Every Sunday, we come together to worship our Lord Jesus together. As my former pastor, CJ, says regularly, “Sunday is the best day of the week!” And he’s right! But why is it the best day of the week? I could rattle off a dozen plus reasons – but there’s one BIG reason: it’s the day when God speaks to us as a body.
In Habukkuk, the Lord told the prophet Habakkuk to “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it” (2:2). Here God wanted His prophet to record His words clearly so that whoever read it would be able run (and keep going) as a result of hearing it. When you and I come together on Sunday to hear God’s word preached to us, we are not merely listening to the voice of a man. We are listening to the very voice, words, vision, and mind of God being re-spoken to His people, so that as we begin a new week, we have true bread and living water to sustain us as we run with endurance the race that God has set before us (Heb. 12:1).
So with this in mind, I’ll ask the title question: Do you take sermon notes? Sermon notes enable you, the listener of God’s word, to take the plain meaning of what God has spoken to you and to apply it to your life. Writing down thoughts as you listen to God’s word can be a helpful tool to keep His words fresh on your mind and heart throughout the week.
Aaron and I want to help you become good sermon note takers so that we as a body will be better able to hide God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). We have come across a helpful article from Crossway Books called “8 Tips for Taking Good Sermon Notes.” I’ve pasted these tips below for easy reading.
- Come prepared with the right writing utensil.
It’s important to choose the right kind of pen or pencil when it comes to writing in your Bible, even if you’re writing in a Bible with thicker paper (like the ESV Journaling Bible). Download our quick-reference Bible Writing Utensil Guide for more helpful information.
- Don’t try to transcribe everything the pastor says.
The goal of good sermon note taking is not creating a verbatim record of everything the pastor says from the pulpit. If your church records each week’s message, there’s no reason you can’t go back and listen to it again (or even transcribe it) later. One of the dangers of trying to write down everything the pastor says during the sermon is that it often has the ironic effect of distracting us from truly thinking about what he’s saying.
A more helpful approach to sermon notes is summarizing the sermon’s key points, paying attention to the message’s inherent structure. Some preachers explicitly lay out the structure of their message, regularly calling out different, numbered points. Others may not be as explicit about the structure of the message, but, most likely, there is structure to be found if you pay attention.
Focusing on the main points of the sermon will also allow you to note particularly impactful insights, practical applications, and follow-up questions.
- Note related passages.
Even if your pastor tends to preach from a single passage each week, it’s likely that he often reads or references other passages at times. Jot some of these references down as you listen to the sermon—this will make it easier for you to return to your notes later and dig into other biblical passages that may shed more light on the message itself.
- Look up from time to time.
When taking notes during a sermon, it’s easy to get sucked into the actual writing and forget to look up from time to time. And yet, looking up can be important for a couple reasons.
First, it gives you a chance to pause and take a step back from what you’re writing. In doing this, you may find that you’re able to make new connections, glean new insights, and ponder new applications related to the biblical text as you focus on simply listening to the message.
Second, it lets the preacher know that you’re paying attention and engaged, rather than bored or distracted. Making eye contact can provide a small but needed encouragement.
- Be sure to take note of the date and speaker.
Much like a journal entry, sermon notes can provide a record of what you were learning in various seasons of life. Having a date and name to associate with the notes can be helpful ebenezers (or reminders) when looking back through your notes at a later time.
- Before the sermon ends, write down a one-sentence summary of the whole message in your own words. (This is hugely helpful in remembering the passage!)
Challenging yourself to sum the sermon up into a thesis of sorts can be a great way to solidify your understanding of the message. If someone were to ask you about the sermon at lunch afterwards, what would you say it was about? What is the main point you think your pastor intended for you to take away?
- Remember that the goal of sermon note taking is communion with God, not detailed or beautiful notes.
It’s easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal of good sermon notes: communion with the living God through his Word. Fight against the temptation to allow other goals—perfect accuracy, comprehensive detail, beautiful penmanship, etc.—to distract you from that which is most important.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what our sermon notes look like or even how infallibly they reflect the sermon from which they were originally drawn. What matters is how God uses his Word to transform our hearts and minds, conforming us more and more into the image of his Son. When taking notes during a sermon, make sure that’s your ultimate goal.
- Revisit your sermon notes throughout the week.
For most of us, by the time Tuesday morning rolls around, we’ve often forgotten all about our pastor’s sermon the Sunday before. Sermon notes are a great tool for reminding yourself of what was preached on Sunday later in the week, allowing us to continue meditating on the message. What’s more, if your pastor is preaching through a book of the Bible expositionally, reviewing your notes from the previous Sunday’s message could serve as a great warmup for hearing your pastor’s next message.
Finally, this may prove especially helpful for those in churches with weekly small groups, which often include discussion related to the most recent sermon.
From your pastors, happy note taking! May our notes be a helpful resource as we press on in the race set before us!