A Preacher's Hack

Life hacks are very popular on Youtube - and occasionally I learn something from them, usually about white vinegar! But this one I got from just noticing a new option on my Microsoft Office menus on computer. A great find.

This was a feature of Microsoft Office that I hadn’t used before. Read Aloud is offered in the Review tab of Word and in several other applications including Outlook email. I guess it’s an advance on the accessibility options that enable those with sight or reading difficulties to share a document. However I am finding it a great help in the editing/review stage of sermon writing. Although the voice is computer-generated, on my machine it does not sound at all robotic, and in fact even puts expression and pauses where I would use them. 

I find it helpful in three ways:
1. To test the length and time of a sermon. In retirement, my preaching tasks vacillate between Baptist and Presbyterian congregations, and so vary in the length required especially when  communion is included. Although I am reasonably good at judging whether I have gone too long in the writing stage, I find it very reassuring (or conversely challenging!) to discover the actual speaking time of what I have written, with a reasonable match to my own talking speed. 

2. To evaluate the flow of the text. Putting together a message over several days of preparation, with distractions from grandkids, puppies and tradesmen, means that an hour or two’s work might be followed by a long gap, making it hard to get back into where you were. You may have been interrupted in a strand of thought that has not yet made it onto the screen. Hearing it aloud enables me to assess how the ideas move together, and whether there is an internal logic (not necessarily expressed in three points!) that enables listeners to keep up with the flow. Non sequiturs are also easily picked up when I hear it for myself.

3. To pick up on verbatim use of someone else’s words which should be modified or credited. The pages of research notes I write could be direct from a commentary or article, or they might be my paraphrase. I try and indicate the latter by putting VFC next to it. But sometimes I accidentally leave  original sentences in the final message, and it’s not my voice and it’s not my intellectual property. I’m not talking about two words here, but about whole sentences lifted out of a book or article. (I once heard a colleague preach a stolen Christmas message in its entirety; I know because I had seen the sermon in Doran’s Ministers Manual in my prep for the previous week!) When a section was  clearly written by some intellectual giant like Tom Wright or Marva Dawn, it stands out when you listen to it spoken. 

Using Read Aloud does not replace practising the sermon.  I am in awe of those preachers who have time to memorise a sermon, but I do try and practise at least once. That’s a different experience from hearing it at arms’ length, and in my opinion Read Aloud is a valuable additional tool for the preacher. 
To think about: Why do you think it helps to hear your own sermon before you preach it?