Flowing Words

I never set out to be a preacher who doesn’t use a manuscript. In fact, in seminary when some friends suggested preaching that way I gave a resounding no. But that all changed on Pentecost Sunday in 2006.

I had been asked to preach at my home church on one of my favorite Sundays of the year. Freshly graduated from seminary, I worked diligently on that sermon. I had my quotes and my research; I had my stories all lined up. So I typed, and I hand wrote, and I typed some more. It didn’t work. I couldn’t get past the opening illustration.

Flowing River Water and Rocks Colorful Abstract PaintingFinally, I gave up with the writing and just started speaking it. The words flowed out of me in a way that was natural and heartfelt. Each time I ran out of words, I would jot a few more notes of what I had just said. Then I would start back over at the beginning. On and on it went until the sermon was complete.

It still took me a few years to feel comfortable going without a manuscript all the time because there’s great comfort in having the words in front of you. There are also a lot of drawbacks to the way I preach: I can’t stand still and preach (really, I can’t. I can’t think standing still). If I’m overly tired the words don’t flow as well. Sometimes I get on a roll and end up with quite a long sermon… And if I’m really honest, the biggest drawback is that at times I can rely more on my deliver style than substance in the sermon.

But the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks. There is room for the Holy Spirit to work as I’m preaching. I cannot describe the feeling of having words put in my mouth as I preach. I also get to have a very different connection with the congregation. I can see what resonates with you and tailor my sermon as I go.

My sermons are not spontaneous. I do keep notes close to me, but the more I’ve practiced a sermon, the less I need them. I also find the more I practice and review, the more the Holy Spirit has a chance of being present in that sacred moment of exploring our scriptures together. Frequently I don’t have an ending to my sermon when I get up to preach. Sure, I have thoughts and I’ve practiced a few different endings, but that is where I trust the Spirit the most. So if you come to the early service- feel free to suggest an alternate ending for the 11 a.m.!

Jo Owens


2 thoughts on “Flowing Words

  1. Jo, I “gave up” the manuscript for Lent eight years ago… I was surprised by the comfort in the move as well 🙂 My only negative was not having anything to give folks when they asked for a copy of my message! Now I preach 3 services, and I do tailor each sermon to the folks gathered. It is truly a blessing to have the freedom to be engaged with the folks who are gathered… -Kate Rascoe

    • Kate- I love that you gave it up for Lent! With the blog, I’ve started typing out the main points of the sermon, even if it isn’t the sermon in its entirety. And there was one Sunday where I preached two completely different sermons at the early and late services!

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