Going to church each Sunday and sitting under godly, loving, Biblical, and practical preaching week in and week out is a privilege to be enjoyed by God’s people. While some people, like myself, learn best by sitting and listening, I know that a lot of people get more out of a sermon by taking notes. When I’m listening to a sermon I try to always do the following three things:
1) Open my Bible and follow along.
2) Listen for key ideas/points.
3) Learn from how the pastor interprets the biblical text.
Let’s discuss each of these in preparation for Sunday.
1. Open Your Bible
First, open your Bible and follow along as the pastor teaches the Word. Whether you have the BLB app on your phone or you have a physical copy of God’s Word, always be sure to have your Bible open so you can follow along as the pastor is preaching. Paul commended the Bereans (Acts 17:11) because they checked to see if what he was saying was in fact Biblical. Additionally, Paul commended the Thessalonians for the way they received the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
As Christians, we are to be known for our love for God, and a real real love for God will produce a love for His Word. We are living in a time when Biblical illiteracy is on the rise. By opening your Bible throughout the week and on Sunday during the sermon, you can grow in your knowledge, understanding, and application of God’s Word. This is why opening your Bible and following along as your pastor preaches the Word is so important—it will help you to see what your pastor sees in the text, which will inevitably help you learn how to read the Bible well.
2. Listen for Key Ideas/Points Throughout the Sermon
Secondly, listen for key ideas/points. Some pastors provide an outline for you to follow during the sermon. I encourage you to follow along with the outline and fill it in as the pastor preaches. This outline is a tool to help you to take notes. Typically, my pastor provides a printed outline with blank lines. As he walks through the sermon text, the congregation is supposed to fill in the main points. He also usually has a few applications points for how we can apply the message to our lives. If you are like me, you might also occasionally write further thoughts you had on the topic. While I haven’t done this very often, I’ve found it to be a helpful practice.
While you’re listening to the sermon look for key ideas and thoughts. This may be the points that the pastor brings out in his sermons, but it may also be ways the Holy Spirit is ministering to you through the sermon or during the service. These are important insights to write down because while they may be for that moment, they may also be for later in the week, or further down the road to encourage you and/or others. When listening for key ideas or thoughts in a sermon you can almost always tell when the preacher is about to give one when he emphasizes a point several times or his voice inflection changes. As a Bible teacher, sometimes I’ll even repeat something a few times to help the listener understand how a particular point is critical to the whole message. The essential point here is to pay attention throughout the sermon to the key ideas and thoughts that are meaningful to you. Those may be the ones the pastor mentions, but they also may be something else that is helpful to you. Pay attention, take notes, and write down key ideas/thoughts as they come during the course of the sermon.
3. Learn From How Your Pastor Interprets the Biblical Text
Third, learn from how the pastor-teacher interprets the biblical text. In the men’s Bible study I lead at church, we’re going through the Gospel of John. I’ve told the men that that one of the objectives I have for this study is to help them learn how to read and interpret the Biblical text. One of the main objectives for faithful verse-by-verse preaching is that week after week and year after year, people get to see how the pastor reads, understands, and interprets the biblical text. This is one of the primary reasons why verse-by-verse expository preaching is so important. People today simply don’t know how to read and interpret the text.
In my experience, when people read a biblical text they first read themselves into the text rather than allowing the text to simply say what it means. This results in people wrongly handling the Word of God. As Christians, we’re to be known for handling the Word of God well (2 Timothy 2:15). The faithful pastor preaches the biblical text with the aim of helping people see how they got the points they did from the text under consideration. In other words, the faithful pastor not only exegetes the Biblical but draws it out in helpful ways so that his listeners can learn how to interpret the Biblical text themselves.
A Few Final Thoughts
Maybe before you read this article you’ve never considered taking notes during a sermon. Or maybe you haven’t given much thought about what intentional listening would look like. As I mentioned earlier in this article, I don’t always take notes; I often just listen to the sermon. But mentally, I am still always looking for those key ideas and thoughts in the sermon. In every sermon, there are going to be points that you’ll find more helpful than other ones. I encourage you to listen well and take notes. As you do, you’ll find that you remember more of the sermon.
Taking good notes on the sermon and listening well to the sermon being preached is just a means to an end. That end is our growth in Christ and understanding of the Bible. You leave church each week sent out on a mission by God to make disciples of the nations to the glory of God. Listening well, having your Bible open, jotting down key ideas, and watching how your pastor interprets the Bible will help you grow in your knowledge and application of God’s Word.
This week, I encourage you to open your Bible at your local church as your pastor preaches. While you’re at it, take notes as your pastor preaches. Make special note of how he interprets the text and applies the passage to the congregation. Then go, pick up your Bible, read it, study it, and apply it to your life. The end result of this is that any duplicity in your life will be replaced by a growing hunger for more of Jesus.
At the end of the day, that is the goal: not just listening to a sermon well but growing in Christ through His Word.