Tuesday, August 01, 2006

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.


Blogger Julie Lamey said...

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.

8:39 AM  
Blogger EWZ said...

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.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Caleb Kolstad said...

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


5:58 AM  
Blogger Father of Eleven said...

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.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Paul Lamey said...

Godd thoughts all. I will take "note" of what you've said.

8:25 AM  
Blogger gracegift said...

"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)

1:17 PM  
Blogger captive no more said...

My humble opinion is a little different, so I'll chime in too.

If I manage to bring a pencil and a notebook, I automatically take notes, because that's my bent, like FOE said. I listen better with a pencil in my hand, like Julie said. But whether I do or don't is immaterial, really, because I believe that what Edwards and Lloyd Jones says is true, it is the impression that a preacher makes that is of importance.

What I do remember and take real note of, is that the preacher and elders take seriously the word of God, and that they believe it is that by which we are to live. They believe that enough to spend a majority of the time the church is gathered to preach what scripture says on a verse by verse basis. They believe it enough to take very real care in how they present it and teach it.

So then, in my life, it is the beginning place of my trust the elders will do what is biblically right in any given situation, because I know they think it is important.

So, then, on a weekly basis, I am encouraged to remember the word of God is sufficient, that these men who lead the church believe it, and that the word of God is also where I am to find my answers.

The HS has convicted me often of my own sin through the word preached. I am often encouraged by the word preached. My awe and wonder of our God is often increased through the word preached.

But is is the abiding week in and week out upholding of the Word that is of importance in my life, not the content of the individual messages, particularly, although God has used many messages to encourage, teach and rebuke me.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Paul Lamey said...

Thanks Gean, great comments and encouraging as well.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

At the recent T4G conference I found myself trying to take notes, but so overwhelmed by the impact of the messages that I couldn't. I found that it is better to get the recording if you want to rehearse what was taught.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Recovering said...

I can understand Jonathan Edwards' desire to have people listen to his sermons in order to get the feel for it - not necessarily just regurgitate the facts later.

However, I think two things need to be mentioned:
1. People learn and are able to stay focused in different ways. The human mind and condition is too complicated and dynamic to create some artificial rule about whether people should just listen or listen and take notes.
2. I don't think "preaching" is mandated by the Scriptures as you indicate. I believe the Scriputers tell us we should be teaching and sharing the Gospel - but by what means is not important. I find sitting in a circle and having a dialogue lead by a good pastor or teacher is just as helpful to my spiritual life as some pulpit-riding teacher orating to the laity on Sunday.

I would encourage you to not limit the ways God works and teaches or the myriad ways in which people learn and process information.

I really enjoy this blog, however, and I love that you bring this stuff up. Thanks.

11:16 AM  

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