“Cool Runnings”: Preaching without Notes

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m in a phase of preaching without PowerPoint or notes.

Preaching without notes is actually not something new for me. Although I’ve also utilised manuscripts over the years, preaching without notes is my preferred practice.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the actual process I undergo when preparing to preach without notes. It got me thinking about Cool Runnings, a movie about the Jamaican bobsled team that debuted at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

Image         Image (The team has competed in 6 Olympics, including Sochi.)

I was a kid living in Calgary during the ’88 Olympics and remember well the hoopla generated around a team from the tropics that had barely seen snow competing in an Olympic winter sport.

In the movie version of events, there’s a scene where team captain Derice is up later than all his teammates, mentally running through the bobsled track, visualizing and anticipating every turn to the finish line, becoming aware and alert to accommodate whatever conditions the track will throw at him.

I find I do something similar when preaching without notes.

Reading or memorizing a manuscript, my main efforts have already gone into the writing process so when it comes time to preach I focus on articulating specific words and phrases. That is, I become less concerned with what I’m saying than with how I’m saying it.

Preaching without notes, however, my efforts go elsewhere.

First, shortly before I speak I need time mentally to run through the track. I need to visualize the whole track generally, being familiar and comfortable with my content, ready to adjust for changing conditions, and anticipating every turn to the finish line. I prefer doing this in the early morning rather than the night before I speak.

Second, rather than focus on particular words or phrases I focus on the major points – the turns – that lead to my destination. Although the content remains important between turns – you can’t leave the track! – , the actual words and phrases between turns aren’t set and may even vary from sermon to sermon. Nevertheless, you do have to make each of the turns.

Preaching without notes forces me to be alert, focusing both on what I’m saying and on how I’m saying it. It forces me really to know my stuff and to know how to get that content down the track. But it also introduces freedom to adjust to conditions – audience response, a fresh thought, encroaching time limits.

At the end of the day, I don’t prescribe a single form of preaching and see advantages to different models for different people at different points in lives and in different situations.

For “mature” speakers – speakers who should know their stuff – I think preaching without notes is freeing, though it’s a freedom that needs to be practised responsibly. Stay on the track!

Preachers relatively inexperienced to the content they’re delivering might find a manuscript helps them get their stuff across the finish line without sacrificing grace or clarity. In Cool Runnings and in the real-life ’88 Olympics, the Jamaican Bobsled team crashed and failed to complete the course. In the movie, the crash was caused by faulty equipment; in real life, the crash was attributed to inexperience.

In the end, however, what matters most is that the word itself take centre-stage – whatever its means of delivery.

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2 thoughts on ““Cool Runnings”: Preaching without Notes

  1. I agree with you Dr. Martini and the Cool Runnings example is most helpful! One of the great advantages of throwing out the manuscript is it frees you to read what the Holy Spirit is doing amongst the listeners!

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