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In Order to Speak Well Without Notes…Write More

8 December 2008

In my present quest to preach more and more without notes, I came across an old volume entitled, “Conditions of Success in Preaching Without Notes.”  It was written by Richard S. Storrs. It arose out of a three day lectureship (spread over three weeks) at Union Theological Seminary Jan. 13, 20 & 27, 1875 and was published later that year.

Much of the first lecture is anecdotal, but he gives several conclusions.  One that I find interesting is that if you are going to preach well without notes, it is important  that you write regularly. 

He words it this way:  “Always be careful to keep up the habit of writing, with whatever of skill, elegance and force you can command.”

He discusses the importance of being familiar with and using a broad vocabulary.  He uses several such words (some of which I have never heard!!)

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He goes on:

We cannot be always using such words.  The plainer are better for common service.  But when these richer, remoter words, come into the discourse, they make it ample and royal.  They are like glittering threads of gold, interwoven with the commoner tissue.  There is a certain spell in them, for the memory, the imagination.  Elect hearers will be warmed and won by them.  But we cannot get such words, and keep them except by writing.  Reading will put them into our hands.  Only careful writing separates, signalized, infixes them in the mind, makes then out possession forever.  We pass over them as we read. We pick them out, with the pen

So always be careful to write, habitually; not sermons, necessarily; essays, analyses, articles for papers, lectures if you like—whatever most attracts you to the use of the pen.

You will need the constant discipline of such writing to enable you to form sentences rapidly and securely,—sentences which shall be firm, well=proportioned, consistent, complete.  nothing is more absolutely fatal to the impression of a spoken discourse than a succession of halting broken-backed sentences.  They are like broken-winged birds, hindering the flight of the whole flock; almost like broken rails on the track, which fling the entire train into a heap.  When subject and predicate, protasis & apodosis are jumbled together in inextricable confusion or are hopelessly disjoined from each other, no one will long try to follow the speaker. At the beginning of every sentence one should be able to look at the end of it, that he himself may be carried on, and his hearers with him, with ease and steadfastness, to its foreseen conclusion.

I believe that in this blog, I have found an important tool in preaching better.  Not just in the content that I expose myself to and try to share highlights/excerpts with you, gentle reader.  ;-)  But the act of forcing myself to get my “’daily pages” in (a writing term) forces me into the habit of expressing the flow of words that is necessary to preaching without notes.

Perhaps more on this later. 

Extemp Preaching, words

2 Comments to “In Order to Speak Well Without Notes…Write More”

  1. Cal, I think this post has a good point. I preach without notes, but as part of my preparation write out a full manuscript, which is what gets put out if people want written copies. The vocabulary, prose, syntax, etc… in it are much more complex than the spoken version – where I try to communicate the ideas simply. Rather than type a transcript of that, I make both available and sometimes people enjoy the differences between the two. In line with the post, I find the writing process helpful to me, both for the richer vocab and expression of thought and for helping internalize the message so that I can go without notes later.

    In Christ,
    Robert Austell
    http://gspcsermons.blogspot.com
    Charlotte, NC

    *If perchance you check out the blog (which has both versions), this past Sunday (12/7) is not an example as I was very ill and read my manuscript. 🙂

  2. That perhaps is the best option of all, if you can discipline yourself to leave the manuscript out of the pulpit. I am not sure that I am disciplined enough (or secure enough) to do it. I would be tempted to “take it for am emergency, but not look at it”. Of course, that would mean I would revert to it. But as I said, that option is perhaps the best one of all. Thanks for commenting.

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