Taking Sermon Notes
One of the joys of gathering with my local church on Sundays is sitting under the ministry of the Word. This is especially dear to me after having been un-churched for many years. I was spiritually malnourished by the time God providentially led me to the church I now call home. Hearing sound preaching was a feast for my soul after those lean years, and it still is. During the sermon, I take notes. Some may prefer to devote all their attention to listening and forego the pen and paper, but taking notes helps me learn and to recall what I have heard. So here are a few thoughts that may encourage you in your note-taking.
First of all, taking notes is not transcribing word-for-word. Since I am a transcriptionist by trade, I toyed with the idea of using a laptop for sermon notes since I can type much faster than I can write. But it is possible to lose focus in transcription mode because the goal isn't listening for the actual meaning but to type as many words as possible. Thus words can easily go in one ear and out the fingers with nary a thought. In fact, several studies in a classroom setting have shown that the act of writing notes on paper helps the students comprehend the material better than typing the information into a device. Manual note taking requires mental processing of the words so the listener can decide whether a given sentence is worth jotting down or not while not losing track of the speaker. This aids learning the substance of what is being said in a way that typing verbatim does not. And when it comes to preaching, grasping the sermon content is the main thing.
Secondly, taking notes is an aid for memory. They say that memory is the first thing to go. So unless one has the auditory equivalent of a photographic memory, it is not always possible to remember an entire sermon let alone all the scripture references. It is also possible to misconstrue what was said due to the lack of recall. Thus having written notes can help clear up confusion on the part of the hearer. To help me remember, I make a point of at least jotting down all the scripture references as well as the sermon title and the points of exposition and application.
Lastly, sermon notes are an aid to being a good Berean (Acts 17:11). This is more than fact-checking the pastor to see if what he said is so. This is an opportunity to prayerfully ponder what was spoken. So as I listen, I try to formulate a brief summary in a sentence or two of the sermon, as a mental handle for further meditation. In the following week, I try to reread the main text and other references. Then I can consider them as they relate to the subject at hand and within the larger context of the story line of the Bible. My notes also give me a way to pray through the application points and ask for the Holy Spirit's help in applying these truths to my life. At my church, the midweek small groups discuss the previous sermon together, so our written notes not only help us individually but corporately as we discuss what resonated with us the most. In addition, reviewing my notes helps me connect the dots with books I've read and previous preaching. There is something quite beautiful and satisfying in seeing how the threads of different doctrines are layered upon each other and woven together to form a cohesive whole.
I saved over a decade's worth of sermon notes and pulled them off the shelf last year as we were celebrating my pastor's tenth anniversary. As I flipped through my notebooks, there were sermon series that stretched us as a congregation and ones, like the doctrine of God, that changed everything for me. These are only pen-scrawled pages, but to me they are written Ebenezers of God's faithfulness to feed me and my local church with his Word. And this is a great blessing to not take for granted.
1. For Note Taking, Low-Tech is Often Best, Susan Dynarski, August 21, 2017, https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/08/note-taking-low-tech-often-best
Persis Lorenti is member of Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA where she serves as bookkeeper and deacon of library/resources. She blogs at triedbyfire.blogspot.com and out-of-theordinary.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @tea_et_books.