Have you ever wondered how to preach without notes? Then you should read the book Preaching By Ear that is written by authors Dave and Karen McClellan. This unique book on preaching involves the typical steps of building an outline, utilizing specific illustrations, and relying on one’s notes. But, unlike the typical preaching book, Preaching By Ear encourages a style that emphasizes the “speaking from the heart.” To establish this ideal the authors use historical, biblical, and practical examples.
Written notes for speaking is a recent invention within the history of Christianity and even the world. Citing historical figures such as Augustine, Quintilian, and others, the McClellans show various forms of public speaking and rhetoric principles. Like the biblical examples of Moses, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Paul, and even Jesus, a pattern of oral tradition is established. Oral tradition was historically how stories were passed from one generation-to another through simple conversations. This is because there were not sufficient means to document events in written form until Edison was first able to quickly document things with the photograph in 1891. Couple this with the author’s statement that says: “In 90 percent of the history of God’s people, there were no personal Bibles feasibly owned by commoners” makes the case that written form for everyday use is a new idea. Therefore, people must have “spoken from the heart.”
At first the idea of “speaking from one’s heart” may seem exciting. Also, after this initial discovery one could become very anxious about relying less on their notes. Not to worry because the authors build on their historical and biblical foundations by giving some practical advice. Examples such as using one’s notes effectively, internalizing the text, & even road mapping a sermon to completion are mentioned. These disciplines can be discovered more in-depth in the book. However, the principle that aligns with the theme of the book will be most emphasized here because it is also the books greatest strength.
Preaching By Ear’s greatest strength is its priority on a missing element in a lot of preaching, which is personal experience. In the reformed tradition of theology there is an importance on sola scriptura (scripture alone), which is encouraged for rightly dividing the word of truth. For preachers this is often emphasized through a verse-by-verse expository preaching style. However, Preaching by Ear infers that good sermons are distinguished from bad sermons by if they have also devotionally touched the preacher or not.
Sadly, some sermons are too mechanical or academic. They lack the transparency of sanctification from the preacher’s life because the text has not personally touched them. Rather, to speak effectively from one’s heart the preacher must devotionally spend time with the text than relying on academics alone. Until the heart is prepared the sermon is never truly complete. The word must be internalized through a “devotional focus.”
Negatively some preaching experts would contend that tying one’s devotional life to one’s sermon preparation is a weakness of Preaching By Ear. But, if pastors are going to effectively lead people then they should not just professionally prepare their sermons. Again, the best way to “speak from the heart” is for preachers to first let the text devotionally impact their life. Then the sermon can authentically touch others because they are experiencing effective and passionate preaching.
Preaching By Ear is recommended for anyone all preachers. Not only is it a short read, but it is also filled with depth that includes a historical, biblical, and practical approaches to preaching. This is because Preaching By Ear tackles the idea of “speaking from the heart.” Often this is confused with eliminating one’s preaching notes. However, the true nature of effective preaching is allowing one’s preaching notes to be the tangible evidence of what is written on the preacher’s heart. Let’s begin!
(I received this book through the Cross Focused Review program in exchange for an honest review of the book).