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About Sermon Notes

Last week Dr. Michael Krueger wrote an article that I linked to on Monday in which he discussed the use of a full manuscript when preaching. He was not arguing against having one so much as he was appealing to preachers to avoid using a manuscript in the wrong way. I found his arguments to be helpful. I think this point is especially significant:

One of the major drawbacks of writing a sermon is that very few people can write a sermon in the kind of language that can effectively be preached. What makes for effective written communication is not always what makes for effective oral communication. Indeed, they are often like two different languages–the pace, the style, the cadence, and even the vocabulary can be notably different.

I have a friend who preaches from a full manuscript. He enlarges the font to 28 points and does a good deal of page flipping. But I don’t feel like he is reading the sermon to me. At the same time I’ve also seen preachers – especially younger guys – be so tied to their manuscript that they have little eye contact with their people. When that happens, a sermon is more like someone reading a bedtime story. And it can produce the same result.

While preaching from a manuscript may not be the best, writing one can be helpful. Dr. Krueger says:

The benefits of writing out a full manuscript are many. It forces the preacher to think clearly about each of their points and how to develop them, it helps the preacher think through transitions between points (something often overlooked), it helps keep the sermon within the desired time limit, and the exact wording allows for more theological precision.

I would typically type out a full manuscript, trying my best to write so that it had the same style I used when I was in a conversation. I rarely, if ever, brought that manuscript into the pulpit, but writing it gave me the opportunity to plan what I wanted to say more carefully.

After my full manuscript was complete, I’d boil it down to a working outline. I had a template in Microsoft Word that arranged the margins so I could trim the pages to 9×6 inches. That size fit into my Bible and was less visible and easier for me to fit on the pulpit.

Mine was a typical outline of headings and subheadings, but I would include reminders of things I wanted to stress and full paragraphs here and there if I wanted to be extra sure to state something precisely. If I had a quote or other Scripture on a visual, I would highlight a note to myself in yellow so that I was prompted to advance PowerPoint. I would end up with 3-5 9×6 sheets after trimming them down. So instead of taking 5-6 full-width pages with me, I could look at a smaller, narrower, sheet and that kept me on target.

Some pastors preach without notes. I admire guys who can do that and stay on task. I needed an outline. You may have learned something different, or you may be trying a variety of approaches to learn what works best for you. And in the end, that’s probably the best criteria for determining what kind of notes you use: what works best so that you communicate God’s Word in natural and clear manner?

God’s Boot Camp

I’ve been listening to an audiobook about the battle for Okinawa that took place in the Pacific theater near the end of World War II. A large percentage of our men were between 18-21, some having come right out of high school. It is incredible to read about what the soldiers and marines were up against and what they went through.

Boot camp certainly prepared these men for some of what they would encounter. But it took getting into combat to find out what it was really like. Boot camp was essential. But it was incomplete.

Like members of our military, pastors go through training. Our formal eduction in Bible College or seminary is an important part of our training. Like boot camp, it is essential, but it is also incomplete. For example, you may have had a course on preaching, but you don’t really know how to preach until you’ve done it several times. There’s much that our schooling can give us, but there’s also much that it can’t. Which is why you’ll probably find yourself occasionally saying, “They didn’t teach us this in school.”

So how does a young man in his 20’s or early 30’s (or even older) effectively shepherd people who are older and more experienced? The Bible is a faithful and inerrant guide, and younger pastors are able to share its counsel. But ministry involves more than giving information. It’s helpful to be able to relate in some way to what people experience. But how can you understand what your people are going through when you haven’t lived all that long?

It occurred to me recently that the majority of the pastors that I know have had incidents in their lives early on that have helped prepare them for dealing with those who hurt. We may not know it at the time, but I wonder if God takes us through times of trouble when we are younger so that we can minister more effectively inspire of our youth?

