Preaching Notes: Mark Driscoll



This is the sixth installment in our Preaching Notes Series. (Although this post might be more appropriately titled preaching "sticky notes"...more on that in a minute.) For most of you Mark Driscoll needs no introduction. He's the pastor of Mars Hill Church a growing, vibrant, gospel-proclaiming body in Seattle, and leads the Acts 29 church-planting network. He's also the author of several books including The Radical Reformission and the new Death by Love.

When I originally asked Mark to participate by sharing his preaching notes he declined. So I asked him again. He sent the following email explaining his initial reluctance as well as his unique approach to notes. Mark writes,

Josh, I have hesitated to send you my preaching notes because...they're usually aren't any. When I do a topical sermon there are some. But, when I'm working through a text of the Bible I pretty much scratch a few words on a sticky tab and maybe in pencil put a few words in the margin and get up and go for an hour-ish. Most of the jokes, cross references, illustrations etc. are made up on the spot while preaching. In that way I'm pretty Spirit lead. I study a ton going in to fill up, and then get up and preach it out. This is a copy of my Bible from my latest sermon on the first half of Jesus High Priestly Prayer in John 17. I used about half the stuff on the sticky notes and preached for about an hour. I would not commend anyone to preach this way as it's the pastoral equivalent to driving blindfolded—exciting but dangerous. So, for what it's worth here it is.
I agree with Mark's encouragement not to follow his example in this regard. And that's not because I don't believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit. But I think Mark is uniquely gifted and has an ability to absorb and recall great amounts of what he has studied. I for one, don't have this same ability. I say this only because I don't want any young preachers to get up to preach with two sticky notes either having not studied and prepared enough or, lacking Mark's ability to remember what they studied, to fall on their face and then blame the Holy Spirit. Repeat after me, "I am not Mark Driscoll."

Here's a PDF of two pages of Mark's Bible and the accompanying sticky notes. And here's the audio recording of the sermon he preached from them.

[Update: The purpose of this post and this series is to learn about preaching, not to comment on the preachers or attack their ministries. I've turned off comments for this post and deleted all comments that veer from this clear purpose. Thanks for understanding.]


I am not Mark Driscoll.

More importantly, I am Joseph Louthan.

I know for even my tiny Bible studies, I have to study and study some more and practice and practice some more.

When I don't do that, then I fall short of what needs to be delivered.

Very intriguing to see how different Mark Driscoll prepares his sermon... I sometimes preach, using 3x5 cards without notes - especially, during summer when there are 2-3 missions trips, retreats, and summer camp for youth ministry; however, with a small ratio of being effective, I find it somewhat difficult to focus and easy to go off on a tangent many times.

Driscoll is such a gifted communicator and well-experienced one, so it might well fit for his preaching style. And I just need more training and experience. Thanks for sharing this.

You. Are. Kidding. Me!

Good post brother.

I myself have been greatly impacted by how God has used Mark Driscoll. I keep praying for him and you as well. I pray that God continues to grow you as men and as teachers. I love both of your ministries.

Grace and peace

Hi Josh,

Nathan Busenitz here. Thanks for this post.

For the record, I am not the "Nate" who posted above. Please feel free to delete that link if you feel like it is taking the discussion in a direction you don't want it to go.

Thanks for your ministry.

Grace and Peace,

The only way most of us could preach over the hour from those notes would be if it was from 11:59 - 12:01

Is being led by the Spirit in the study from Mon to Sat and then preaching from notes or a manuscript less Spirit-led than Mark's strategy? Can the Spirit lead us just as much in preparation of a manuscript or notes on Sat night as he can in on-the-fly preaching on Sun morning? I wonder if there's a mistaken notion that the degree to which we preach extemporaneously, to that degree we are Spirit-led. Maybe there's a correlation. Maybe not.

For the record, I bless God for Mark Driscoll and do consider his preaching Spirit-led and persistently helpful.

Thanks for the interesting posts, Josh.

I like Driscoll.

He does preach too long, and know I know why.

