Preaching retrograde progress

Crisis? What Crisis?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.



7 responses to “Preaching retrograde progress

  1. really fascinating- I prepare with a mindmap -an A3 plain pad lives on my desk as a jotter/mapper every day -but I do write out not so much a “full” script, but the order & the phrases..
    Id been follwoing your mind map journey -and originally wished Id ditched the fuller script -but I think we’ve learned together the same lesson -that the fuller the preparation the easier it is to deviate from it -rather like the Les Dawson clownish piano skills…
    Back in the day I preached only from bullet points – it was a matter of pride… bad pride I think, I was only 25 , if that. Now I mind map, then I write out , and then preach in whatever words God gives, knowing the options have already been chucked around and worked with…

  2. I was about to begin my comment ‘really fascinating’, but I see fibrefairy has beaten me to it! But it is fascinating to hear the mechanics, to see behind the screen for a moment, of someone who is preaching. I have taught/lectured, but preaching is rather disconcertingly not the same, although it might look like it to an outsider.

  3. “Plans are nothing; planning is everything. Dwight D. Eisenhower”.
    I find something similar applies to my class music teaching: I need to have planned the lesson in detail. I might not actually follow the plans as I envisaged at the time, but a well-planned lesson always flows and connects more smoothly and meaningfully.

  4. When I started preaching, I always had a full script – time, confidence … maybe over confidence? made me think bullet points were the sign of a more experienced preacher. Not so (for me anyway) – I’m a ‘think out loud’ extrovert (for the Myers Briggs fans amongst you!) and I find that ‘thinking out loud’ is not the best strategy for preaching because my first though is not always the best one, the most coherent one or even the right one so full script it is – and yes, deviations happen, stress shifts, God helps out but there’s more direction and actually more substance if it’s been ‘preached’ on the page first …

  5. I love preaching too. I tend to use bullets and sub bullets, lots of them so that it’s almost like writing it out in full. I tend not to use a script for our informal services which worries me somewhat as they are just as important as all the other services. Knowing your parish as I do, I always found that I couldn’t use exactly the same sermon at 9.30 as at 11.15

  6. Fascinating. Sorry, I know that others have used this word already, but it is.

    I have an absolutely atrocious memory for words, Bible references, even the simplest explanation of a theological idea. So, if it’s not written down in full, it doesn’t get preached. (I think we can discern here that I have a significantly different personality type to you!) On two occasions I have had a go at story-telling, sans script, and only to peers. They were two of the most terrifying tutorial sessions I’ve ever encountered, and in both cases, the story lost a lot in transmission.

    Like you however, I love preaching. It is the way I grapple best with what scripture is trying to say to me, but I have to remember to listen and preach on what is being said to the congregation I am preaching to. Both are vital – and are inter-related. However, sometimes the journey is tortuous, as my self-centred conversation with God can drown out what I’m meant to offer to others. To get that inter-relationship right, I have to hear God preaching through me and write it down in full, as I’ve no chance of hearing it as clearly in a busy service. Thus, preparing to preach is for me, one of the most important spiritual experiences I engage in, because it’s where I’m most aware of God.

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