Taking Meaningful Sermon Notes
How would you like to be able to look at the notes you have taken on a sermon and see the direction God is moving in your life? How would you like to be able to find and recall what you heard for more than a few days. Listen to or read Taking Meaningful Sermon Notes and learn how to do all these things.
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So, the idea for this started when I gave a survey at a festival about what people remembered from years past, and if it had changed them in any way for the better. A few people could remember that they had heard a good sermon last year at the Feast, but they couldn’t remember why it was good or what it was about. Only one person in a hundred said they’d changed as a result of what they heard at any Feast sermon.
At first, I thought that issue was particular to our church, because of our baggage about listening to sermons, but, as I looked into it, I saw that remembering what we hear for any length of time is nearly impossible for everyone. I’ve known a few exceptions in my experience, but not many. I know I don’t do very well at remembering what I’ve heard in sermons long-term. So, I’m going to show you how I changed that for myself.
Now, I take notes so that I can get something meaningful out of almost any sermon. And a way to do it, so that I can lay my hands on it when needed, along with any related information I have gathered. Did you catch that? Not just the notes themselves, but anything related to it that I’ve ever taken notes on.
I want to ask you this question first though. Does God work directly with us during a sermon? I mean, that’s a good question. Right? Have you ever looked at someone else’s notes of the same sermon you just heard? It’s almost like you and the other person were listening to two different sermons. Why does that happen? Or, have you ever had something jump out at you during a sermon that seemed really important to you, and yet, not so much to other people? Well, I believe that is because God allows us to understand things when we’re ready for them – when it’s going to be useful to us. And so, if we record things that are interesting or important, our notes are going to look different than someone else’s. Different things will jump out at them that seem important.
So, sermon notes show a living record of God’s interventions with us during sermons. Did you know that? It’s the way the brain works. You know, our brains are really good at associating things, but not so good at remembering them. And those associations that we have made, when it comes to spiritual things, let’s say, put us in a position to make connections with other things. So, we’ll all get something different out of the same sermon. So, what we’re talking about today is how to listen to a sermon to received God’s interventions and retain them – to be able to bring them up.
So, here we are at church. We’ve got our notebook. We’ve got our Bibles. We have a pen – or better yet, a pencil with an eraser – and we’re ready to go. So, what’s the first thing to do? Well, the first thing to do is to close your Bible. If you try to look up every scripture the minister mentions, it’s going to slow you down, and it’s going to take your focus away from what he’s saying. So, its more important to capture the verse – and then look at it later – than it is to look it up immediately. I know that that’s a change for some people, and I would not want to try to convince anybody they should do anything different, but I do know that, if you close your Bible, and you concentrate on capturing the verses – rather than to look everything up – you’re going to get a lot more out of the sermon. Very important.
Okay. So, that’s the first thing to do. So, now you’ve got your notebook and your pencil, right? The second thing you do is, you pray for focus. It’s so easy to let our minds drift – to be thinking about other things. But, if we’re going to get what God has for us, we need to focus on what the speaker is saying, whether it is interesting to us or not. Does God have us go to church and listen to sermons so we can be entertained, or is it for our spiritual edification?
Listen for what’s new or interesting to you. That’s the third thing to do – interesting, new or meaningful to you. That’s really important. Don’t try to write down every single thing you hear. A lot of that will just be repetition. Things will fly by us while we’re listening so someone speak. And once they go past us, we can’t get it back. So, you want to capture the things that are most important to you during the sermon. The other things, that you’ve heard before, or you don’t understand, just let that go. If you don’t understand it, that just means you’re not ready for it yet. Capture the things that are new, interesting and meaningful to you.
Let me give you an example of how this works. I heard a minister give a sermon once, and he said that sermons are a lot like meals. Some are memorable, but all are nourishing. So, if we understand that, then we can be focused on every sermon. Everything can be nourishing to us.
So, that example right there – let’s say that that’s something you heard a minister say in a sermon – well, here’s what you do. In your notebook, you write down – and at the top of these notes, by the way, you want to put down the date, where you heard it, and who said it. Because, if you can remember those things, the chances of pulling it up – if you have to look it up later in a chronological list – you use the date to make it chronological. Then, you’re going to have a much better chance of finding it again. So that’s at the top of your notes – and also the title of the sermon. Then, for each note that you take, you want to put down what the title would be. Say for this one, it would be, Sermons Are Like Food – or Meals. Then you would write what you heard the minister say, and in your own words, explain what it means. “All meals are nourishing.” Okay? So what that means is, you can get something out of every sermon. So, you put that down as your meaning. And at the bottom of the note that you’re writing, you put the date and the time, so that can order these things chronologically later.