If he used real notes the salient content of his sermons could be scaled back to about thirty minutes, but instead he preaches this way and you have 30 bonus minutes that's more stand up comedy than Spirit led exposition.

Thanks Josh,

Any idea what the circled numbers in the text are for? Points he wants to make? His memory is incredible. Mine is good, but I'm not sure I could preach the way he does.

I spend about 8-10 hours in prep for each sermon/lesson (I teach the youth) and write out a full manuscript, which I then mark up using some of the things I've learned from this series.

Mostly I do that because I post the text on the youth blog for those that miss a lesson. Otherwise I would probably use more of an outline form.

When do we get to see your notes?


You said, "He does preach too long, and know I know why." Mark has talked about why he preaches for an hour. He lives in Seattle, not the Bible Belt. People want information there. Seattle is a modern-day Athens, a major hub for the exchange of ideas. (I'm not from there.) There is a thirst for knowledge in the northwest part of this country that is unlike anywhere else. Driscoll uses a lot of humor too (and for the same reason), but if you notice in many of his messages, he'll have a 20-30 minute intro of pure background information--something most non-Christians, skeptics, or young Christians (or even mature believers) find extremely helpful.

Hopefully that's an insight that will not be overlooked.


Jay I think your comments are a bit baseless. Having listened MANY Driscoll sermons I think it is quite unfair to say that 30 mins of his sermons are not "Spirit led."

What really amazes me is one time I ended up going to two services in one weekend at MH and the sermons were close to identical! This would be expected if someone was manuscripting but to just go with some sticky notes and give the same sermon is wild.

A few comments...
1. Driscoll is being used by God in a once-in-a-generation kind of way. He is talented and an excellent communicator. Most of us are not.
2. If he reads a lot, he is constantly studying. If this is the case, whether he has a manuscript or not, it is well-researched exposition.
3. The main-point-based sermon outline homiletics taught us is the best template to use, but the best way to use it is to hide its structure behind good delivery. Exposition is explaining the text, giving illustrations, clearing up any doctrinal issue, and giving application. Driscoll does all of these every time. It's all exposition, even the funny parts.
4. Spirit-led preaching is defined not by the presence or lack thereof a manuscript but by the prayerful and submissive humility of the preacher during prep. Extemp can be as Spiritless as academic Bible lectures if both are done for a purpose other than leading a congregation into a real encounter with the Word of God.
5. Our culture is actually weary of a too-well-produced rhetoric. Self-references, tangents, humor, and transparency are considered some marks of a good message of any kind more than the excellence of alliteration or vocab. Whether we like this or think it is wrong, its the truth.

Sorry, soapbox over.

Why are you ripping into Jay. I think that all he was saying was that Driscoll's sermons are half filler (e.g., jokes, personal stories), and half an explanation of the biblical text. Jay didn't say anything about Driscoll not being Spirit-led.

I'm slightly confused why everyone is all a shock with the lacking of notes, and a bit perturbed that people are saying "Well, he is Mark Driscoll, so it's okay". I know a fair few folk who preach without notes (and I an A6 of headings when I do). The criticism is often "but how will you know what you're going to say", to which the answer is "because I've studied the text and know what I'm going to say". Of course the danger is you haven't studied the text enough and so you come to speak on a passage and you screw it up, or notice things for the first time then. I find that I do the latter too often, but I wonder if that's more my laziness than a failure in methodology.

I'd be curious to know if Mark Driscoll would be able to say "hey this is my outline of the sermon and where it's going" beforehand or whether he not know when he's preaching, because that'd be worrying.

When I started in ministry 13 years ago, I listened to the advice of my own hero, W. A. Criswell (I am not W. A. Criswell), who told all of his students to preach without notes. It's been amazing. The few times I've tried having a manuscript or outline, I lose a connectedness with my congregation. Further, it's less of a risk.

I believe God blesses our faith when we step up there without all the papers. At the same time, I wouldn't frown on the guy who preaches great sermons from a manuscript either. I just think it's worth a shot. I tried it once, and I've been doing it since, and it's a huge blessing.

