Temporarily Extemporary

6 07 2008

Yesterday I was preaching in Cavan Baptist Church in the Republic of Ireland, a place I hadn’t ministered in since October 2004. My morning notes were printed on Saturday afternoon, and I had completed my evening notes on Saturday night, ready to be printed out the next morning. On the Lord’s Day morning I went to print out my evening material when, horror of horrors, the document had disappeared from my hard drive. There was nothing for it, but to head to Cavan with my morning notes in hand and only my headings for the evening. It looked as though I was going to have to be temporarily extemporary.

When I first began to preach I used minimal notes, with brief word prompts to spur me along as I worked through a passage. As time has passed, however, my notes have become fuller and more prosaic with me feeling more reliant on them. So an evening’s ministry without notes felt like a venture into the deep end of the pool without water wings.

The blessing for me was that the experience was actually refreshing. I had prepared and worked my way through the passage (Romans 5:1-5), and so I knew where the message was going and how I wanted to illustrate and apply it. Without notes I felt as though I could address the congregation directly without nodding my head onto my notes page, and also felt a liberty to slow down my delivery and speak in a more simplified, conversational manner. I know that it wasn’t a great message, but it was a good experience of throwing myself on the mercy of God and realising His help and grace in the midst of ministry.

I’m not sure that extemporary ministry could be anything but temporary with me, but I wonder if I ought to do this from time to time as a means of trying to stay fresh in delivery and content. Regardless of whether notes are used or not, though, how we need God to take the dryness and deficiency of our preparation and animate our words with His power and help for the glory of His name.

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