Tips for Extemporaneous Preaching from J.W. Alexander

“Alexander’s life was marked by achievement. But our main interest in this article is his classic work on homiletics, Thoughts on Preaching. … while the entire work is worth consideration, I found his tips for extemporaneous preaching especially beneficial.” - Ref21


The issue is not whether one is able to preach extemporaneously, but, rather, whether one should. If you were a traveling preacher, that might be a good art to develop. But if you are preaching to the same church year after year, decade after decade, there will already be plenty of terms or soapboxes that you have run into the ground — with notes and outlines. How much worse would it be if one spoke contemporaneously?

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed is entirely correct that extemporaneous speaking can be “hop on my soapbox and blather away”, but having done an event called “extemporaneous speaking” way back in my middle school and high school days in speech & debate, what it’s supposed to be is a test of how you think on your feet. The topics change, just like the texts for a sermon, and the judges are loaded for bear if they perceive that you’ve ignored the text and just jumped on your soapbox.

My position on extemporaneous speaking is that it’s a skill one ought to have, because it’s what a person uses when one sits down with a brother in Christ and that person starts opening up about their struggles and places for growth. It presumes that one has the broad based Biblical knowledge necessary to speak not just to one’s soapbox, but to a variety of situations.

And really, that’s the difference, for the most part, between a good preacher and a guy just jumping on his soapboxes. Ed’s right that extemporaneous speaking makes a weak preacher even weaker, but if a preacher is truly a man of the Word and prayer, I’d hope he’d start overcoming this.

For reference, one good secular example of a person who spoke well with notes, but extremely poorly extemporaneously, was Barack Obama. He had his soapbox that he did OK with with the help of TOTUS (Teleprompter of the United States), but when called to comment on issues of the day, you could tell he really hadn’t read the papers. Reagan was just the opposite.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

I have used this book in my lectures on preaching. I think it’s a classic.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

I have an old friend who is an elder in a Primitive Baptist church. He is expected to preach exclusively extemporaneously. That is, he is not “allowed” to prepare, study, or rehearse.

Which I think is terrible. I couldn’t get him to effectively give me any positive reasons for this practice.

Dan, I have to wonder what the reasons given were, even if you think it was insufficient. It seems to be contrary to the Scriptures’ numerous admonitions to “hide God’s word in your heart”, and for that matter is contrary to the rule that an elder ought to be apt to teach.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.