Going to church each Sunday and sitting under godly, loving, biblical, and practical preaching week in and week out should be enjoyed as a privilege by God’s people. While some people, like myself, learn best by sitting and listening, I know many people get more out of sermons 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 as the pastor preaches the Word.
2. Listen for key ideas/points.
3. Learn to interpret the biblical text from your pastor.
1. Open Your Bible
First, open your Bible and follow along as the pastor teaches the Word. Whether you have a Bible 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 biblical and the Thessalonians for how they received the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).
As Christians, we should be known for our love for God. A real love for God will produce a love for his Word, his people, and his Church.We are living in a time when biblical illiteracy is on the rise. By opening your Bible during the week on your own, at Bible study, and on Sunday at your local church, 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 see what your pastor sees in the text, which will help you to learn how to read the Bible well on your own.
2. Listen for Key Ideas/Points
Second, 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 key tool to help you take notes. Typically, my pastor has his main points in the outline with words the congregation should fill in. He also 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 and sometimes these thoughts have even become future articles.
While you’re listening to the sermon look for key ideas. These may be points the pastor brings out in his sermons, but it also may be a thought brought to mind by the Holy Spirit. 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 or others. As a Bible teacher, sometimes I’ll 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 that are meaningful. 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 to you during the course of the sermon.
3. Learn to Interpret the Biblical Text from Your Pastor
Third, learn to interpret the biblical text from your pastor. In the Bible study I lead at church, we’re going through the Gospel of John. I’ve told the men that come 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 should be known for handling the Word of God well (2 Tim. 2:15). The faithful pastor preaches the biblical text with a view to helping people to see how they got the points they did from the text under consideration. In other words, the faithful pastor exegetes the biblical text in order to help the people of God see what the text teaches, by drawing it out in helpful ways so people can learn to interpret the biblical text themselves.
Maybe you’ve never considered listening intentionally to a sermon or note taking. I am always actively listening for key ideas in the message—even if I’m not taking notes. In every sermon, there will be points that you’ll find more helpful than others. I encourage you to listen well and take notes if necessary, whether that’s on an outline provided, a notebook you bring, or just mentally. As you do so you’ll find that you will remember more of the sermon you hear.
Listening well and taking good notes during the sermon is 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 for the glory of God. Listening well to what is being taught to you with an open Bible, listening and jotting down key ideas, and watching how your pastor interprets the Bible will help you to grow in your knowledge and application of the Bible, which will in turn help you to grow in the grace of God.
This week 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’s the goal to not only listening to a sermon well, but a Christian who is taking her own growth in Christ seriously.
Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, and the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine. He and his wife, Sarah, are members of Ustick Baptist Church in Boise, Idaho, where they serve in a variety of ministries. Dave received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on twitter @DaveJJenkins. Find him on Facebook or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.