Now, we’re talking about ordering them chronologically. You’re getting a chronological list in your notes, as you take notes in your notebook, but you’re going to have to transfer those to individual pieces of paper later, so why not just start taking notes on 3 x 5 cards, instead of using a notebook? It’s going to save you a step later on. And have a pencil and an eraser so that you can erase and write what you want to put in its final form.
So, when you’re done, you’ve got a note with the title of the note, what it’s about, what was said, what it means to you. And then, at the bottom, you’re going to put the date and the time, so that becomes a unique number for that note.
Then, you flip the card over and you write the same things you would if you had a notebook at the top – the date, who said it, and where it was said. If you’re reading a book, for example, you would put the author and the page number – stuff like that – on it. So each note – each though that you’ve captured – was meaningful, interesting or new to you. You’ve got a separate note for that. If you’re doing it in a notebook, you just draw a line under it when you’re done so each note in encapsulated by a line above and a line below. Then you’ve got it.
Okay, so that’s the essence of it. Now, some ministers aren’t gifted to be interesting, or to always come up with new stuff, but they can provide nourishment nevertheless, if we know that that’s what’s available to us. Even good speakers can’t always give a good interesting sermon or a fun sermon to listen to – something that’s entertaining. So, just realize that just like some meals aren’t that exciting to eat, they do nourish us. And then you go looking for the things that are meaningful, new or interesting to you in that message. You’ll be surprised what happens when you do that. And when you get done for the day, if it’s something you’ve never heard anybody talk about, you might have quite a few notes, but maybe, for most sermons, you might only find three or four, five or six things that are new or interesting or meaningful to you. So, that’s a real haul for a sermon! It’s not about how many notes you take, it’s about the important things that you capture out of those notes. And when you do this…you know how sometimes you listen to sermons and it seemed like they would never be done, because it was just so boring and so tedious to listen to? Well, when you listen to a sermon that would otherwise seem boring, suddenly the time flies as you search for those nuggets in each one.
So, back to my example now. Let’s say that you took your notes on a 3 x 5 card. On the back of it, you’ve got the date and where you heard it, which was at home on a video – or an audio – that Bill Jacobs was doing. So you write his name and you write “audio” and the date. Then you turn it over and there you’ve got the topic, which is All Sermons Are Food, and then “some are nourishing.” That’s the essence of what you got out of it. Right? All sermons are nourishing, even if they’re not interesting. Then, at the bottom, you right down that unique date and a number, so that you can take that 3 x 5 card and you file it. Let’s say, the six notes you took on this video – or this audio – you file them by date and time in chronological order – to start out your set of sermon notes that you’re going to keep forever. You can put them in a shoebox, for example, or just start out…I would probably put a rubber band around them until the card stack got too tall for me to use a rubber band anymore. And then I find a little box to put them in. So, you start doing that.
Now, when you come home from church, you look at the note you have, and maybe you’ve connected it, in your mind, to two or three other things that were said in that sermon. So, just under where you put what it meant, you put “links,” and you find the other notes that connect in your mind – that are linked in your mind – to that thing about sermons being food. And you write the unique number, which will be the date and the time, comma, and then the next one for the next card.
So, in the future, you go to those cards and you put the unique number and name of the card you started with on it. Let’s say you have three cards. They all have the links – the numbers – and the date of the other two cards on it, so that, if you pull any one of those cards, you can quickly find the other two. So that is magical. It’s amazing how that works. That is how your brain works. It makes connections between things. And so you’re storing a set of cards that are all connected by topic and by importance in your mind together, so that you can find them again. When you start doing that, I mean, just think about what that’s going to do for you. Let’s say you also include books that you read, videos that you watch, and other audios and things like that besides the sermons you hear at church. You’re going to have a treasure trove of amazing stuff.
I didn’t come up with the magic of this. I first learned it in high school, and then I forgot about it until recently when I read a book about a guy who was able to write an absurd number of books in a year, because the notes he had taken for the last five years were all linked together by meaning – like I just explained to you – so that all his research for each book was already done and organized.
By the way, I know it’s hard to understand what I’m saying without having a visual. So, if you will go to our Website liferesource.org, you will find this notetaking audio on the main page for that. Under Audios by Date, you can find it, or look it up by topic in the Search field. And you can go and find the transcript of this. I’m including, at the bottom of the transcript, some examples of what those cards would look like so that you can see more in detail what I’m talking about and how to link them together.
So this guy who wrote all these books because all his thoughts on each topic were together, and all the research had been done already, and all the synthesizing – because when you write in the note what it means to you, that’s all you need for your paper you’re writing, or the discussion you’re going to have, or the Bible study you’re going to do, or maybe the sermonette you’re going to give. It’s all there for you.