For example, some guys have gone through a relationship breakup. You had plans and those plans fell through. And now you’re sitting with a man whose wife just walked out on him. You can’t relate fully, but you can in part. Younger pastors and their wives sometimes have experienced the tragedy of miscarriage. And now you have to talk to the couple who have lost a child. It’s similar, to be sure, but it’s might not be quite the same thing. But your experience allows you to relate to them. Your first ministry experience may have been a disaster. You may have served in a really tough church, or worked under a heavy-handed and demanding senior pastor. Or you may have experienced failure in some way that has made you question your calling. But you got back in the saddle and God provided another opportunity. Can you see how that experience may have prepared you to talk to those who have gone through struggles and disappointments?

I want to encourage you in two ways.

First, as you look at your life, what experiences have you gone through that may have prepared you to help others with more life experience than you? How did you feel when you went through times of trouble? How can you better connect with others because of what you went through? How did God minister to you? Answering those questions will help you have some connection in many situations, even if your experience and theirs does not parallel.

Second, be careful that you don’t convey the idea that you know what other people are going through or that your experience was worse than theirs. We often say, “I know what you’re feeling.” But we don’t. At least not always.

When I was in college I worked in a machine shop. I was the epitome of the term “unskilled labor.” But I was working for my girlfriend’s father and was being paid over twice what I would have made in most jobs. One of the guys I worked with was in his early 60’s. He was a fellow-believer and we got along really well. John was a great guy, but he had one annoying habit that was known to most of the other guys in the shop: If something happened to you, he could top it.

One day I reached behind a high-speed drill press and got my sleeve caught in the drill bit. Within seconds my shirt was twisted so tight that it actually cut into my arm. One of the other guys ran over and turned off the press, and I was taken to the emergency clinic. As I was walking out, John walked with me saying, “Kid (he always said that), I remember the time when . . .” He was telling me about an injury that he had that was worse than mine.

You don’t want to inadvertently become what comedian Brian Regan calls a “Me Monster.” That doesn’t play well with others, especially when they are hurting.

You may have thought that your education was the equivalent of boot camp. But often the first couple of years of ministry provides training that you need, not just in experience, but in living life. What is preparing you for the battles that may lie ahead?

Tools of the Trade for March 9, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

I hope you had a good weekend of ministry. Here are some articles that are worthwhile reading.

Tim Challies wrote one of the best articles I’ve ever read on pastoral ministry on his blog today. You’ll be blessed by what Tim shares.

We tend not to think about theology when we think about buildings. But we should. The folks at 9Marks posted this article by John Henderson.

This article by Jared WilsonAnxious for Nothing: Addressing the Worry I Can’t Explain – is something you can share with your people as well as read it for yourself.

Another Challies article: When Parents Fail Like We Are Mostly Failing Most of the Time. For your literature table.

Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid give us 7 Tips for Planning a Sermon Series.

Your people wonder how to reconcile our prayers with God’s sovereignty. John Piper provides an answer.

Jen Oshman talks about A Personal vs. Private Relationship with Christ. Good stuff.

Timothy Paul Jones encourages us with Don’t Be Afraid to Preach for Conversions. It’s so important to keep the Gospel and the need to believe it in front of our people!

Amen! Amen! Andrew King says Don’t Bring Your Greek or Hebrew Bible to Corporate Worship.

Here’s a book review of Reformed Preaching by Joel Beeke by Mark Redfern over at 9Marks.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this question, but Michael Krueger gives his opinion on Should You Preach from a Full Manuscript?

Put a dozen copies of this article on your literature table and I’ll bet they’re gone within a week or two. Scott Sauls tells us about Hope for Busted Up Sinners Like Me.

Christy Britton writes This Little Church of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine.

Colton Corter tells us Why Church Members Must Be Theologians. Of course, that means we need to preach and teach them accordingly.

And that does it for this week. I hope something above will be useful to you and your people! God bless you as you serve him this week!

Look Ahead to When You Will Look Back

Most of my closest friends are pastors. There’s a special fraternity that exists among guys in ministry. I would assume that the same sense of camaraderie exists in other lines of work. I remember being in a group where some men in the military were talking. They had their own language, using acronyms that were part of their day-to-day vocabulary. I had no idea what they were talking about. While pastors don’t have their own language, we are probably more inclined to “talk shop” with companions in ministry than we are with those who aren’t. On a practical level, I could bounce ideas off my pastor friends or share problems that I would not, or could not, share with most of the people in my church.

