I am an avid note taker. I love listening and writing what I hear during sermons, Bible studies, and meetings. While this is true for me, note taking may be more challenging for others. So, with that in mind, I thought I would put together a list to help you take better sermon notes.
1. Begin With Prayer
One of the things we often overlook is that the sermon is not just for learning new information about a Bible passage. We are not there so we will be able to win the next Bible trivia night at our church. We are there to hear the WORD OF GOD! This adds a new dimension to what we are experiencing. You are not listening to a lecture or anything else, you are listening for God to speak. Thus, it would do us well to say a prayer asking God to remove distraction, help us focus, and allow us to hear His word for us that day.
2. Come Ready to Take Notes
Aside from being spiritually ready, you have to be physically ready. Make sure that you have a good pen/pencil and note book. I personally take notes using a Midori Travelers Notebook using a Pentel Sharplet 2 Pencil.
The reality is that the actual book and writing utensil makes no difference. The most important part is that it is something that you will actually have with you and write in. You might prefer a legal pad, spiral notebook, composition book, pen, marker, or maybe even a crayon. The most important thing is that you bring it with you, and write in it.
If you are going to write directly in your Bible, which I encourage, make sure you use a pen or pencil that works well on thin pages so that you won’t get bleed through on the back of the page.
3. Don’t Write Everything Down
When I first started taking notes I tried to write down everything the pastor said. I quickly became frustrated and gave up. There is just no way that a normal person can write it all down. So what should you write down?
I typically start with the date and name of the speaker. If I am in a location different than my church I might take note of that also. Next, I write the title of sermon and the main text from the Bible. After that it somewhat depends of the formatting of the sermon being given.
Typically, I try to listen for the main points and write those down. As the sermon progresses there may be supporting scripture or thoughts that I will add below the main structure. If the speaker says something that I want to make sure I remember, I write it down. I also like to write down the verse references that the speaker uses so I can look them up later on my own.
I like to try and summarize each point and the whole sermon at the end. I try and do this with as few words as are necessary–this makes it easier to remember.
Finally, I like to reflect and ask God what He wants me to do based on what I have heard from Him that day. These are the action steps that I will take during the week to be obedient to Him.
4. It’s Ok to Draw Pictures
Not all learning comes from making an outline. If something the speaker says makes you think of a picture, draw it out. Maybe you make a cartoon rendering of the whole sermon. Sometimes accessing the creative part of our brains while listening to a sermon will help us process it better than just making a list.
5. Remember the Goal
Try and remember that you are trying to hear from God about how you are to live your life for Him. It is easy to get distracted with all sorts of things while taking notes. Recognize it and shift your focus back to what you are supposed to be doing.
Even if you notes are not perfectly written, perfectly quoted, or perfectly drawn, the most important part is the you captured what God was speaking to you that day.
6. Keep Working On It
It is very likely that you will not like your first attempt at taking notes–that’s fine. Don’t give up, keep working at it. Each time you take notes you will get better and find a system that works for you. There is not a one size fits all approach to taking sermon notes. Find what works for you and do it. If you don’t like how something turned out, change it next time. Also, mix up the way you take notes. Try to not do it exactly the same way each time. This will help you to stay engaged with the speaker too!
I pray that you will have success in your note taking adventure. Share your tips in the comments.