A number of years ago my friend (who was studying at Dallas Theological Seminary) recounted how his preaching classes highly emphasized the memorization of sermons. For some odd reason that blew my mind: How could anyone memorize a sermon?!
I tried it a few times and somehow got through it. The freedom from preaching without notes was only achieved through countless extra hours of slaving over the outline and was always a bit tenuous–as if I was walking along the edge of a knife the entire sermon.
Although I shelved the idea, it continue to linger in the back of my mind.
Finally, in the Spring of 2008 I read two books on preaching which both advocated preaching without notes. Further, I took an American church history course in which we discussed the progression of Jonathan Edward’s own preaching. As I understand it, although Edwards began with strict manuscripts, he eventually moved to a much more freeform style as he saw the effect and power of the Holy Spirit. (You might remember the Edwards was part of the First Great Awakening.)
I was sold.
After preaching without notes for a number of months, I cannot imagine going back. The freedom to do away with a lectern and look the congregation in the eye is priceless. The connection is much more palpable.
I used to mind map out my sermons–and probably would if I was guest preaching in a different setting. However, I have found that if I carefully organize my slides (of which I can preview the next slide using a dual-monitor setup in Keynote–the same can be done in Powerpoint), I get enough of a prompt in case I forget.
If you preach, I encourage you to try preaching without notes.
[2/17/2010 update: Leadership Journal Winter 2010 has a good article (Unscripted! by Dave McClellan on preaching without notes. Dave has a related website with what looks to be some good teaching videos at PreachByEar.com.) In addition, check out this other Leadership Journal article entitled Preaching on My Feet.]