This fellowship among men in ministry is something I’ve written about often, in large part because it’s been so important in my own life. But I was recently thinking about how my circle of friends has gotten more “experienced” (I won’t say older). When we get together, sometimes we look back on past experiences. I thought it would be encouraging to younger guys to let them in on what they have to look forward to when they look back on a couple of decades in ministry.

You’re going to laugh . . .

I have stories. You can’t work with people and not have stories. People are incredible, and they do amazing things – some of which make you shake your head. I wish that I could share my stories on this blog, but it would be inappropriate in many cases. But there are times when I look back, or when a fellow pastor shares a story, and you can’t help but laugh. Not at the people, of course, but at the situation. You get to a point where you think you’ve heard and seen it all. And some of it is the best humor no one will hear.

You’re going to cry . . .

You’re going to cry for your people. From time to time a person will come to mind and you’ll remember their moments of pain or the results of their wrong choices and recall the way you mourned for them. Depending on your personality, you may even shed a tear or two as you look back. You’re also going to cry for yourself. Every once in awhile you’ll recall times when you were hurt, when you were treated badly, when people said things that weren’t kind, helpful, or true. You may have gone through a betrayal or have someone you were close to leave your church over a dispute. Men who are emotionally healthy have dreams about some of those hurts. So plan to shed the occasional tear.

You will have learned . . .

You’re going to look back at some of the sermons you preached and be amazed that people listened to you and came back the next week. If you’ve worked hard at your craft, you will become a better preacher and teacher as the years pass, and you will see that improvement in your sermon notes. So keep them. Even the ones that beg to be discarded.

You will have learned God’s Word in a deeper way. You may lose some of the technical sharpness you had with the languages or finer points of theology, but you will know the Bible so much better because you’ve taught so much of it. You will refine your beliefs. You’ll explore sections of the Bible in ways you couldn’t during your education. You’ll be reading more, studying more, and you’ll have grown in your understanding of Scripture. And if you’ve approached your study in the right way, you’ll have grown in your understanding of God.

You’ll be amazed . . .

You’ll look back and realize that you had nothing special to offer. You were just someone God sovereignly chose to be a tool in building his church. But you’ll think of the lives you touched, the opportunities you had, the privilege you were given to equip your people to know and follow Christ. You’ll be amazed and grateful for the time you spent serving. Not every church experience may have been positive, but you spoke truth into the lives of people who wanted to hear. You ministered to people in their darkest hours, and you bore others’ burdens. There will be some who may tell you that you’ve had an impact on their lives in ways you didn’t even realize.

Of course, there’s always the chance that little or none of this will be true.

Sadly, some men begin well and finish poorly. Some wash out along the way by making awful choices. I hope that everyone who reads this will come to a point where they look back in a way that brings joy.

Love your people. Work hard. Follow Christ. Be faithful. Make those commitments today and every day, and when you turn around and look back at the long and winding road that was your life, you will do so with a glad and grateful heart.

About What You Believe

When I first began my ministry, I served in a church with clearly defined doctrinal tests of fellowship. We understood that there were Christians – good Christians – who didn’t hold to the same beliefs that we held, but the consensus was that fellowshipping with “those” people was probably not a good idea.

Over time I came to put some of these differences between Christians into the category of “major minors.” A “major minor” is something that is an important enough difference that varieties of opinion might be hard to manage within a local congregation, but they are not issues over which believers should separate.

Baptism is one example. I was ordained a Baptist pastor, and I am firm in my belief that baptism is to be administered as a profession of faith in Christ and pictures our being buried with Christ in his death and raised with Christ in his resurrection (Romans 6:1-11).

When I was younger, I cast a wary eye toward believers who practiced infant baptism. I have read the argument for infant baptism, and I think I understand it, but I am still a Credobaptist. It’s important. I don’t believe that you can practice both Credobaptism and Paedobaptism in the same church without confusing your people. But it’s hardly a test of fellowship.

