Patterson (and Spurgeon) on Preaching without Notes

Today at the Mullins lecture series luncheon, Dr. Patterson defended his view on preaching without notes.

I didn’t take notes, so I might have forgotten something; but his main arguments were:

1. It aids your ability to think on your feet.

2. It causes you to have to be in God’s presence, and truly internalize the message until it is like fire in your bones.

3. It gives you more freedom to leave the pulpit, etc.

4. It gives your sermon a sense of authority that does not come from reading a manuscript.

5. Another thing he said was that a preacher ought to be so saturated in the Scriptures, that he ought to be able to preach on any passage of Scripture at any time .

Now, I would guess that Dr. Patterson did not persuade many who were there, but I think we should not dismiss it out of hand. He has a point.

Consider Spurgeon’s words:

The most arduous and commendable plan [for preaching] is to store your mind with matter upon the subject of discourse, and then to deliver yourself with appropriate words which suggest themselves at the time. This is not extemporaneous preaching; the words are extemporal, as I think they always should be, but the thoughts are the result of research and study.

Now, this is not necessarily a “without notes” type of method for Spurgeon. However, the nugget is very similar to Patterson’s point(s).

I think that Patterson’s point might well help to counter-balance a stiff and lifeless preaching that has no sense of the Spirit of power. I myself will probably preach (as I have in the past) with notes still, but I also think we must take the issue of saturating ourselves in the text seriously.


About Danny Slavich

I am a Christian husband, father, pastor, and poet. I lead Pembroke Road Baptist Church a multi-cultural, multi-generational church in urban South Florida.
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5 Responses to Patterson (and Spurgeon) on Preaching without Notes

  1. Ben says:

    You forgot 6) — if you’re not constantly looking down at your notes, you have a better chance of spotting that Zebra grazing in the foyer.

  2. Tato says:

    7. You can see all the people who are sleeping. Every time I preach there is at least one (usually an older person or a student or a staff member).

  3. Tato says:

    Also… I personally like moving around and getting away from my notes I think it helps me slow down my words. But, I like having notes so I can remember specific wording and stuff if needed.

  4. These are good thoughts on extempraneous preaching. Spurgeon hit it on the head as far as letting the word infuse your heart and head. I stopped using notes about two years ago. Before that I only used a 3×5 card with an outline. I have found that this style has largely to do with gifting. While I think reading your sermon to the body of Christ is a sin (little joke there…), some are made to be so insecure about making a mistake that they end up in bondage. That bondage leads to too much caution and that caution leads to playing to “no loose” rather than win.

    I challenge every preacher that loves Jesus to take your manuscript and set it aside on Friday afternoon (if it’s done!). Then find a pre-Christian (aka “lost” but I never use that word to describe a friend) teenager and tell him or her face to face what your sermon is about. Pay them five bucks to sit through it if you must. You’ll find that you’ll be talking rather than preaching and you’ll flex and adapt your words to your one-on-one audience.

    This is the essence of preaching without notes.

  5. dslavich says:

    Thanks for you thoughts here. That’s an interesting method on preaching one on one to a lost teenager.

    Personally, I find that using notes helps me. I think you make a good point when you say that it is a gifting-based decision.

    Ultimately, the Spirit is sovereign enough to work through preachers who use notes and preachers who don’t. It’s his work.


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