Does Your Manuscript Serve Your Sermon? (Pt 1)

November 5, 2010

When it comes to the matter of sermon manuscripts, I’m tempted to say – borrowing Paul’s expression on another matter – that “each man should be fully convinced in his own mind.”  It continues to amaze me: the variety of notes, folders and scraps, that men take into the pulpit as their ‘prompt’ for preaching.

Although I dare not tread on the toes of other preacher’s methods, I would humbly suggest, however, that expositors should ensure their sermon notes actually work for them. Sermon notes – as the proverb goes –  are good servants but bad masters.

The truth is that some forms of sermon manuscripts are more of a hinderance than a help to sermon delivery! Unfortunately, because a man has worked with a familiar (yet unhelpful) manuscript since seminary days, he is fearful of changing his ways.

Could that be you?

How, then, might we evaluate our sermon manuscripts? I would insist that sermon manuscripts serve the sermon when

  • they are easy on the eye
  • they are marked for preaching, not just reading
  • they are (relatively) inconspicuous

Today I’ll touch on the first of these:

1)  Sermon manuscripts serve your sermon when they are easy on the eye.

Remember, during the sacred act of preaching you will typically be ‘glancing’ at your sermon-notes, not studying them at a nose-length. So how easy is your manuscript to read? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate its legibility? If your answer is anything under 8/10, consider the following:

a) Wordprocessor – The advent of word-processors has made life a whole lot easier for many pastors. Hitherto, we were at the mercy of our own handwriting. For those whose penmanship was virtually illegible, the manuscript proved hard to decipher. There need be no such problem today.  Of course, many pastors will still choose to hand-write sermons, especially if it has been there practice over the years. But those whose writing is will be wise to use the clarity provided by modern technology.

b) Font size – Maybe it goes without saying. But I’ll say it. Our font size must be big enough to see easily. Much will depend on the quality of our eye sight. I personally find that TimesRoman size 12 is easily discernible  – but for others, we might want to think  about pushing the number up to a 13, 14, or even 16 points (!). At one stage, I tried dropping my font down to an 11 size but found myself squinting too much. Too big is much better than too small.

c) Document size – A4 is possibly the most common size of manuscript preachers seem to use. Like the ESV, it seems to have the ascendency at the moment; so I say the following advisedly. Personally, I have found A4 to be too sizeable a page space. Some years ago, I dropped down to A5 size. More pages are obviously required (I use about 20 A5, compared with 10-12 on A 4) but the great plus of A5 for me is that I simply find it easier to follow. There are not so many words on the page. Sentences are not as wide. I don’t lose my place so easily.

d) Spacing – Sometimes we forget that the sermon manuscript is not an essay to be read by others. It is for our benefit. Therefore, we should use the layout in a way that makes things simpler, more easy on the eye for ourselves. James C Humes, a speech-writer, once convinced me of the value of writing out sermons like poetry, not prose (see Speak Like Churchill; Stand Like Lincoln). Though I don’t follow his approach wholesale, I try to keep single thoughts to one line, and put parallel thoughts beneath each other.

For example, rather than spacing things as follows:

It was a single command. It was a simple command. And it was a serious command. Indeed, the Lord had solemnly warned that, to ignore this command, would mean death.

Instead try:

It was a single command.

It was a simple command

It was a serious command

(Indeed, the Lord had solemnly warned that,

to ignore this command, would mean death).


2) Sermon manuscripts serve your sermon when they are marked for preaching, not just reading.

3) Sermon manuscripts serve your sermon when they are [relatively!] inconspicuous.



  1. […] Workman « Does Your Manuscript Serve Your Sermon? (Pt 1) Does Your Manuscript Serve Your Sermon? (pt 2) November 6, 2010 The second proposal is […]

  2. I like to use A4 so that I am not continually shuffling sheets of paper, but I divide it into two columns, to make the lines shorter and thus easier to read (that’s why newspapers have columns).
    I also agree with the formatting like poetry. I do this especially for scripture readings, which I am reading in a foreign language (Russian) it makes it much easieк for me to read smoothly and seperates out the phrases.
    Although I preach in Russian, I write my notes in English, which helps me remember my thoughts, but ensures that I am not reading!

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