I am a manuscript preacher, sort of. Usually manuscript preachers write out the sermons in full and then take them to the pulpit and preach from them, word-for-word. I am a manuscript preacher in that I write out my sermons in full (most of the time). But I rarely take my manuscript to the pulpit. I would quite say that I memorize my sermons anymore, either. I use a word association method to remember the major progression of my argument. Likewise, most of my sermons are verse-by-verse expositions of some passage. So the structure of the message usually revolves around the text itself. And I have a pretty standard structure for my messages. So, even if the order is changed up somewhat, I still pretty much know what I am trying to do in each major point of the message. Plus, the sermon usually goes through several drafts before I actually preach it. I keep editing it, often right up to the time I have to preach it. I like to write. But as I am going over the message, what looks good on paper doesn’t always sound good to the hear. Thank God for word processors! All of these factors usually don’t free me from having to take my manuscript to the pulpit with me. In fact, sometimes in the message I catch myself making reference to the manuscript. I think it’s because I am usually familiar enough with what’s on the paper that I know when I am deviating from it.
Anyway, that’s what I’m up to today. I am writing out my message for our Midweek Service tonight. I am presently in a series on Psalm 119. And tonight I plan to preach on verses 17-24. Actually, I could go the pulpit and preach the sermon right now, if I had to. But I choose to write it out anyway. I want to present a message that is worthy of what I have learned in the text. And I have come to learn that the congregation won’t have to work so hard to listen to the message if I work hard in preparing it. I don’t like being in the pulpit having to search for words, references, and illustrations. I prefer to think through those things beforehand. That’s not to say that when preach extemporaneously, I not prepared to preach. I don’t go to the pulpit unprepared. I have usually spent quite amount of time before the Lord with my text before I preach it. And I usually have enough material to preach a series of sermons on my text. And that’s the problem. When I write, it helps me to pick the best cross-reference to quote, rather than standing in the pulpit and having seven of them jump out at me. I don’t want to have to pick an illustration while I’m standing there. I want to stand with a fully thought-out message. Then the Lord has the sovereign right to edit in or out of the message what he desires.
There are some preachers you can listen to, some you can’t listen to, and some you must listen to. I strive to be a preacher that people must listen to. So I work pretty hard at my craft. And I can testify that most good preaching is 90 percent preparation, and only 10 percent inspiration. As John MacArthur has said, The difference between the average preacher and great preacher is that great preachers stay in the seat until the hard work is done.” I don’t think I’m trying to be a great preacher anymore. I just want to be clear, faithful, and consistent over the long haul. I’ll let time, providence, and the judgment Seat of Christ just the quality of my work. Anyway, that’s what I’ll be up to today. I’ll be in my seat writing my sermon. It usually takes about 8 hours for me to write out my manuscript, sometimes more, but very rarely less. This does not include all the exegetical research I have done on this passage over the past several days. And let me testify: It’s all been worth it! I can’t wait to get to the pulpit to preach tonight on “Sustaining Grace in God’s Word.” And I can’t wait to start the process all over again. May the Lord bless me to live, keep, and declare his word for many years. And may it bring forth much fruit that lasts to his glory.