Though I scribble on lots of paper throughout the week, even at times writing out paragraphs or sections, and though I am on my computer a lot, hammering out several pages of notes or refining sentences and phrases, I generally only take a single page of notes to the platform. This page is my “map,” and it primarily contains two key things: 1) Phrases or pictures the sheep will see, and 2) the “triggers” the shepherd sees (that’s me!). Why? For me, all I need is a word, phrase, picture or thought from my weeks of study to steer me. Once I’m pointed that way, typically the notes, stories, comments, illustrations, quotes, and other “vehicles” we use to explore the text rush to my mind. Furthermore, this serves as a “safety net” for times when I simply forget what’s up next and need a quick glance to remind me. This is what the map does for me. (See a sample of the notes I take to the platform here)
Though I don’t “memorize” the message, I’ve discovered that most, if not all, of what I need to say is remembered “automatically” because I’m in the passage for multiple weeks. So I really don’t “memorize” it, but there is this sense that things just stick in my head and heart from repeated reading and writing throughout multiple weeks. This is another reason I favor advance planning and preparation; it gives plenty of time for you to “own” the message, not just drone on in a heartless speech.
There are, however, two things I usually memorize: 1) the flow of the map in general, and 2) my transition statements. Because I tend to preach a little longer than most, and because I usually take questions from the flock during the message (usually texted in, but sometimes asked aloud), I find it very important, from a human perspective, to make the on-and-off ramps smooth. My opinion is that preachers tend to lose people at transitions — i.e., when there seems to be no connections between the thoughts, people start disconnecting from the thoughts — so these are important junctions and intersections for me. Specifically, my transitions will often take the form of a question (i.e., “Maybe you’re wondering how that can be true?” or “So what does that look like?” and the like), or I will try and use an -ly word (i.e., conversely, additionally, frankly, etc) as I try and get inside the mind of the listener, curious how he or she would likely respond to what I just said.
One other comment. I make lots of notes and signs in my Bible throughout my study days, and because I use a small-sized, hard-copy Bible that is readable and holdable when I preach, this serves as a super set of triggers as well. So as I’m preaching, I can work through a text without being behind the sacred desk and still have most of my “reminders” right in front of me. No, I don’t use a wide-margin version, but I usually use blue ink so that my words and notes are clearly distinguished from the black print.
In short, this is my process: INGESTION – FORMATION – DIGESTION – PROCLAMATION.
Chronologically, it could be summarized like this:
- Know thematically what you’re going to preach for the next 12 months.
- Know textually where you’re preaching from for the next 4-6 weekends, and work on them each week.
- Know generally what you want to say this next weekend by Tuesday.
- Know specifically how you want to say it this next weekend by Thursday.
Well, for the soon-to-be pastors and young preachers who ask and wonder, that’s my monthly and weekly routine. I remind you it took years to “fall” into the pattern that worked well. Too often I tried to copy others, be someone else, or force a famous pastor’s template onto me. Once I stopped that, the Lord was able to mold me into who he needed me to be, and I stopped trying to make myself into who I wanted to be like. So take what you can from these posts, glean some nuggets, but don’t copy me. Instead, let God create in you!