Tips for Taking Good Sermon Notes

I want to start this post by looking at what the Scripture said for a new King of Israel was to do upon becoming King. The Scripture is found in Deuteronomy 17:18-19 and reads,

“Also, it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priest, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes.”

This has a very specific application to Old Testament Israel and her kings contextually. However, there are a few principles for us to learn here. The first would be something about handwriting that aids in learning. Recent studies have shown that handwriting notes aids in the retention of the material being learned (BBC ArticleNPR Article). The second would be that “notes” are not worth anything unless we go back and read them, study them, and use them. Note how the King was to read or use his handwritten copy of the law in the above verses. And thirdly, writing and using notes have a purpose so that we “may learn to fear the LORD” our “God and be careful to observe all the words” of His law.

So what are some tips for better note-taking during the preaching of sermons?

  • Come prepared. Come to services with the right writing utensils for marking in your Bible and a place for notes. Your place for notes, maybe a journaling Bible or a designated notebook. I still have my first sermon notebook from when I first began attending services. From time to time, I still go back to those outlines and use them for study or as a skeleton for a new sermon or Bible study.
  • Don’t take verbatim notes. It can be tempting (or stressful depending on your outlook) to try and copy everything that is being preached. Not only is this not necessary, but it also does not help you retain what is being taught. You become focused on copying everything, so you concentrate on words instead of the lesson being taught.
  • Do summarize. A helpful practice would be to listen to the point being presented and then summarize that point in your own words in your notes.
  • Note the Scriptures used. One thing that I would say you need to make sure you get copied is the Scripture references used in the sermon. Even if you do not have a chance to turn your Bible over to them, copying them down will allow you to go back later and review them.
  • Do record the overall point. At the end of the lesson, try to think of a one or two-sentence summary of the lesson’s main point. I say at the end of the lesson because that is when all the information is fresh.

After the Lesson:

Sermon notes are good if we get use out of them after the lesson. The goal of note-taking is to have the information available to us for later study. Here are a few bonus suggestions for getting the most out of your sermon notes.

  • Type your notes. One of my college professors said to my lecture hall one time that if you wanted to learn the material, you should do the reading before class, take handwritten notes, and type up your notes after class. The act of typing requires you to review your notes and organize them in an orderly way. As a bonus, if you have all your sermon notes in one document, you have the luxury of being able to search all your notes, thus, creating a “sermon database.”
  • Write out an application for your life. After the service, take 5-10 minutes to review your notes, pray for God’s wisdom (James 1:5), and write out one application from the lesson to your life. This will help you seek to live by the teaching of Christ consistently.
  • Study the outline. If you have taken good notes that capture the sermon, then you will be able to pull it out again later in the week to study through it (reading those Scripture references that you missed during services?).

As we head into 2022, I hope one of your new year’s resolutions will be to be more engaged with the Word of God this year, and one way you can do that is to be more engaged with the preaching of the Word.

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