In school, we knew the importance of taking notes. No notes = I will fail the course. Or, no notes = the teacher doesn’t like me very much. Whatever the case, we sure did take notes. Everything written on the board was written down in our wide-lined three-ring binder. Unfortunately for us as students, the notes probably meant nothing to us on their own, nor did there exist any cohesion between the thoughts quickly jotted down. As soon as the course was over and the final exam passed, those same notes went quickly into the trash along with the study guide we loved so dearly just before the test began.
It’s no wonder that we don’t take notes in church.
But I encourage you to take up that habit. In the future, you will be glad you did.
Perhaps you are afraid that what happened to your school notes will happen to your sermon notes: trashed after the course (or sermon). When would you look at them again? There’s no test or deadline to know them for.
The truth is that spiritual growth and knowledge is much more important than knowing info for a test. Notes taken on spiritual matters are applicable throughout our lives. Keep a file folder or notebook for your sermon notes, and refer to them occasionally, reading them like you might a devotional. Maybe it would help you to organize them according to topic or Scripture so that when you are studying that same topic later, you can refer to the notes you’ve written about that in the past. Don’t let them collect dust: use them!
Maybe your biggest hindrance is that you don’t know how to take notes. You find yourself writing down things like
Those aren’t bad things to know, but you’re not going to look back at a list of facts and grow in your faith. What you want to write down are the significant statements that the speaker makes or the thoughts that his statements spark in your own mind. That may be all you can think about right now, but you will forget it later, so write it down!
Then develop each point as the speaker does.
Write down the verses as the preacher says them (even if that means not writing down something else- you can always refer to the verse later to see what his point might have been).
Another helpful trick in taking notes is making dividers. Sometimes there is a list of information in the midst of one of the main points. Instead of writing everything in a descending sentence outline format, make a box on the right hand side of the page to fill in the list.
If you are visually-oriented or a little artsy, you might enjoy taking notes more if you doodle your notes. This doesn’t mean that you draw an epic picture of a castle in the middle of your sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man, but it means that you decorate your box. You use font difference to draw attention to certain notes. You use differently-colored pens for different thoughts. You draw thumbnail picture of a tall man in rich robes above your description of the rich man and a picture of a poor beggar in rags above Lazarus’ description. (You get the idea?)
So the two most important thing about taking notes in sermons are these:
1. Write down what will be helpful to you later.
2. Refer to them later.
P.S. I’ve found that using a manageable-sized notebook rather than a hefty 8x11 binder is not only easier to carry around and place on your lap, but also more desirable for looking at later.
Growing in grace and knowledge,