Two steps forward, one step back. I like preaching. In fact I love preaching. I love the preparation (however much I may whinge), I love the research, I love the thinking, I love the prayer, and I love the fact that my sermons never ever end up quite as I meant them too.
For the last few months I’ve been trying to preach off memory maps. I find it a comfortable way to prepare, and it is much easier for me to see a trigger phrase than if I have a full script. However, it isn’t more comfortable for those who listen. I’ve had some very useful, considered, sensitive feedback to tell me that I am harder to follow. That I generally have a clear train of thought in my preaching, and that train of thought is much less clear if I preach from a mind map. That it sounds as if I don’t know quite where I am going, and so the hearer begins to worry about whether I know myself, rather than listening.
So I’ve reverted back today to a full script. The odd thing about me preaching from a script is that I don’t. I have it in front of me, I scroll down as I go, but I don’t really read what is there. I preach what is there, but often in different words, often with different emphasis, often with a digression or an omission. This is partly because I preach in different places, and what works for a 0930 main Common Worship Holy Communion Service with servers and crucifers and Gospel processions is different to what works for a late morning Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion conducted in a much smaller church in a more intimate way. But also I don’t read because I think God needs room to work in preaching. It’s why the opening prayer is the most important part for me “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen”. The gift of preaching is from God, not from any human talent.
How did it go, being back on script today? I got a lot of positive feedback generally, but people are usually kind about my preaching (and God is gracious!). Today I got some specific, sensitively delivered feedback from a quite different source, saying the same things about when I preached from a mind map, and being very positive about what was heard today. The lesson is clear.
I’ve given a fair bit of thought this week to why the two methods work with such different results, especially given that I am far more comfortable with the less successful method. I think the reason is that when I write a script, I have to preach the sermon in my head, in full. I consider the words. When I draw a mind map, I consider the points I will make, but not the language in which I will make those points, not to the same extent. Having considered the words carefully, I have freedom to deviate. If I am choosing the words for the first time, then the choice may or may not be successful. If I already have a phrase, I can use it, improve it, or discard it. It’s down to the detail of the preparation.
The point of a sermon is what it does for the listener, not what it does for the preacher. I am still wondering whether I can capture the comfort of a mind map and the clarity of a script – but the only obvious way is to have very chunky clumps of words on a mind map, which rather negates the point. On the other hand, if I have a script, then it can be posted on the church website or emailed to someone who asks for it. I’m wondering if there is a way that works for me and for the hearers – but if there isn’t, then discomfort here I come. And discomfort isn’t always bad.