Sunday, November 08, 2009

Skydiving with an Outline

Ogre said, "I want to hear more about the first steps on that path to no manuscript."

First, you have to really want it. It is definitely skydiving without a parachute. Well, not entirely -- that would be preaching without any notes. I still had my one page outline, even if it was on the lectern behind me.

Is it worth it? Oh yeah! Warning: it just may ruin ya for using a manuscript. Today, I guest-preached at one of my favorite little churches. I was doing a sermon I've given at other churches; it is heavy with the quotes, so I wasn't even going to attempt to not use my manuscript.


I mean, they liked it, it seemed to go well. But for me, it was like the difference between giving pastoral care over the phone versus sitting next to the person. There is an intimacy that comes from eye contact, and when you have less time looking down at notes and more time with the eye contact ... and even better, when you can roam down next to people ... it's addictive, I tell ya.

So, how to do it?

1) You do have a manuscript as a part of the process. In Power in the Pulpit: How America's Most Effective Black Preachers Prepare Their Sermons edited by Cleophus James LaRue, most of the preachers talk about manuscript as an important part of their process. By writing out a manuscript -- not just an outline -- you find the rhythm of the sermon, and you find particular turns of phrase that you want to be sure to remember.

2) After that, create your "pulpit outline." I learned to do it on one page, horizontal layout, two columns, like a book. (Because I'm at a Christian seminary, and many of the preachers here will put their outline in their bible.) This includes a little information about your introduction, the proposition/big idea of your sermon, the main points, and any examples/illustrations. And info on your conclusion.

3) Memorize your introduction. Whereas the rest of the sermon, you can work from your bullet points, you want your introduction to be smooth and well-memorized. This will give you the comfort and confidence to relax and enjoy preaching the rest of your sermon.

For me, the above book was liberating, because one point that was made (by several of the preachers, as I recall) was "Look -- by not using a manuscript, you probably will drop something here or there. But it's okay. This gives you the freedom to include in things that just hit you there as you're preaching."

I am, first and foremost, a writer. Doing a sermon this way taught me the important lesson of "Get OVER yourself. Your words are not so precious that you can't lose a phrase here or there. It's about the lesson, it's about the stories, it's about the application. Using just the exact 'perfect' word is overrated."

My next step: to try using index cards or a very small notebook, so I can carry my main points (and any quotations) with me as I walk away from the pulpit. I felt like there was a bungee cord attaching me to the lectern, as I had to get back to it if I wanted to glance at my outline.

So ... have just preached 3 times in 6 days. Whoo-hoo! Early tomorrow am, I'm leaving on a jet plane to go get my career assessment.

Wonder what they'll tell me I should be when I grow up ...


Anonymous said...

Sending lots of love and blessings with you on your assessment. You are sane and in the right job, and I doubt they will find otherwise.

Liz H.

ogre said...

Dunno about when you grow up, but I think it's clear what you should be doing now.