In Defense of Taking Notes in Sermons

I am a “note taker” and I love it.

Sermons, lectures, webinars at work – I like…no, I need to have pen and paper with me to focus.

In so much as you are delivering some form of information, I need to write it down…and nowhere more so than in church. sermon_notes

I am an avid note taker in church – most likely on paper, occasionally on my tablet if I’m short of a pen – and I refuse to apologise for that fact.

I appreciate it’s not for everyone but of late, it’s become popular in Bible-believing circles to decry the act of taking notes in sermons. I remember listening to an amazing series of sermons on Romans 9-11 a few years ago and the preacher constantly derided those who would take notes during his preaching – and he met with a lot of agreement from the audience.

As someone who is an avid note-taker and has no plans of quitting, here are some reasons I believe in taking notes:

1. It forces you to not just listen but process:

As someone who teaches at least once a week, I face the reality that folks will often listen to me with great eagerness…and then can’t remember what I said the next week.

Part of the problem is that we are often OK at listening but not at processing.

Listening is passive but to listen, think through and internalize and review- that’s an activity which requires effort and note-taking (with later review) helps encourage that process.

2. It aids discipleship((Indebted to Dr David Platt for years of drumming this into me via his pastoral ministry at The Church of Brooks Hills))

Preaching is a means by which we are equipped for the work of the ministry (cf Eph 4:13-16) – it is, amongst so many other things, mass discipleship in the Word.

I have been stretched and deepened by the pulpit ministry of my local church and more often than not, I find myself sharing tidbits from what I’ve learned with others who I am trying to pour into.

Try doing that from memory. A written (or typed) record is a record you can go back to, a record you can draw on time and time again as you pass off the truths passed on to you.

This next point is a little longer and more complex so follow me closely…

3. Much of the critique of taking notes in sermons hinges on opinion and not fact

The idea is often put forward that a sermon is a means of exultation in and exaltation of Jesus Christ – so far, so good – and since it is worship and not just information – again, I agree – taking notes removes the worshipful aspect from that process and reduces it down to a lecture.

“The Doctor”, Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is cited to this effect:

“I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. . . . The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. . . . While you are writing your notes, you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

Well, with all due respect to the Doctor, that sounds more subjective than anything. I’m pretty certain God the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to minister to someone listening to a sermon and writing down notes just as effectively as if someone were just listening.

If anything, this downplays the effectiveness of preaching and makes it contingent on the response it evokes in the hearers and what the preacher does to produce that effect, rather than in the freedom of the Spirit working to make the Word of effect in people’s lives.

It’s not been my aim in this post to say everyone must take notes in a sermon – people process differently and take in truth differently – but it is my hope that we’ll put aside bad arguments either for or against and simply let people do that which best works for them.

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