Younger guys may read this and think we were, well, neanderthals. Understood. But I was a product of the generation that trained me and having those distinctions was part of the culture in which I was raised. To be fair, they existed on “the other side of the aisle” too. Thankfully, we’re in a different place today.

Let me share a few thoughts about what you believe:

First, know what you believe. If you haven’t had to prepare a statement of belief, do it. Are there areas about which you are uncertain? Don’t minimize them. Take time to study them out and arrive at a conclusion. Pastors can’t afford to be doctrinally ignorant or ambivalent.

Hold what you believe about the “major minors” with humility. Recognize that while you may be firm in your convictions, there are others who hold to other views that fit under the umbrella of orthodoxy. The example above about baptism is one of many. In preaching or teaching about some of these areas, be charitable toward the opposing view. Be careful that you don’t vilify someone who holds a different view on baptism, spiritual gifts, eschatology, etc.

Realize that some of your views may change. You should always be learning, and learning will lead both to reinforcing and refining of what you believe. When I left Bible College, I was a card-carrying, chart-waving Dispensationalist, with my eschatological views firmly nailed down. As time has gone on, my eschatology has morphed a bit. I have a set of conclusions I’ve reached about the end times, but I’m more open to the possibility of being wrong at 66 than I was at 26.

Make sure your beliefs line up with the church in which you are serving. While I was in Bible College an opportunity arose to serve as a youth director in a nearby congregation. This was a Christ-loving congregation, but they held a different view on the security of the believer than I did. So they asked me not to even talk about the issue of eternal security. It was only a few months into the job that I realized that I had made a mistake. My ability to teach the Bible clearly was handicapped by what I had agreed to. I respected their view, but I couldn’t live with that restriction. So I resigned.

I could give other illustrations, but suffice it to say that doctrinal incompatibility is going to lead to one of two things, neither of which is good. You will either have to teach with a muzzle by not teaching clearly, or you will create division by teaching contrary to the beliefs of the church and/or denomination. If you cannot hold to the doctrinal statement and convictions of the church in which you serve, then move on, trusting God to provide a new path for you.

Paul told Timothy “Watch your life and doctrine closely (1 Tim 4:16, NIV). There are doctrines that are absolutely central to the Christian faith. Hold tightly to them and don’t give ground when they are attacked. But on other matters, we want to be firm in our beliefs, yet gracious toward the orthodox beliefs of others. And we want to be instruments of peace, not those who cause division.

Tools of the Trade for March 2, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

It’s hard to believe that it’s March already! Here are some links for reading, filing, and sharing with your people. Some of the articles I link to make great resources for counseling.

For a pastor, making the decision to leave your church is one of the most difficult decisions to make. Jeff Robinson writes about how pastors should think through this issue.

This article relates the experience of a church planter, but anyone who has been deeply hurt while in ministry can benefit from this article on healing by Tyler St. Clair.

Here’s an article about taking notes. The article comes from a secular source, but the title, “Take Notes That Can Be Understood Two Weeks from Now” talks about a practice that most of us can use in our ministries. And if you’re still in school . . .

Those of you in church plants or re-plants will appreciate this article on celebrating milestones. It’s available as a podcast or as text.

This is one that you can sneak on the literature table. It’s about responding to change.

I did not have the opportunity to attend seminary to the point of getting a Master’s Degree. I wish I had, though. This article by Tim Gough encourages youth pastors to attend seminary.

I just returned from my monthly lunch with two pastor friends. Ironically, two of us are no longer in ministry, but that’s what we end up talking about. We’ve been meeting for over a decade, and have stood with each other through some hard stuff. I’ve written about this, and Daryl Dash reinforces the importance of pastoral friends.

Here’s one for the literature table by Kristie Anyabwile. She writes “An Open Letter to the Older Women in the Church.”

Do you get discouraged when there are a lot of empty spaces in the congregation? Here’s some encouragement on how to respond as preachers.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for dropping by. I hope something above is helpful. See you on Wednesday!

I’ve Been Thinking

Lately I’ve been thinking . . .