So, just think about how handy that would be. You need to prove the Sabbath to a friend. So, you pull out your shoebox full of notes and you start searching. Now, what I do is – let’s say we’re talking about the Sabbath – what I would do is, I would make a card that’s just about the Sabbath. In my system, I call that a hub-note. And on that card are links to all the other cards in my system that are about the Sabbath. So, I can go to that one card and find everything I’ve ever taken notes on related to the Sabbath day. And all of those things are interconnected to each other, too. So, you can go from one to another.
You can also do this with a phone. There’s an app that’s available. It’s called Craft Docs. I’ve tried this. You can take your smart phone and Craft Docs works on your smart phone. It’s works on your iPad. It works on your Mac. And now they even have it for Windows, so Windows computers can use it. I’m not sure if they have analog phone apps yet, but they’re working on that.
So anyway, you’ve got your app and you take a note. Okay? Just like you did with a card. You quickly type in a few things. Then, with this app, at the bottom of it, you can type an @ sign and start typing a few words. Let’s say you type “Sab…” and all of a sudden, everything you’ve got on the Sabbath will pop up. So, you could have a discussion with somebody and quote scriptures and make points right off your phone, because everything you’ve ever written down as a note in Craft Docs will be in your hand. So, it’s an amazing thing – an amazing tool.
Now, some people are not computer literate, or maybe they don’t like iPhones, or whatever – smart phones. You can still do it on paper. It just takes you a little longer to find things – to have access to it. But let’s say you do that, and you pull out your phone, and there’s the proof for the Sabbath with just a few clicks. Or, let’s say you want to give a recipe to a friend that you like so much you put it in your notes. So you type in the name of the food and there it is. Or, you want to share a link to a funny YouTube video. Well, if you copied that link into your card system or your iPhone, it’ll be there for you. And it will just pop up when you want it. Or, you can just quickly search it in your card box. If you want to give a sermon about XXX, you type in XXX and there, before your eyes, every note you have ever taken.
So, let’s think about what to put in your system. Sermon and Bible study notes, right? Things that you learned while you were studying your Bible. Have you ever had…somebody says something and you might not quite agree with it, and you know that you just read something in the Bible, but you can’t quite put your finger on the scripture and verse? Well, with this, if you studied it in your Bible, and you took a note on it, and you included the scriptural citation, you can type it in while you’re talking to your friend on your phone, and your point will pop up for you. So, think about what would happen if you did that with videos, books, articles, personal Bible study, sermons you’ve heard. It’s just amazing.
I recently read Ron Dart’s book, The Thread. I’ve read other books, and I might get three or four or five ideas about, but out of that book, I wrote down 136 notes – from that one book alone – on all different kinds of topics, related to the meaning of the holy days and God’s plan. Really amazing. And on each one of those, on the back side of it, is Ron Dart, copyright date, and the title of the book. Then, on the other side, I have, maybe, a few words about what he was saying and then what it means to me. Then, links to other things that I’ve got in my system that I recalled. It’s just astounding what you can gather up from all of that.
People say, “Well, that’s too hard. I’m not that kind of person.” Or, “You know, just the whole deal about starting that and it would take a long time before it really became useful, because I wouldn’t have anything.” Or, “I’ve missed so much already.” “I’m too old,” or “I’m too young,” or “I’m not smart enough.” Those thoughts are just the devil talking to you. He hates the idea of you remembering God’s words to you. It’s always a good time to try something new – always a good time to try to do something to help yourself. If you take one note, you’ve taken one note. It doesn’t matter how much stuff you’ve missed already in the past. What matters is what’s going to happen going forward. It’s always a good time to be able to recall God’s effort in your life. And, if you start taking notes this way, you’re going to realize how much He’s holding out in front of you for your to learn, if you’ll just capture it. And you don’t have to capture everything. If you miss something, He’ll send it around again when you’re ready for it. Just trust Him.
It’s a great way to start taking notes at any time in your life – to be able to recall it. When I first started thinking about giving this audio, I think I had about 250 notes and about 60 or 70 hubs – basic titles. I’ve got a lot more than that now. It grows exponentially as you read. You don’t have to concentrate on numbers, just on quality – on what’s important to you – what you get – because that’s what you’re ready for at that time in your life. And, if there’s something that you missed, and you weren’t ready for it, when you are ready for it, God will run it by you again. And it will pop out to you, and it will seem interesting and important – the criteria for a note.
I’ve even thought about having a chat forum about this so that people could share what they’ve learned and how they’re doing it, but that may come along later. Maybe I’ll start out at the Feast and do a workshop on it. We’ll see what can come. I’m pretty excited about it and I’m already learning a lot from it. So, I hope this is helpful to you.