Does Your Manuscript Serve Your Sermon? (pt 2)

November 6, 2010

The second proposal is that sermon manuscripts serve your sermon when they are marked for preaching, not just reading.

My congregation expects me to preach, not read. When preparing my manuscript, therefore, I try to keep in view the high importance of eye-contact throughout the sermon. My goal is to be looking at my notes as little as possible; the congregation as much as possible. My manuscript is for quick-reference only; it is not to be read word by word.¹ Bearing this in mind, we should endeavour to suitably mark our manuscript so that it prompts our thoughts quickly.

How we mark our manuscript to aid the eye is a very individual matter. But let me mention something of my own practice.

a) Paragraphs. I try to follow the rules of good English and keep a single point (or discussion) to each paragraph. For one paragraph, I discuss one thing. I don’t make multiple main points in a paragraph. The advantage of this for preaching?  I don’t need to scrutinise paragraphs too closely, but can usually read the first words of the paragraph to remind myself of the main idea it contains. I can then carry on for a number of sentences on my own steam. Once I’m done, my eye drops to the next paragraph for the next idea in the argument.

b) Spacing. I mentioned some things about this in my previous post. Obviously, the simpler you set out your page, the easier it will be on the eye. Try not to let your notes become a sea of words. Break your sentences into paragraphs (one main idea for each). Use bullet points when you’re making lists or using parallel sentences. Consider double spacing between lines.²

c) Marking words. Another way to make key ideas stand out is to use bold, underline and italics in a systematic fashion. Each preacher must develop their own system. My custom-made approach is as follows:

I embolden the main idea of each paragraph. If I glance down, often the emboldened phrase will be enough of a prompt to recall the next movement in the sermon.

Italicize, in my case, has come to mean that I should stress a certain word. For example:

“How often in the Scriptures do we see the adjective holy in connection with the Spirit? How rarely just ‘the Spirit’. How typically the Holy Spirit.”

Underline is something I use basicallyto  tell me to ‘slow down’. Often when I’m directly applying the message to the congregation (about 1/3 of the sermon) I will underline my words. This reminds me: don’t rush this bit.

d) Highlighting. Rarely nowadays do I use highlighting to mark my manuscript. But having used it in the past, I know it is effective. In this case you might highlight the key thought in each paragraph (much like the function of my embolden in point c). Alternatively, you might put coloured marks down the margin of the page. Bryan Chapell recommends this.³ So for instance, you might put green marks next to paragraphs of explanation, yellow marks next to paragraphs of illustration, and red marks next to paragraphs of application. Again these are merely prompts for the eye and jogs for the memory.


¹ I should qualify this. I think it is usually good for preachers to be looking down when reading the Scriptural text or quoting from it. It sends an implicit signal that the preacher is deriving his sermon from the text of Scripture, not his imagination. Furthermore, there are times when the content of a sermon is so sensitive that it may be wise for the preacher to read certain portions of his address, in order to get his words exactly right (eg. when preaching on divorce). One final reason for the breaking of eye contact would be in the case of a quotation: it is obviously important to quote someone correctly.

² Many preachers find double spacing exceptionally useful for making their manuscripts easier to read. For some strange reason that has not been effective for me. I actually find double spacing confusing to my eye!  Again, we must adapt to our own idiosyncrasies. Ordinary spacing between lines is most productive in my case.

³ See Christ Centred Preaching.

Previous post: Does your manuscript serve your sermon? pt 1.)


  1. Here are my onstage notes. If I ever go color-blind I am doomed. (http://www.worshiptrench.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/sample-color-sermon-page.pdf)…..read my prep methods here http://www.worshiptrench.com/?p=778. Love to interact on them.

  2. This was really helpful. Thanks

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