5 Quick Reasons to Manuscript Your Sermons


Whether it is best to manuscript or to outline your sermon is an ongoing conversation. Everyone is different. Driscoll goes up with post-it notes, Piper takes a manuscript. Figuring out which is right for you takes time and experimentation.

I just preached back-to-back Sunday mornings while our lead pastor was out of town – the first with an outline, and the second with a manuscript.

For me, it’s case closed: I’m a manuscript guy. Not a hide-half-my-face-while-I-read-word-for-word manuscript guy. I actually read very little of it. But the process of writing a manuscript is massively beneficial to me. Perhaps it would be for you, too. Here are five reasons why.

1. Clarity When you write it out, you realize that concepts you thought you had clear in your head were not so clear after all. Writing your thoughts word-for-word forces you into a logical, coherent discourse.

2. Confidence Being clear about what you are going to say, and how you are going to say breeds confidence. A confidant preacher is a more persuasive preacher.

3. Conciseness If you don’t know exactly how you want to say something, you will spend a lot of words getting it across. That means it takes longer for you to get to your point, and it takes longer for you to finish your sermon. These are two things your congregation wishes you would fix.

4. Creativity Unlike listing out bullet points, as you write your brain recruits more creative faculties, which results in better sermon illustrations and applications.

5. Momentum in sermon preparation No ‘c’ word for this one. I don’t get less bogged down in unnecessary interpretative minutia when I manuscript my sermon. The most important interpretative issues tend to rise to the surface, and I deal with them from a preaching perspective rather than a mere interpretive perspective. This leads me to think about how this stuff applies to my congregation more often.

I’m not saying that from now on I’ll only use a manuscript when I teach or preach. I picture myself still using an outline in more casual environments: Sunday school, retreats, Bible studies, etc. But for Sunday mornings, for the foreseeable future, I’ll be a manuscript guy. What about you?

(Image credit)


  1. Eric,

    I agree with all your points. As a new preacher, I am still a bit “nervous” in the pulpit. Without my manuscript, I would be a bubbling idiot up there!

    Having said this, I have noticed that in my flesh, I “rely” too much on my manuscript. No matter how “perfect” I think my manuscript is, I know that it is only ink on paper if the Holy Spirit doesn’t attend the preaching with power. So I ask the Lord to make my manuscript a servant not a master.

    Thanks for your blog. I enjoy your posts.

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      You raise a point that Lloyd-Jones was so intent about: planning your sermon to the best of your ability, but being open to the Spirit’s guidance in the moment. Thanks for sharing, Dan.

  2. Great points all around. My preaching professor made us write out our manuscripts in full and though we hated it, it made the sermon much better. The times when I haven’t written it out in full I definitely have regretted it.

    And for point 5 you could use the word, “celerity,” though I’m not a fan of trading clarity and accuracy for alliteration.

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      Definitely had to look “celerity” up. That word has immediately entered my vocabulary!

  3. Good points Eric. This is the same reason I always manuscript my sermons too.

    The only difference is that I don’t bring the manuscript on stage with me. I’m too tempted to rely on it like a crutch if I have it.

    I use the manuscript to clarify my thoughts and rehearse the message, but then I cut it down to a one page outline that I can got in my Bible for notes on stage.

    This really forces me to know my stuff and also speak more from the heart than the paper.

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      Brandon, you have good company in Duane Litfin and Bryan Chapell, who also advocate moving from sermon manuscript to sermon outline. My fear is that I don’t know which parts I’m going to forget in the moment, so I want the whole thing with me.

      I underline/highlight the key words so that my eye is drawn to concepts, which jogs my memory. That keeps me from reading it. But the truth of the matter is that I hardly even look at it while I’m preaching.

  4. Allen Calkins says:

    Manuscripts are also helpful in:
    1) Preserving your study for future use in a different sermon covering the same text
    2) Making it easier to preach a ‘keeper’ again to a different congregation or for a revival or Bible conf.
    3) Giving you a resource for checking on what you said when you are criticized on what you said.
    4) Helping you to see how well different parts of your message were received by comparing your manuscript to an audio or DVD of your message to note what parts of your message resonated and what points, illustrations, etc. did not. Was it too long? Did people start to get anxious towards the end? It is a good evaluation tool.

  5. Dennis Raffaelli says:

    When I used to preach, I used an outline. I relied upon the Spirit to tell me what to say as I was preaching. It seemed to work quite well.