About the Lord’s Table

Have you ever talked to your church about what they should – and shouldn’t – be doing during the Lord’s Table? In preparing the church for this very important practice, most pastors rightly refer to 1 Corinthians to review what Paul writes about the Lord’s Table. As part of that review, we often quote verses 27 & 28 to direct people to take a look within and, if I can put it this way, get their spiritual house in order so as to be prepared to take Communion. In that way we won’t be taking the Lord’s Table unworthily.

I’ve heard this admonition often. But do we really want to convey the idea that we can do anything to become more worthy? I am not suggesting we should be cavalier with regard to sin, but the only reason we are welcome at the Lord’s Table is because of what Jesus did in his sinless life, death, and resurrection. He alone makes us worthy.

I’ve talked with people who struggle with forgiveness. They wonder if God has really forgiven them. And they wonder if they’ve confessed all of their sins. It’s not hard to imagine an overly introspective person going back over sins that have already been confessed, just to be sure that they are not sinning further by “being unworthy.”

In a 2014, pastor and author Joe Thorn put it this way:

“On the other hand the Lord’s Supper is sometimes treated as an overly-introspective and nearly depressing act. Some are encouraged to so focus on their sin that, despite the highlighted and visible gospel proclamation happening in the Lord’s Supper, the joy of salvation is nowhere to be found. In fact, some believers will decide not to participate at all because they have messed up “too badly.” There stands the table. The invitation is made. But some fear they shouldn’t go forward because the past week was one filled with sin and unbelief. Some think, “I blew it this week. I better not do it.” But here is the truth. Just as Jesus came, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, so the Lord’s Supper is for sinners (Luke 5:32).”

I think it would be worthwhile for pastors to re-study this passage and read what commentators say in order to understand and explain it accurately. If we don’t, we may inadvertently turn our people’s focus primary inward rather than toward Christ. If we look at this passage carefully, I think we will conclude that what Paul is talking about has a whole lot to do with the way the Corinthians were behaving and how they were treating each other.

One more thought: rather than a long period of silence while the elements are distributed, would it be more helpful to read passages relating to the meaning of Jesus’ death responsively or in unison? A meditative song about the Cross could also be appropriate. I wonder if we’ve privatized the Lord’s Table by focusing on individual over corporate response. Just thinking . . .

About What Our Worship Services Teach Our People

We teach our people in more ways than preaching. When we plan our worship services, we should realize that – from start to finish – we are shaping the way people think about God and our relationship to him.

Our music choices need to be carefully evaluated for doctrinal faithfulness. Popularity is not close to the top of the list of what makes a song appropriate for church singing. And that goes for older songs as well as newer.

Our prayers should be thoughtful and varied. We need prayers that praise God, confess sin, show thanksgiving and dependence. We should be praying for missionary work in other places, and for those who are being persecuted for following Christ. We have to avoid what may come across as incidental, off-the-cuff prayers.

The way we talk about the offering is instructive. We should talk more about giving to the work of God, reminding people of what their giving enables. We should focus less on meeting the budget.

About Trying Too Hard to Be Relevant

About a year ago I was in a church where the speaker referred to Jesus as “that Cat” and told us that God was “a smart Dude.” I know he was trying to connect, but it was awful. So little in our world – including the Christian world – points to God’s holiness. No one wants to listen to someone spill 30 minutes of seminary-talk. But we don’t need to go to the other extreme and treat holy things so casually.

About Bible Translations

I’ve been using the English Standard Version since shortly after it was released, and it is my preferred translation. But our pastor is using the Christian Standard Bible, published by Holman. I had mistakenly thought that the CSB was published by one denomination. However, the CSB was produced by a group of scholars evangelical pastors would easily recognize, coming from a variety of traditions. I like it. I’m not sure I’ll “switch,” but the more I read it, the more at home I feel. It is a bit easier reading than the ESV. I’d recommend that you get a copy. I picked up a hardback with center-column references on Amazon.

Thanks so much for stopping by. If you have any thoughts to share, feel free to email me at or use the moderated comments section. I’d be glad to hear from you!