Readers from outside the UK need a quick briefing: at his party’s recent party political conference, the leader of the Opposition, Ed Milliband, gave the traditional keynote speech at the climax. As is his custom, Milliband spoke freely, without visible notes or an autocue, for over an hour. He clearly had prepared, because his notes were later visible and his intended message released by the party office.
I say ‘intended’ message, because in delivering his speech free of notes, Milliband forgot to mention two of the most pressing issues in contemporary UK politics: the economy, and immigration. He later explained that his speeches are prepared but delivered impromptu, and that those two elements ‘slipped his mind.’ You can imagine the delight of rival politicians (some within his own party) that he admitted that the economy ‘slipped his mind.’
This is not a party political point, so relax.
One growing trend among preachers is to be similar to Milliband, and speak without being tied to a manuscript. There are many reasons for this pattern, and I’ve already blogged about the influence of TED talks on preachers here. But any preacher who has been working on this, and watched what happened during and after this speech, will have felt a cold shiver down the back. What if I forgot to mention the cross? What if a critical piece of pastoral nuance slipped my mind?
How could I avoid the Milliband meltdown?
Practice? That has its place, as does careful editing.
But the most obvious problem for Milliband is that his speech was a series of unrelated bullet points and soundbites, each careful prepared but largely autonomous. There was no overall architecture to his message.
By contrast, the gospel is always related to a narrative. Leave aside stories themselves, the most logical of the arguments have a flow and rhythm, and poems move to a conclusion. And even the most atomised of elements, like the individual items in Proverbs, must be related to the arc of the gospel that takes us to the one who is wiser than Solomon.
And so our sermons will echo that shape: Dilemma/Solution, Prophecy/Fulfilment, Sin/Redemption. Whatever it is, the passage we are preaching will be designed to effect some change in us, and fundamentally lead us to repent of sin and turn to Christ
So here is the key, for those who wish to be free-er of notes than they are (even if they don’t want to go the whole hog). Don’t try to memorise your sermon, but aim to embed the narrative shape of it into your head.
Get the plot straight, and you’ll be much less likely to lose it.