    • Charles Klink says:

      I agree with the responses, and add a more practical one. Early in my ministry I was challenged during a meeting at a controversial church setting to which I had been appointed (United Methodist), and the challenge was laced with what to persons challenging claimed I had said during a sermon, and these challenges were to my superior. As the verbal claims of what I said escalated, both in number and vehemence, it finally clicked in me and I went to my study, brought out my manuscript, handed it to my superior and shared, “This is what I said.” He read it and then commented, “I see nothing wrong in what he said.” The argument and challenge was over. I have always used manuscript as a way of both knowing the wording I wish to use (I am a communications major) and to have verification to what I have said “just in case.”

  6. A lot of great points for the benefits of a manuscript have been shared. I certainly can appreciate what’s been shared, though I would strongly encourage everyone who is blessed with the privilege of preaching/teaching on a Sunday morning, at a camp, at a conference, and even in more casual classroom setting, to consider a few steps:

    1. Prayerfully consider what God wants to share both in and through you (text, topic, idea)
    2. Read through the text and write your own commentary based on observations and what you have been taught (bible college, seminary, other preachers, etc.)
    3. Compare your own commentary with credible commentaries of others as well as using a quality Study Bible or two
    4. Manuscript your sermon, word for word, highlighting key thoughts, ideas, and points
    5. Develop a functional outline based on your studies and manuscript
    6. Read through your sermon manuscript and outline to be certain that they align nicely
    7. Preach your sermon in your office, study, auditorium, living room, etc.
    8. Read through your outline again the night before you speak and again before you speak

    For me, I can’t remember the last time I preached with notes. The process of developing my messages (suggested above) allows me the benefit of retaining the information in detail while affording me the opportunity to move as the Spirit leads throughout the sermon; this includes the “big idea” and any points (typically 3) that I would/do show up on the screen or in my sermon notes as I’m preaching.

    What’s more is that I almost always go back and watch my sermon after the fact. This allows me the ability to identify any bad habits, lost points, rabbit trails, and awesome additions that I might not otherwise have picked up on. I also have some very good and very critical people in my life that speak the last 10% to me when it comes to reviewing and processing with me how the message went.

    These are some questions that I ask after the message:
    Q: Was it real (authentic), relevant (culturally and contextually), and reaching (grab people)?
    Q: Were the words I used clear and concise, delivered in a way that all might understand or were there too many “christian-ese” terms used?
    Q: Did my introduction tie into my conclusion (bringing it home)?
    Q: Was the reading, teaching, and application of the text biblically orthodox, with integrity, and Scripturally sound?
    Q: Was the message boring, bothersome, or burdensome?
    Q: Were the “next steps” made easy to understand and apply?

    While I know this sounds like a lengthy process, it allows me the ability to be a “relational communicator”, always holding eye contact with the congregation or audience, and me to read my audience (poor word choice) at the same time. It’s amazing what the Holy Spirit does both in and through me when preparing and delivering a message from His Word.

    My way of preparing is NOT the only way and it may not be the best way, but it’s been the best way for me and seems to be highly effective.

    Just my .3 cents worth…for what it’s worth…

    God’s best as you prepare, practice, and preach with passion, conviction, purpose and an obedient heart!

  7. I agree with you that the process of writing a manuscript is extremely helpful. Another way that it’s helpful is that it’s much easier to turn a manuscript into a blog post, or part of a book you’re writing than if you just had and outline. On the other hand I really have a tough time if I take the manuscript into the pulpit with me. I don’t read my sermons so with a full manuscript I lose my place and can easily get confused. That’s why even if I write a manuscript I then convert it to and outline and leave the manuscript at home when I preach.

  8. I agree with all of your points as well. Without a manuscript it would be difficult to preach with clarity foremost and the ability to be concise would create a struggle, for me at least. I’d not feel as confident without a manuscript as I do with one and it’s not that I rely on it completely, it just helps me to maintain my heading as I preach and not lose track of explaining what the text is saying.

    As a bi-vocational pastor, I don’t preach as often as I’d like and I use a manuscript every time. Soon enough though, I’ll be preaching on a weekly basis and will continue to use a manuscript to preach from each week.

    I too, enjoy your posts as well.

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      Thanks for posting, Kurt. I hope your transition to full time preaching goes well!


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