Without reference to Driscoll's faithfulness or skill in the pulpit, which I have no experience of, his lack of notes is his choice, and it is one which has been used and recommended by many of the great preachers of history, and so should not be used in anyway to judge the quality or effectiveness of either his preparation or delivery. I have just been reading "Princeton and Preaching - Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry" by James Garrettson and Alexander would have been delighted with Driscoll's methodology at least from what I can glean it was exactly the one he used.

The method of preparation and delivery is not an indication of faithfulness one way or the other, nor it is it a guarantee one way or another of effectiveness, we're seed planters, God brings the increase.

Josh thanks for this series which gives us a very original insight into the seed planting methods of these well known men.



Well, first of all, thansks, Josh, for the series and for this info.

As a teacher of the Scriptures it's always interesting to me to see how other people do it. And I'm especially grateful to see how Mr. Driscoll does it. I listen to several sermons per week while I work/drive/run, and I respect Mark as the greatest preacher of our day. I think that one of the most important things that he does is to study the Scripture himself and then teach what God has put on his heart, rather than read 20 books about the scripture and then relate what everyone else has already said.

And granted, it has been stated above that not everyone can do that.

In fact I'd be surprised if there are 5 other guys in our country who consistently do that...

But I would like to point something out to everyone:

I don't often have time to read blogs and I haven't been here in a while, so I have somewhat of an outsider's perspective, and I've got to tell you, a good percentage of the comments above are wreaking with pride.

We're talking about a guy that God is literally using to transform my generation (I'm 26), and all you can do is criticize and make assumptions about his motives/skills/heart?

I don't know you and I don't know your heart, but maybe you need to take a second and pray why you have any negative feelings towards this guy...

Please let me clarify that those words are meant to be directed towards the comment writers, not you, Josh...

I am ***so*** not Mark Driscoll (like I didn't know that already).

I've had the opportunity to teach in my church 3 times, all three of which wouldn't sum to the length of one Driscoll sermon. And I have to script the whole thing in advance. (I *do* read it over enough times to where it only becomes an outline / memory jog for me when I'm up there.)

This is a cool series, Josh (came here from JT's blog). I'm looking forward to going backward and reading the other entries.

It seems to me that Driscoll is preaching the word of God faithfully, people in the church are falling in love with Jesus, and God is working in a mighty way.

What is the big deal about his notes?

Thanks for the post. As a preacher who preaches three messages a week, some with a full manuscript (mostly), some with scant notes (similar to Driscoll's) and some with nothing but a Bible in the pulpit I can appreciate all of the comments. I am reminded of what an old preacher said once to my father: "When I preach with notes I find it is too much of me and not enough of the Holy Spirit." I wrestle with this, and ask God's help and guidance. Even with my manuscript I pray that if there is anything He would have me say may I say it; and vice versa, if there be anything in the notes He would have me not say, don't say it. May we just desire to preach what God would have us preach -- nothing less and nothing more.

Reading this from the perspective of an Irish Baptist is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that many Irish Baptists seem to view preaching without notes as a sign of great preaching. Secondly, because Spurgeon was such a great influence on the scene here in Ireland. Some people however mistakenly believe that Spurgeon sat down on Saturday night to prepare for Sunday. Instead Spurgeon spent the week furnishing his mind with the material he would use on Sunday and then prepared an outline on Saturday night- much like Mark O'Driscoll it seems to me. Furthermore Spurgeon reckoned that what came out in extemporaneous speech could be just as effective as what was carefully prepared.

I'll say it again: I like Mark Driscoll. In fact, I really like Mark Driscoll. I started listening to him six or seven years ago, and I think he is a very good preacher. My comment about him preaching to long was born out of my own experience. When I don't transcript or work from a very detailed outline my economy of words goes way down and I end up saying less even though I have talked longer.

Driscoll is bright and funny so the places where I would tend to ramble he fills with humor and other stuff, and that's great. In fact, I enjoy his humor. But whether his humor is Spirit-led or not I have no idea, so I rescind my statement above.

My basic point is 30 to 45 minutes of carefully crafted language is plenty of information for the person in your pew to digest. An hour of extemporaneous speaking can often translate into a lot less information, and it can leave the preacher regretting some of the things he has said. And it's precisely at this point that's made Driscoll more of a lightning rod than a respected teacher.

