As a preacher, I love my manuscript. I appreciate carefully crafted and well thought out words and phrases. I find it easier to get my thoughts across, and make sure I say what needs to be said, if I have them written in front of me. There may be times I decide to add a little, or perhaps even skip over a sentence or two, but I appreciate the comfort and reassurance I feel from having what I'm going to say tangibly in front of me.
This can sometimes lead to a little too much dependence on the manuscript, however. I understand the importance of eye contact and engaging your audience, and know how boring it can be to sit through a pastor that reads his sermon rather than preach it. But that doesn't always keep me from loving my manuscript too much. In my preaching class at seminary last year, one of the first words out of the professor's mouth when I had finished preaching in front of the class was, "What a glorious day it will be when Mark becomes less dependent on his manuscript!"
I've definitely made progress. Members of the congregation have repeatedly told me that they've seen improvement in this area as the year has progressed. But Supervising, who preaches sans manuscript, encourages every one of his interns to try preaching without one, as well. In my Learning Service Agreement, which is basically some learning and professional goals set for the year, the first goal on the page is to become less dependent on my manuscript. So, it is something I want to work towards.
But I wasn't wanting to do it today.
You see, I procrastinated writing this sermon almost as long as I possibly could. I found excuse after excuse to aid me in this cause. Monday was my day off. Of course I will do no work that day! Tuesday I had a funeral, so as it should be, all my time was spent with the details that needed doing for that. Wednesday... well, I didn't have much of an excuse as to why I didn't work on it on Wednesday... and my excuses kind of fall apart every day after that. But, I suppose at the time they seemed very real and very convincing. Which is why all day Friday and Saturday morning were spent frantically working on the sermon.
So come time to preach the sermon, and of course I'm not too familiar with it. But I preached it Saturday night, and as I went along I came across parts that, had I run through it previously, I would have figured out didn't flow correctly or seemed to be a little out of place in their current spot in the manuscript. It needed a little tuning up. After church yesterday evening, I read through my sermon, moved some stuff around, took some stuff out and added some other stuff. Much better! I printed it off, paper clipped it together and sat it on my desk.
That brings us to this morning, and our 8am worship service. Things were going a little less than smooth during that service. I got up front to do announcements. As I began talking to the congregation, I realized that my voice wasn't carrying as much as normal. I asked them if my microphone was on. A couple members answered that they didn't believe so. I took the microphone out of my pocket and flicked the switch back and forth. Nothing. I opened the battery hatch, and there was indeed a battery inside. Unfortunately, it had passed away. So, I turn to Supervising and say, "My battery's dead." The congregation laughs. Supervising ran back and grabbed me a new battery as I did the announcements with my outside voice.
There were a few other difficulties during the service, but nothing unforgivable. But then it came time to preach my sermon. I'm going along, really appreciating how this sermon is flowing and how it meshes together much better. But as I keep flipping pages, I think that it doesn't feel as if there is as many pages as their should be. My manuscript felt thicker yesterday. Well, it turns out that I had shortened the sermon a bit, and took out more than I added in. So there were a couple less pages because of that (I increase the font to a large size, and double space the lines, so it's easier to read and doesn't require too much concentration or focus on the page) and, oh yeah, I was missing the last page of my sermon.
As I'm going along and preaching what should have been the second to last page, I'm frantically wondering what I'm going to do, how I'm going to fix this mess, and WHY IS MY PAGE MISSING? I look at Supervising in the front row, searching for any sign of a sly grin or a victorious gleam in his eye... Nothing. I'm getting closer to the end of the page... I have to figure something out soon... I can't just stop my sermon now... HELP ME!!!!
So I decided to go boldly forward, and to preach what I could remember. Of course my body reacted to this unexpected change. I tensed up a bit. My voice grew a bit softer and shakier. Supervising told me later it was as if someone had punched me in the stomach (it's always pleasant to hear that you were preaching like someone who'd just been punched. You should have someone tell you that, sometime). But I remembered most of what I wanted to say, at least the general message, and finished the sermon. A few people asked what had happened, and I explained, and that seemed to make them appreciate the sermon even more. As it turns out the printer must have just run out of paper and stopped, unable to continue printing my sermon.
So I began to consider what I should do for our 10:30 service. Do I print off the missing material so that I have it for the next go round? That was the most tempting option, and it would have been easy to do. But I decided that since I had unexpectedly had to preach my last page without it written in front of me, and had done a successful (if not aesthetically pleasing) job, that since I would be expecting it this time it would be much easier. So I didn't print off the last page, and I preached it from memory. There were a few nervous behaviors, but for the most part my voice remained steady and strong and I maintained good eye contact with the congregation.
So, what have I learned from this? That I am, indeed, capable of preaching without a manuscript. It is something that is very much within my power and capabilities to do. Though it is also something that needs a little more preparation before I try riding without the training wheels for support. But just as any bike rider knows, eventually the training wheels come off and the bike rides much more smoothly and quickly after that.