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Making the most of Sunday sermons

Learning to take notes for future reference

Note-taking culture

I appreciate not all church traditions in the UK have sermons as a regular part of their corporate worship but many do and so I want to look at this today. Any one making a casual observation of these churches would notice that almost no one takes notes during the sermon. It is not the culture. I think this is a shame and I want to share some of the reasons why.

Reasons to take notes

First, the Sunday sermon slot is the only time when the whole church is together for learning. God can speak to us and challenge us as a whole body. There are other opportunities for us to learn (at home by ourselves, at a house group, events which we hear about, etc.) and the sermon does not replace any of these but for those we are not all together. Whoever is preaching the sermon will have spent much time trying to hear what God wants to say—they do not just pick a topic out of the hat. What is God saying to us? We need to hear what He has to say to us as a congregation and if we write notes we can compare our thoughts with others and understand what God wants us to learn as a body of believers not just what we as individuals need.

Next, the main purpose for the sermon is to learn something about God and His Word. When I send my children to school I expect that they will write down what they hear so that they can go over it and be sure that they have learnt the lesson for the day. I know that my children will learn more by writing things down than by just listening to the teacher. The same is true for you and me in church. We, as adults, are losing an opportunity to be sure that we have taken on board what was said when we do not take notes. From the parable of the sower we know that Satan sets out to steal the word from the hearers. If we write it down we can be more sure that it is not stolen away.

When we take notes we are more able to take in the words that are being spoken.

Third, it helps us to concentrate. Yes there are plenty of things to look at, the cobwebs are still out of reach and the dust is still spreading, but what did the preacher say? When we take notes we are more able to take in the words that are being spoken. If we are tired we have something physical for our bodies to do rather than drop off and miss this once, and once only, message that God is giving.

When a congregation takes notes it gives the preacher feed back about what people find important in what was said. If every one suddenly looks down and starts scribbling the preacher knows that he has said something which people have responded to. If everyone is staring blank faced (maybe at the front or perhaps the ceiling) then how can they know if your needs are being met? “Nice sermon minister,” at the end may be polite but isn’t much help. Help the preacher help you.

It gives you the opportunity to come back to the details as well as remembering the general message. This is important as we need to learn about how to live out God’s word as well as knowing what it is. Can you remember what was preached on Sunday? If you had notes you could go back and remind yourself.

The word of God is life-changing if you are going to take it on board and not let it get away.

The word of God is life-changing, but it will only change your life and your community if you are going to take it on board and not let it get away. Taking notes can help us in a longer-term way than listening only. A bath with a leaking plug will still fill up, but by the time it is full the water may be cold. Let us fill our lives with lots of hot water. Put the plug in and stop the lessons we learn in church from draining away then we will be better do-ers not just hearers of the word.



A suggestion of how to take notes during a sermon

Have a pen and paper ready—a spiral bound note book is good.

Write the preachers name, the date and where you heard the message at the top. If there is a title note that down too.

Write a sentence or two to cover the gist of the introduction. It is not necessary to note down the illustrative stories unless they particularly speak to you.

A church preacher may well preach through a number of points. He or she will often summarise the point in a single sentence either at the beginning or end of that subject matter. This is what you should try to jot down.

If there are details which you find interesting or new, put these down too as you go along.

Jot down any Bible references to look at later—even if they read them out you may wish to look at them in another translation or when you look at the notes next week/ month/ year you want to remember them.

If God prompts you or says anything to you during the sermon which was not explicitly said by the preacher write those down too.

Lastly write down a few sentences of summary or conclusion.

After church ask yourself these questions.

After church it is good to look at your notes and ask yourself these questions:

What did I learn?

What action do I need to take in response?

How am I going to check that I have implemented my response?

What is my personal prayer for this lesson?

Is there a verse of Scripture I can memorise to summarise this lesson?



2 Timothy 3 v7 speaks about people who are, “Always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” Let us not be those people, but instead make sure that we move on from being hearers to do-ers of the Word.

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This article © Linda Faber 2006-2009.