But as I've said. I like Driscoll. His content is great. I do think he's funny. I understand the contextual nature of his style, but if he tried to boil down the salient portion of his sermons into notes or a transcript they would not be very long.

I attended MHC for a few years and we would get a bulletin each week with sermon notes on them. Mark's sermons followed these extensive notes quite closely. As can be expected with anything MHC puts out, the quality of the bulletin is incredible and is something that comes from a professional printer, not just whipped off the photocopier just before the service. Thus, his notes are prepared well in advance.

Also, you occasionally see Mark on stage with a clip board that he refers to while preaching. In one sermon, he even held up a page or two and referred to them as his notes.

Thanks for this series. I am not a preacher, nor in the ministry, etc...but I have found this series to be very interesting in an "I wonder how they do that" sort of way. I was curious to see if you would feature Driscoll or not as he seems to be viewed as controversial. I'm so glad you did. In fact, I moved to Seattle this summer and have been going to MH ever since. We love our church! We love our pastor! I think we all need to spend more time praying for our church and our pastors rather than critiquing them on the internet. I hope this series accomplishes all that you had in mind and that people aren't distracted by comments here. As for the SOS sermon line that was quoted...I was there and really appreciated the frank way that Driscoll approaches the Word. I grew up in the deep south/the Bible belt and Seattle is not it. What works here may not work somewhere else. The culture is different here. The point is that the TRUTH is preached---and it is. I doubt any preacher would want a few lines from his sermon blasted on the internet to be criticized. Hey, aren't we all on the same team? Trying to bring the truth of the gospel to the people dying around us? Let's be wise in what we say here and how we treat each other. Go read James 3 friends. It's great!

Joel Osteen memorizes his talks word for word from a manuscript. I can see someone who is very knowledgeable about their subject and an engaging speaker teaching this way. It is a totally different point as to this is a teachable method. In other words, while Driscoll is probably not who you want teaching Homiletics at the seminary, that does not mean his sermons are less than because he does not use copious notes or a manuscript. As many have pointed out, he is using his gift for the glory of God. And honestly, I would rather learn from someone who did not need copious notes to communicate any subject matter. It shows they know their stuff.

Oh yea, Jesus didn't use sermon notes (wink).

about that... I was thinking. its a good thing that I am not Mark Driscoll, cause I'm pretty sure if there were two mark Driscolls that they would hate eachother and eventually have a UFC style fight to the death, and I don't know about you, but even if I was Mark Driscoll I wouldn't want to mess with Mark Driscoll....

just a thought...

I have found through the years that (to quote a CE prof) "less is more". The most effective preaching and teaching is when i study alot, reduce it down to a few bullet points on a 2x5 card. I am still a little too insecure to do that alot. Most of the time I am finsihing my message with too late to "soak" and create a few thoughts on sticky notes.

When I was first learning to preach I started reading several preaching/sermon prep books, and I kept hearing this whisper, "Don,t lose your voice." over and over. God was calling me to preach as a man transformed by grace with a message to tell others in the voice and style that God was shaping in me. It tends to be very conversational, always Christ exalting and I try to talk to the head and the heart.

God appoints some to Paul and some to Apollos, I imagine that God is quite pleased to that some hear the gospel through Mark in his preaching and me in mine.


You know, that's the reason I use notes. My personality is such that I love joking and know that I would go on rabbit trails even in terms of jokes. I find that notes keep me on topic and actually free me up in a way to make a more pointed comment if necessary.

I am 1 of 3 preacher/teachers in my church. We always find it interesting to discuss how our content can be so similar yet our study notes are SO different. None of the 3 of us could use other's notes to preach a sermon. Every preacher is different in their approach and should feel the freedom to create sermons in whatever way works for them--as long as they can be faithful to the text.

Thanks for these very interesting posts.

Well said, Jesse!

Great Series! Well done.

Noticed some of your pages are broken and the php can be seen. eg:

if you email me I'll send you a screen shot.


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