For the last year, I have been speaking my main messages to our church without using notes and without a pulpit to stand behind.

This has been a big change for me. I've been speaking for over 20 years now and although there have been a few shorter messages I've given where I haven't used notes, I've usually taken my Bible and 6-10 pages of typed out notes to the pulpit each time I speak.

So why the change?

As part of a course I did on preaching last year, I was challenged to consider speaking without notes. My instructors noted that when you watch a movie, the actors don't read their scripts. By the time they record the movie, the actors have taken on their role and they have internalised the message. As preachers, we are delivering a more important message than any actor, so why not put the same work in?

They also noted that if someone asked you to share your life story, you wouldn't pull out a notebook. You would quickly draw from your memory and share parts of your story, selecting different things, based on how long you want to take.

So this is what I now do in preparing to speak:

  1. I spend time in prayer, preparing my heart as to what to speak on.
  2. I then spend time studying and researching for my message.
  3. This results in a typed Word document, usually about 8-12 pages long.
  4. I then summarise this into an A5 document (2 sided) with bullet points on.
  5. I then spend time praying over this, memorising the main structure, main points and illustrations of the message. In a sense, I create a 'mind map' for each message that includes where I will start, where I will take people, and how I will conclude.
  6. I then step up to speak with just my Bible (I do have this A5 sheet in the front of my Bible just in case I need to refer to it) and without a pulpit to stand behind.

When I first did this for a full 35-40 minute message, it was pretty scary. I felt a bit 'naked' in front of everyone, especially without the pulpit or podium (although I was never one to hide behind a pulpit anyway!).

Some of the benefits I've found with this approach are:

  1. As a speaker, I have to really 'own' the message. It has to be a part of me. I need it to be on the inside of me.
  2. It makes me more spontaneous, as I only memorise the structure and key points, not the actual words. I simple share the message 'as it flows'.
  3. I feel that the level of connection with the people I am speaking to is much higher, as I am able to make eye contact with them all of the time.
  4. I also sense that I'm a little more 'in tune' with God while I'm speaking, as well as 'in tune' with where the people I'm speaking to are at.

So it has been an interesting journey. I have found it quite exhilarating and I've been surprised by how much the mind can remember. I'm enjoying speaking as much as I ever have. It's been fun.

Of course, I am in no way saying that others need to take this step, including those on our teaching team. It's just something that has worked for me and I'm really enjoying it. I kind of feel like I've found 'my voice' in a new way.

P.S. For those who want to head in this direction, start small. Take some 'baby steps'. Share a short communion message without notes OR make some announcements at a meeting from memory (thinking chronogically helps – last week, today, this coming week). As you gain some experience, you'll build confidence for longer messages.

14 thoughts on ““Look Mum, No Notes!”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Mark. You do this very naturally and it’s really working well for us as the audience as well, I believe. It’s commendable how you continue to want to improve yourself and set your sights higher. You are a great source of inspiration. Thank you. I shall have to stop reading now. I’ll do it out of working hours…promise. 🙂

  2. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Tony Robbins but it sure seems like you have. I love the way you apply his type of scientific (and psychological) tools but with a spiritual twist. The Prison Break series would be a great example of this. The reason I mention this is because of your passion and energy with bettering the way you do things. Concerntating on these kind of details make your presentation more exciting and interesting. When you’re preaching, it only feels like a few minutes and thats because of these kind of details. There’s nothing worse than praying for a preaching to hurry up – LOL.
    Take care,

  3. Hi Mark I have been sitting in church scratching my head wondering how you being doing your sermons with out any notes for the past few months?
    I Started looking up the back to see if there was a teleprompter or something ?(theres got to be something!!)When I realised you where in free fall I went what the?????????
    Good on YA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Mark, this Blog is a terrific idea and we will share it with some interested friends who go to other Churches.
    We have only been at CityLife 3 years now but have felt really blessed during this time in every way. We love your preaching and leadership skills and the ability God has given to you to do “no notes” preaching. Mind you, we love Nicole too and all the rest of the team at CityLife.
    Fred often comments “I just love this Church – there’s no other like it”!
    We will continue to pray for you all, and will look at this Blog regularly.
    God Bless, Fred & Ruth

  5. You’re probably more ‘in tune’ with God when you speak because you have to be! Speaking without a ‘safety net’ (i.e. notes) causes you to rely on God all the more I reckon.
    It also shows your diligence in your preparation and God rewards those who are diligent in what they do!

