I thought I’d spend a few posts here on Pomomusings reflecting on preaching, something that I don’t get to do every week as an Associate Pastor, but something I do enough that the topic is on my mind often.
Many of you may recognize the photo above: it’s Miller Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary. I preached there once (watch the video here).
But before I went to seminary, I had done some “preaching” and some preaching. Let me explain. I spent my first two summers during college working at Camp Sawtooth, a Presbyterian Church (USA) church camp just north of Ketchum, Idaho. After serving on staff for a couple years, I got invited back to be the Camp Dean for certain camps. The Camp Dean had to give morning chapel and evening campfire “talks.” I made intricate outlines, listing every one of my 20 points per 45-minute talk…yah, I still pray for the kids who sat through those “talks” of mine.
I remember one week of camp…it was the FIRST NIGHT of camp, and I was supposed to do the “Hey everyone – welcome to camp, this is going to be a great week” talk. It turned into a 45 minute….well, I don’t know what it was. But I do remember that it was close to 45 minutes long.
After college, I also got to preach at the church I served as Director of Youth Ministries. I still have the outlines I made for those sermons…and they’re long. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed sitting through those early sermons of mine.
I was long-winded. I rambled. I got off on tangents.
But…what I could do…was preach from a rough outline, and I felt comfortable with that. Folks encouraged me and said they appreciated my style (sure, maybe they were just being kind, but still…).
And then I went to seminary. Now, I say that seminary killed my preaching style. And if that means that I’m not preaching long-winded tangent-laden sermons that don’t necessarily have a point…then I guess that’s a good thing.
Princeton taught me to preach from a manuscript. Before going to seminary, I had always felt like that was cheating. Who uses a manuscript?! Well, I would begin to use one at Princeton Theological Seminary, that’s for certain.
And after graduating, and now having served two churches after seminary, I can assure you that I have always preached with a manuscript since then. And, it’s not all bad. It helps me keep the length to a fairly predictable length, which I enjoy. It helps me craft the sermon the way I want folks to hear it (of course, there is always the Holy Spirit who likes to mess things up sometimes), and it probably does make me a better preacher.
And at least in my experience, while I preach from a manuscript, I still have a more casual, conversational tone in my delivery, and that feels better to me.
But, I really do want to move away from preaching via a manuscript. I want to be able to think about, craft and be really comfortable with a sermon, so that I can preach it from just a few notes for an outline. I think it will give me more freedom, and I think that it will help give me even more of a “conversational tone” for my delivery.
Seminary taught me a lot about preaching that was helpful, but I think it also took away some of the freedom & “casualness” of my preferred sermon delivery method.
Anyone else stuck in this type of a conundrum? Have you found helpful ways to move away from manuscript preaching?