Sermon Preparation Part 7 – Transcribing the Sermon Word for Word – by C. Matthew McMahonSermon Preparation and Guidelines for Expository Preaching
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“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.” (1 Tim. 4:16).
“So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose;” (Neh. 8:2-4).
Transcribing the Sermon
You want to prepare as much as you are able in advance for the purpose of preaching.
What are the qualities of an effective sermon? Taking those which are in the sermon itself, there is definiteness of aim; or in other words, precision. Every puritan was called a precisionist at first, where puritan came second. They were precise. They labored to be precise in their dealing with God’s word. Every sermon should have a distinct object in view. This is the point of having created an outline divided into its three important parts or sections.
The minister preaches because there is something pressing on his mind and heart which he feels impelled to proclaim as God’s herald. In this, you should strive to have precision of language. If you speak unintelligibly, all your work is for nothing. If you are confusing in the pulpit, all your work is for nothing. If you confound the hearer when you preach, you have left the office of the herald and have entered the stage play or pundit box in odd entertainment. You must be clear.
The relation of the preacher’s style to thought is of the closest kind. William Taylor said that the aim of the preacher should be to get the clearest possible medium for the transmission of his thought. How? He says that this happens only by the careful writing of every sermon.
You might be thinking, you can’t be serious. Well, actually, yes, quite serious. Write out your sermon word for word. I’ve personally been doing this for the past 28 years. It is invaluable.
You might say, I’m not going to take the time to do this. I’d say, then you have a low view of the pulpit.
Taylor says, “It seems to me that the importance of the work we are engaged in demands this exactness of written preparation at our hands.” Yes, in fact, in our day, even more so.
If the minister does not write his sermons, the result, in ninety-nine cases out of every hundred, will be that he will write nothing at all. He must cultivate precision of language. And in writing things out in this way, each portion of the sermon will have its due course of attention. In other words, you will take time to read the manuscript over, and so every part of the sermon is analyzed. Taylor says, “It is, therefore, with the strongest conviction that I am giving you the best possible advice, that I say to you, write your sermons. This will give precision to your language more effectually than any other process.”
Writing will help you consider the precision and clarity of the arrangement of the sermon.
The sermon should not be inordinately long. Taylor says, “He who is saying nothing, cannot have done too soon. He who is saying something, will always say that best in the fewest words. When the nail is driven home, all after-hammering is superfluous; but if we stop before we have driven it home, we might as well never have begun to drive it.”
How will you know how long the sermon actually is unless you write it out to determine its precise length? How will you know if you are clear if you do not write it out to see how clear you will be, or not? How will you know if it is precise, if you don’t have all the words, phrases and such that are required to see if it is in fact precise? This can only be accomplished if you write out your sermons.
Have you every wondered why we have so many full sermons from the history of the church? Did you think that there was always a scribe sitting in the front row of the pew scribbling as quickly as possible as Augustine, Chrysostom, Calamy, Whiddon, Watson, Owen, Edwards or any other preacher, was preaching? No. Generally the preacher has a manuscript they preached from. Now that does not mean they read their sermons word for word, but at this stage of preparation, you want to write out your sermon word for word, as close as you possibly can to discern everything that needs to be discerned about it.
You might say, writing out a sermon in that form is squelching the Spirit. That’s simply nonsense. Pick up any old book from the Reformation or Puritans and read a passage or two, and tell me if they squelched the Spirit. What you are doing is preparing so that the Spirit will in fact use YOU for the preaching of HIS WORD that never changes. In this “use” he will in fact give you unction.
These are some comments from a few of the best homiletic books on this point:
RL Dabney says, the use of the written sermon in the pulpit has given us many respectable and some powerful preachers. These write, with the greatest possible care and with rhetorical structure, a manuscript having two-thirds the length of the intended sermon. The second method is that of writing a discourse and committing it to memory verbatim, to be recited in the pulpit. I should object to this way that the structure and style would seldom be truly rhetorical. But this is not the delivery of a sermon without premeditation, except for in extraordinary emergencies. The extempore sermon is least of all impromptu. I mean by it a discourse in which the thought has been perfectly prearranged, but the words, except in cardinal propositions, are left to the free suggestions of the moment
William Plumer writes, if a man would habitually preach well, he must habitually make special preparation for the pulpit. All good preachers write out their sermons and preach from their manuscripts. When it becomes “reading” this is to be condemned. It must be lively preaching.
Thomas Murphy said, before entering the pulpit, the mind of the minister should be prepared. He should keep his mind as free as possible, not taking into considerations things that will hinder his work in the pulpit. … Writing out the sermon makes it more accurate, and makes it ready to further refine, after the fact, in order to have it in a publishable form.
Charles Bridges says, a written sermon is when the sermon is more fully written down and ordered. Robinson says, “Let no man attempt to preach without book, till he has patiently written all, and the whole of his discourses for seven years.” Bridges says that “we must admit of the advantages of written composition,” which avoids repetition, confusing arrangements, shows precision, and an orderly style. This is of course unless the minister has never been trained in a logical style, and then such won’t matter at all. It will be a mess either way. A note should be made, which Bridges uses, that a written sermon done over and over, and repeatedly read before the delivery, will sound like an extemporaneous discourse.