Sermon Notes

Specifically: why I do not take them.

Assumed audience: Theologically-orthodox Christians, or folks interested in things that theologically-orthodox Christians think.

In response to my sharing this piece by my friend Brad East, someone recently asked me on LinkedIn:

Do you generally try and take notes of any preaching in the service? If so do you take it with a notebook or after the fact go back over what was said?

My response:

I do not, and have not for many years. I grew up doing that and did it for some time in early adulthood, but I think the tendency to/felt need to take extensive notes on a sermon is usually indicative of a malformed sermon! The point of a sermon, as I take it, is not first of all information-transferal but rather worship. That is: a sermon is not a lecture or an instance of a class”. There are other good places for that, to be clear; and a very secondary work of a sermon can be explaining a hard passage to be better understood and apprehended by the congregation. But its first job — and the focus of even that kind of explanation — is to lead the congregation to worship: to see that in the text being brought to them by the preacher, the living God is speaking his living word! And so: while a note here and a note there to remember a particularly helpful framing can be a perfectly good thing, I think the tendency toward extensive note-taking in general indicates a culture of sermons which are focused on the wrong things, or at minimum overly focused on good-but-secondary things.

This is rather out of step with the way most evangelicals think about sermons, especially evangelicals for whom the purpose of a sermon just is to convey information about the text, and therefore for whom note-taking (as for a class on a subject) is a natural and healthy response.

To be clear: there is a place and time for lectures and for information transfer, for showing the nuts and bolts of how a passage comes together. Nor is nitty-gritty exposition at odds with proclamation. (Indeed, a preacher had better have done the work such that he could deliver a lecture on the passage covered!) The key, though, is that exposition, however it is structured, must always — always! — lead to exultation.