Let’s be clear.
The best method to preach is without notes. Everyone knows that. But if you must use notes, I believe there are some ways which are better than others. Let me say something else here at the beginning. Is this really the best method out there? The best method is the one that works really well for you.
To begin with, let’s review some of the more popular ways that people preach with notes:
1. A full manuscript
With this method, the preacher fully writes out everything he/she will say. The manuscript might be in a binder or a loose stack of paper. I’ve found that it’s extremely hard to preach well with a manuscript in front of you. The biggest temptations for preachers I’ve coached is to read from the manuscript instead of occasionally taking a peek to see what’s coming next.
I will say that Pastor Dwight Nelson, my senior pastor, uses a manuscript extremely well. Out of anyone I’ve seen that uses a manuscript, he’s the best. He uses a lot of quotations in each message, so this is an effective method for him. He’s not attached to the manuscript and internalizes the message really well. But I would discourage this method for 99% of speakers out there. The vast majority just cannot do it well because they’re tempted to stay behind the pulpit or to read the manuscript.
2. An outline
This method is much better than having a manuscript. It forces you to internalize the message before hand and to be more connected to the audience. It’s part of my eight step process for developing a message. You can read that post here.
Here’s what I ask my preaching students: do you want to be impressive or memorable? In other words, if you have a full manuscript on the pulpit you can usually alliterate in impressive ways and have finely crafted word-smithed phrases and sentences. But most people have to look down at their message to deliver the fancy stuff; they can’t do it from memory.
However, if you know that you don’t have every word written out and just have an outline, you know that there’s no safety net. There’s nothing there to catch you. You might have a sentence or a phrase to remind you of the next sentence and that’s it. Because of that, you’ll be making more eye-contact with the audience, which in turn will lead to a much more memorable message.
It’s all about sacrifice. Something always has to give. I would rather not have the really fancy-sounding stuff, but connect more with the audience.
If you have notes at your pulpit, this is much better than a manuscript, but you still have to come back to the pulpit.
3. An iPad with notes or manuscript on there
This method has been gaining in popularity for the past few years. The idea is that someone will have their manuscript or outline on their iPad. The benefit of this is that there aren’t physical pages to turn to distract. The negative is that there are digital pages to turn to distract. I saw someone preach with their iPad one time. It was clear that they had gotten several pages into their message without having to look at the manuscript on their iPad, but they then went to their iPad at the pulpit, and you could see them flipping through several pages with their thumb while we waited. It was not discreet. It was distracting and I think defeated the purpose.
Yes, swiping is easier and more discreet than turning pages, but it can be just as distracting.
Dwight Nelson taught me this: wherever your eyes turn as the speaker, the audience’s eyes will turn there as well. If you’re flipping through pages on a device, our eyes will be drawn to your device.
I will say that there are some speakers out there that do a really good job with an iPad, though.
4. A stack of notes
Here’s where we start to get a lot warmer into the areas that I think are more effective.
A) Loose notes in your Bible. There’s several prominent preachers that use this method. I’ve seen them do it really well. I suppose my issue with this method is that I’d be scared of them falling out and creating a scene.
B) Notes paper clipped into pages in your Bible. I saw Pastor Karl Haffner speak a few months ago at PMC. He’s the senior pastor of the Kettering College church. He delivered a very effective message. What I noticed is that he had pages paper-clipped into his Bible. This allowed him to be away from the pulpit and walk around resulting in a very effective message. It was a flawless message, really. The only thing that stood out to me–I was probably the only one who noticed because I analyzing the mechanics of the delivery–is that I could see the shine from the paperclips, which proved slightly distracting for me.
So what is the best method?
Seeing Karl Haffner preach, and talking to him about it afterwards, gave me an idea: tape the notes into your Bible.
Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned in developing this process:
1. Use an outline. If you have the manuscript in there it will defeat the purpose. Just an outline is enough if you have your message internalized.
2. Tape into your Bible using removable tape. If you use regular tape, it will be really hard to remove and you’re likely to tear your Bible. Believe me, I’ve done it. Which tape should you use? I use Scotch Removable Tape by 3M. It uses the same stickiness that your average sticky note has. It can stick to anything, yet removes easily. I ordered mine here.
3. I include all Bible texts in the notes I tape into the Bible. Some may not feel comfortable doing this and that’s fine. I never believed in doing this in the past myself. I felt it was a little more respectful or holy to have the Scripture reference written down in my notes and to look up every one separately. But then I tried it and was hooked. Why? Because it minimized distractions on my part. I didn’t have to be flipping pages. I didn’t have to look in one direction to my notes and then look in another direction in my Bible. Instead, it’s all there in my hands.
4. Quotations from a resource keep on a separate piece of paper. If you’ll be interacting with a quote for a few minutes it’s nice to be able to leave your Bible and notes behind and just take a small paper or notecard with the quote with you. This is beneficial for a few reasons:
A) It frees you up
B) It gives people a sense that something different is happening. It’s like a mini commercial break.
Is this process deceptive?
Allow me to address an issue that some might be thinking about. Is going through all this process deceptive? Are you trying to hide that you have any notes at all? For me, it’s not about trying to come across as having a photographic memory. It’s about helping people to listen to and receive the message. It’s about getting out-of-the-way. The more distractions you have, the more distracted the people will be. Plain and simple. People will know that you have some notes there anyway, especially if you’re not turning the page for every different Scripture.
Can you show me what this looks like?
I’ve included a few things. Below I have a video of myself of the first time I used this method a few months ago.
I’ve also included a few pictures so you can see what the notes actually look like inside my Bible.
If you look below you can notice a few things. I have all my verses right there. I have a line or two to remind myself of certain things for different sections. I also have a reminder for myself that I have the quote on the side of the Bible. By the way, I also have the quote there in the notes in case the quote falls out of my Bible.
Here is the next page of notes. Again, it includes my Scriptures, a quote, as well as my main idea.
Here is one of the quotes I had taped on the inside of my Bible. When I came to that point in the message I just grabbed it out of the Bible and walked away from the pulpit to read it.
So far I’ve used this method a few different times and feel like I have delivered better messages as a result. Again, is it the best message out there? I think the best method is whatever works best for you. This certainly is the best method for me at the moment.