This is a good question, and one that I’ve came back to over the years because at times I’ve made it my practice.
I have many Bibles with tiny comments – too small for me to read now! – added in the margins and jotted down next to the relevant text, from times when a speaker said something truly noteworthy.
I’ve also tried keeping more detailed notes, putting them in my Bible where they’ll help me when I come to various passages. As technology has improved I’ve even made use of various electronic devices for note taking (A Psion Revo and an HP Ipaq for those old enough to remember them).
Nevertheless, here are three (real) reasons why I have stopped taking notes during sermons.
Firstly, I have discovered that I rarely revisit the notes taken and when I do, they rarely seem as earth-shattering as when I first jotted them down.
Secondly, I feel for preachers who look down on a room full of people keying in information on their latest smartphone.
There are moments when preachers feel terribly impressed when it appears that every last word they say is being committed to someone’s cyber cloud for the rest of time. A wee bit of self-satisfaction creeps in when a casual phrase sends listeners into a frenzy of writing, and the preacher knows that before the message is finished, that phrase will be appearing on social media with the preacher’s name tagged to it!
But as a preacher, I want to see faces not scalps. I want to see eyes that look attentive – eyes that show response – eyes that let me know that truth has penetrated.
I want to see eyes that are alight with the joys of God’s blessings, or are wet with the moisture of grief or failure; eyes that are pondering things too wonderful for us, or eyes that are shouting a genuine, ‘Amen’.
So as a preacher listening to another preacher, I prefer to show active engagement with what is being said by looking at him rather than my notes.
Thirdly – and most significantly – I have done some pondering on the “message” process!
Is the sermon just a process by which a truth is taught, which needs to be memorised lest it be forgotten? Is the sermon an experience, in which the momentary emotions need to be captured before they evaporate? Or is the sermon a conversation with God which requires constant interaction for the message to be understood, retained and responded to?
During 40 plus years of marriage, I have been given an occasional written shopping list by my wife Barbara. However, I have no written, photographed or electronically recorded details of our intimate conversations with each other! And I can just imagine Barbara’s annoyance if I reached for the notebook next time such a conversation begins!
I am not on a crusade to banish note-taking from our churches. For some taking notes helps them to engage effectively with God’s message through the Preacher.
But, I continue to be, and I would encourage you to be, in the throes of an honest investigation into its value.