Should people take notes during the sermon?

Questioning tradition a bit at this point, I would like to pose a question which I am certainly not the first to ask. Other men from history are looking over my shoulder asking the same question and they have far more credibility and longevity than I do (e.g., Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Should we encourage our people to take notes during the sermon? Let me state at the outset that I do not think it a major issue either way. I would say that most expository preaching lends itself toward people taking notes as it is informational as well as exhortive preaching (as it should be). In our church, our men meet in weekly groups where they discuss last week’s sermon and seek to plunge the depths of application. The basis for their meetings is their notes from the last sermon. So personally speaking, I have seen the tremendous advantages of individuals taking notes while I preach.

However, in our media-driven age there is still an uncomfortable disconnect with modern forms of communication and the very old biblical task of public preaching. Ours is a generation driven by gobs of information and statistics which we have at a ready click (e.g., Google, Wikipedia) even if we’re not sure how such information should be processed. In fact, we have more bits of information at our disposal than ever before and yet we have few thinkers who are able to process this mass of media without the aid of a computerized algorithms. I believe such information age characteristics of knowledge accumulation have made their way into the congregations of churches that regularly dish out expository sermons. One response to such excess would be to scrap the expository sermon all together in favor of something lighter and more user-friendly but we can’t do this since 1) expository preaching is a biblical mandate 2) you would be wasting years of Greek and Hebrew study if you do something else and 3) you would reduce your ministry to scratching itching ears…just to name a few. Ridding ourselves of the method (i.e., expository) is not an option. So let’s hear some dissenting voices on taking notes before we decide what to do.

The first to truly emphasize such a point was Jonathan Edwards. George Marsden recounts Edwards saying, “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (quoted in The Salvation of Souls, eds. Richard Bailey and Gregory Wills, 11). In a similar manner Martyn Lloyd-Jones followed Edwards noting, “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….It is not primarily to impart information; and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

So there are valid points to be made all around. Do you think Edwards and Jones made valid observations or do you think this is where they might have strayed in regards to application? What do we learn from both sides of the spectrum? Let us know what you think.

12 responses to this post.

  1. My humble opinion is that it is very helpful. It is much harder for your mind to drift off into daydream land or to become distracted by others if you are concentrating on taking notes. Often, I will go back during the week and review the notes, but even if you never do that, I think the process of writing the notes down while you listen helps you to take in and remember much more than you would if you were just sitting and listening. There’s something about listening AND writing that helps you to retain information much better.

  2. I think it can be helpful, but I know a lot of people who get the fill-in-the-blanks outline and are only listening for the blanks to fill in.

    One to add to your list of dissentors would be Tim Keller. In this message he observes that the normal evangelical method is to encourage the taking of notes during a sermon, which you will then take, home, review, and hopefully apply. In contrast, he suggests that the application should take place “right there on the spot,” during the message itself as the Spirit brings conviction.

  3. I never thought about this before; atleast not from the other perspective. Good post!


  4. I think it depends on the individual. I have never been of the tribe and clan of note takers. In fact I seldom took notes in college. It always seemed to me that I learned better if I listened rather than trying to write it all down. The act of writing distracted me from really concentrating on the subject being taught.

    When we started homeschooling our children I read something on the process of learning that helped me understand what was going on. Essentially, we have three ways of getting information into our minds so that we can learn. Those three are seeing, hearing, and touching. Each of us has an affinity towards one or the other method. Thus we typically learn best through one method. This is not to say that an individual cannot learn through another method only that one is usually better than the others.

    When we try to learn something, it is best that we try to involve our primary method to assist in learning. For instance, it is often helpful for an auditory learner to read difficult passages of a book out loud, as hearing it spoken involves their primary learning sense.

    When it comes to note taking, the auditory learner already has his primary sense involved while listening. The taking of notes may actually be a distraction to him. On the other hand a visual learner may benefit by seeing what was said written down. A kinesthetic learner may benefit from the physical act of writing.

    So I would say that while not taking would be beneficial to many, it may not be beneficial to all.

  5. Godd thoughts all. I will take “note” of what you’ve said.

  6. “Godd thoughts all. I will take “note” of what you’ve said.”

    Paul, did you take “note” when you read these comments or after? :o)–>

  7. As a home educator with 6 children, I have found the best way to teach my children is to learn their learning style… whether it be auditory (learns better through listening), visual (learns better through reading through it themselves), or kinethetic (learns better through hands-on).

    I am a note taker. I don’t do it to fill up a notebook and look more righteous… I do it because it, as Julie Lamey noted, keeps me from being distracted. Keeps me focused. Why? Because I am a visual-kinesthetic learner. Note-taking is both hands-on and visual learning. Note-taking would be a hug distraction to an auditory learner, like FatherofEleven, who gets far more out of listening.

    Press on in His truth and His love for His glory,

  8. (I meant HUGE distraction… not HUG distraction. Now that would be truly distracting.)

  9. […] Paul Lamey over at the Expository Thoughts blog has also written on this topic.  You can find his thoughts here . […]

  10. Thank you for even more information on taking notes. We are trying to build a fan base for our product and I hope you will take the time to see our “Sunday Book.” Thanks for being a blessing.


  11. […] have discussed these words as well. I found one article particularly beneficial. Paul Lamey at Expository Thoughts applies them to taking notes during church. He also quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wrote of Edwards, […]

  12. […] Lamey at Expository Thoughts applies them to taking notes during church. He also quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wrote of […]

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