes makes a preacher look good it can add gloss to personal performance.   Preachers shining in their own glory always diminish the Lord's glory. 
  • it capitulates to culture.  Rhetoric has consistently valued the role of memory and contemporary culture is impressed by leaders who speak well from the heart and not from paper. Impressing listeners should never be a preacher's motive.
  • it can encourage 'winging it'.  Preaching without notes may also permit habits of winging material with dangers of extempore word-wasting, dumbing down exact language and biblical doctrine.  
One CECL pastor confessed to me that he had turned to preaching without notes recently and that, while the congregation much preferred his engagement with them, he was becoming lazy in preparation and over-long with wordiness. Of course, preaching without notes properly requires more preparation than ever and works best with a carefully prepared manuscript, written for the ear, which provides disciplined structure for internalizing (not performance-based memorization) preaching without notes.

I admit at the outset that these dangers are real (and perhaps you can add some more).  YET, I strongly believe preachers should take preaching without notes seriously.  Look out for some more posts! 


Anonymous said...

I agree, going without notes is hardly "winging it." As a lawyer, I find it takes far more preparation than knowing I can just read it from a prepared text. That said, I still write it out and work through a process that reduces itself from manuscript to reminder bullet points and then to total internalization. I can then focus on the audience rather than the text, even adapting, if need be, to an unexpected response. That is the greatest value in my mind to doing this without notes.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Quicke - Whilst I wholeheartedly admire this approach - I wonder if there has been any research into what "preaching without notes" looks like for introvert preachers?

As an introvert preacher, I find preaching without notes incredibly difficult, as introverts cannot typically speak so easily unscripted (or at least when talking to a large congregation). I find that if I am to do preach without notes, then a great deal of memorization is required - which takes time away from other ministry during the week. I would rather loosely rely on a script on Sunday, which gives me more time to engage in other ministy from Monday-Friday.

Do you know of any introverts who preach well without notes, and who don't memorize the whole sermon (I have heard of some who actually do this in order to preach without notes!).

Ros H said...

Matt says congregations who can suffer longer sermons attract more patient people. Ros