I’ve had a habit. It’s not really an unhealthy habit; not as such. But it hasn’t been a helpful habit. It’s sort of like an old familiar blanket that I would wrap around myself when the going got tough. But I hadn’t always reserved it for the trouble spots. Sometimes I found myself doing it at times when I really didn’t need to, but it was ready and available, and, well, I was weak.
I had been using a manuscript as a crutch while preaching. I spend a lot of time studying the text and crafting my sermons, but in the end I have almost always taken a manuscript into the pulpit with me. Sometimes I would know my sermon forward and backward. I had the thing in the woodshed. I knew it. But there on the pulpit in front of me was that bright white paper shining up at me, with all its markings and last minute notations. My eye was drawn to it, like a moth to a light bulb.
Mind you, I was never reading my sermons to the people. I was simply looking down more than I’d really needed to do so. I had highlights on the page marking phrases or wordings I wanted to be certain to nail. But unfortunately these were not the only times I would look down or find my bearings on the page.
So the last two sermons I have preached were absolutely manuscript-free. In fact, to ensure that I would not repent of this action at the last minute, I did not produce manuscripts for these. It was a very naked feeling, I can assure you. To add to my perceived feelings of nudity I preached these, not from the pulpit, but from the center aisle of the sanctuary.
While preaching in the midst of the congregation did create a different kind of connection between my hearers and me, I haven’t entirely abandoned the pulpit. But I hope to have finally and entirely abandoned the manuscript. It is liberating to be free from it. It wasn’t something from which I could gradually wean myself. It had to be cold turkey or nothing. I’m giving myself a two month trial run to work out the kinks. We’ll see how it goes.