How to Take Great Sermon Notes

How to Take Great Sermon Notes February 13, 2012

Don’t. I’m serious. Just put your pencil down andlisten, completely unleaded, with all your heart.

Why? Because taking scrupulous notes doesn’t actuallycorrespond with what a biblical sermon is. Note-taking might not really beappropriate. Let me explain…

A sermon is emphatically not a lecture; thus, weshouldn’t listen to the two the same way. During a lecture, it’s normal tolisten for new or important information, organize it, record it, and review itlater. But a sermon is not information; it’s confrontation—confrontation withthe holiness of God, the peril of your soul, and the provision of the gospel.

Perhaps it would help to clarify that preaching is ameans, not an end. Biblical preachers do not aim to preach the Bible per se.They preach the Bible to the end that their listeners will understand andreceive Jesus Christ and Him crucified. “The main objective of preaching,”writes John Stott, “is to expound Scripture so faithfully and relevantly thatJesus Christ is perceived in all His adequacyto meet human need.”

Once people realize what preaching is at its essence,they should know instinctively that their main duty and first response aslisteners is not to take thorough notes. That would be like passengers on asinking ship responding to the warnings of the crew by whipping out a pad andjotting down the key themes: “Ship going down. Won’t last much longer.Lifeboats available…” No, don’t write it down and analyze it. Act! Saveyourself! Flee to the lifeboats! The warnings of the crew are meant to createan impression and inspire swift action. Likewise with preaching—the aim is tocreate a sense of God’s glory and inspire an appropriate response: praise,repentance, hope, surrender, witness, faith, joy, love, etc. 

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the greatest preachersof the 20th century, said it best: “I have often discouraged thetaking of notes while I am preaching. The first and primary object of preachingis not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce animpression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than whatyou can remember subsequently. While you are writing your notes, you may bemissing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

If note-taking helps you listen, that’s fine. Butotherwise, write it down: you don’t need to take notes in church.