  6. Hi Christian. Yes, I have heard of Tony Robbins. I liked a lot of what he had to say in his book ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ – just some good basic mind renewal stuff. Some people think he’s a bit ‘new agey’, but he does seem to have a faith of some level, looking at his web site, where he refers to Jesus Christ. Thanks for the encouragement! Mark

  7. Mark, this blog is great! You are a very gifted speaker. You have this natural ability to take the Word of God and present it in a clear, concise, interesting and easy to understand manner. It’s commendable that you are always improving yourself. You and Nicole are a great blessing to CityLife church. God bless you both.

  8. Hi Mark
    As someone who has done public speaking courses I was able to notice the work you had put in to your technique the very first time I came.
    Since I joined in 2005 the best sermons I have heard have actually come from that theologian whose name I forget – J.T. something. He was Indian.
    Chatting to others afterwards they said they found it difficult and that it completely flew over their heads, so I guess his style wasn’t for everyone. He would sometimes cover hundreds of years of philosophy in the space of 30, 60 seconds.
    However what I’m trying to say is this – can we sometimes get sermons that really delve into the Bible, extricate some meaning. Having gone to church for my whole life it’s hard not to feel over-familiar at times with some of the content I hear. I’m hungry for some meat! Due to work I can’t go to Life-Tracks.
    I know you can’t be all things to all people. This is just a suggestion. 🙂

  9. Hi Mark,
    I was also wondering for ages how you did this as I watched you on Connect and at Church. A couple of days ago i went up to tell my dad something in his office when my dad told me about this blog on his computer, I scrolled down a bit and found this post. Great technique for doing your messages, looking forward to all the next services to come!

  10. Hi Mat. Yes, its a bit of a challenge to get the content level just right for seekers, new Christians and people who have followed Christ for many years. For advanced teaching we do have our LIFETRAX classes, our new Ministry Trax program, occasional seminars, and of course there are a number of good Bible Colleges in our city. Also, doing some of your own reading and study to feed yourself is a good thing. Hope this helps a bit. Mark

  11. Great work Mark… As a teacher I stepped out from behind the raised demonstration desk as a science teacher 4-5 years ago and have never looked back. Now I hate getting behind it. I would rather sit down or amongst the students. Unfortunately most churches (including ours) have adopted the university lecture approach (sage on the stage) rather than a variety of other ways of getting people to learn and interact with each other and ‘the content’.
    Recently both you and Nicole branched out into doing a sit down interview with a guest – another great example of breaking with the oratory tradition and moving into more powerful teaching and learning methods! Keep it up brother – the lecture tradition is one I would like to see minimised (not removed) in favour of more powerful ways to communicate and get people involved in spiritual and personal growth.
    Not suprisingly – many universities lectures are much less than 50% full – as students opt for podcasts and other ways of accessing (interacting) with what they need. Here’s a provocative question – what would we do in church if we didn’t have the ‘preacher’ delivering a message up the front. How would we arrange the seating, the service, program activities etc. How would people change if they had to do more than sit and semi-participate. If they had to interact with each other at a deeper level and focus more on building one another up. Or here’s another provokative idea- hire a bunch of buses and ship everone out of the sheep pen into the open to have a service or evangelise together- the beach, park, sporting event, festivals etc. Close up shop 4 times a year and get everyone out there doing something in the community together…. do these ideas make you at least a teeny wincy bit excited????

  12. Hey, Peter. Some good thoughts and ideas there! Yes, I agree there are a lot of benefits from interactive communication in comparison to the lecture method. We’re stepping this up in a lot of our smaller staff and leadership training environments. It’s a bit more of a challenge with a large audience, but worth continuing thinking about. Thanks again.

  13. Hi Chad. A5 is a metric size paper – half of A4 (A4 is a similar size to American Quarto). Basically, it’s about 6″ x 8″ and fits inside my medium size Bible. Hope that helps!

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