Does Your Manuscript Serve Your Sermon? (pt 3)

November 8, 2010

Previously I’ve suggested that our manuscripts serve our sermons when they are easy on the eye and when they are marked for preaching, not just reading.

Today we add a third point. Manuscripts serve our sermon when they are relatively inconspicuous.

Several things should be considered here:

1) Is my manuscript too large? Generally, a manuscript will be less conspicuous the smaller it is. Those who can find ways of slipping their manuscript within the confines of their bible, for example, will draw less attention to their notes than those notes which obviously protrude.

2) Do I look too much at my manuscript? Perhaps this is the main way we make our manuscripts conspicuous. The more we read from our notes, the more the congregation will be aware of them. The easiest way to make our manuscripts less noticeable is look at them less.

3) How inconspicuously do I move from page to page? Unless you are able to fit all your notes on to one sheet, the challenge arises of how to move from page to page without drawing too much attention. Turning pages not only draws attention to our manuscripts. It can downright distract from the sermon. This is a problem, because we want people to be thinking about our message, not our manuscript.  So how can we be less obvious in the way we move pages?  Some suggestions:

  • Maintain eye contact when turning pages. During the last sentence of each page, turn the page while still looking at the congregation. If you are looking at your notes while turning the page, it is much more obvious. Do the page shift while speaking mid-sentence and maintaining eye contact.
  • Consider sliding pages. This saves you from turning the sheet which brings the paper into the eye line of the congregation. Slide the page you’ve just used to the left, and then slide it under to the bottom of the pile. This is much less conspicuous.
  • Try using a folder. This is what I use.  Not only does such a folder prevent you from getting pages out of order (sometimes this can happen accidentally when sliding sheets) but I find the pages much easier to turn. Although I do turn (rather than slide) pages, because the pages are in a folder sheath I can bend the pages over in a subtle way.


At the end of the day, sermon manuscripts will not make or break a sermon. Sermon manuscripts are not the key to edifying the saints; nor do they impinge on the sovereignty of God in conversion. The key is to preach the Word, not organise our notes better.

Nonetheless, a better format of sermon manuscript can significantly improve a preacher’s communication. If developing more useful notes helps us speak with greater clarity (while not distracting the congregation in the process) then that surely can’t be a bad thing.


  1. I use A4 paper, landscape, divided by three. I usually have 6 or 7 pieces on very light card stacked next to my Bible. As I finish a piece, I jam it under the bible.

  2. You can buy your folder for only £1.59 at Rymans in Edinburgh or online: http://www.ryman.co.uk/0725800540/Tiger-Presentation-Display-Book-A5-20-Pockets/Product


  3. When typing out my message, I do so in an ‘oral text’ format: one idea for each line. this greatly reduces repetition (which I am naturally bad at), and it enables me to maintain good eye contact.

  4. Thanks for all the comments. Its interesting to hear all the different ways that people do it.

    Thanks Adam!!

  5. Have you seen John MacArthur manuscript? I have. Held it in my hand. Hand written. Fits him well.

    I use a full manuscript hand printed. And I really do not try to hid it from the people. Nor do I necessary try not looking at the notes. My wife doesn’t like it a lot. But, I am working on it, after 40 years I am getting a little better.

  6. Charles,

    I’ve seen MacArthur’s manuscript, at the back of his book “Preaching.” He has good penmanship!

  7. Thanks for the tips. I’ve been discouraged from using folders with plastic sleeves because of the potential for glare. Would live to know what other speech writing books or resources you would recommend. Though I don’t want that to overshadow my work on p reaching God’s word.

    • From my days as student, sitting in the balcony looking down on Eric Alexander preaching, I learned that he used A5 notes or smaller, slid them to the back of the pile, but rarely looked at them and made loads of eye contact. It is a model I have tried to use ever since.

  8. […] Does Your Manuscript Serve Your Sermon? (pt 3) « unashamed […]

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