A few years ago I attended an Irish Baptist College commencement service at which Rico Tice spoke. I remember feeling challenged, it was a good service and an excellent message. But honestly, if I hadn’t written it down I wouldn’t remember the content. “Choose self sacrifice above self serving, choose service above power and choose suffering above security.” What a great challenge contained in these headings. But having a poor memory (for some things), if I hadn’t noted these headings down, I would still have been blessed, but I wouldn’t remember why.
But does that matter?
I must admit to feeling a little naked if I listen to a sermon without a notebook and pen. I feel like the content may be lost to me, even if I benefit from the message in the moment. Time passes and I can’t remember why I felt blessed. Some people might say it doesn’t really matter, it just matters that there was blessing.
I disagree. For me, the experience of sitting in a congregation of people and listening to a sermon is all about challenging my thinking and transforming my actions and learning all I can about the Scriptures and what they teach us about God and how we can serve him. Without note taking I struggle to remember, I am less able to retain and apply the lessons. It is true that I don’t always revisit my notes. However I go to a church where there is often consecutive teaching through a Bible book. My notes are such a useful tool to be able to flick back through weeks of notes to grasp an over-arching thread or revisit something which becomes more relevant in later chapters.
I was recently told a story of an elderly Christian couple who had dinner with relatives each Sunday. They were always so positive about the pastor’s sermon, what a wonderful message and what a great blessing. However, if asked what the message was about, they couldn’t remember. And there is nothing wrong with that. We all have those memory lapses. Often that “good feeling” you get when blessed, or “uncomfortable feeling” when challenged, is part of what a sermon is supposed to do. I love and value that feeling too. But with notes I take so much more away, a journey through a book of Scripture with my fellow believers, a focus, a stepping stone to delve deeper. Note taking is definitely not a substitute for personal study, but can be a tool to help it.
I can appreciate that a lack of eye contact could be discouraging for the message giver, but better a congregation of heads down scribbling the message, than eyes engaged but minds elsewhere. Most encouraging and beneficial to the church as a whole, is a congregation who hunger for God’s word, and use what they hear to deepen their knowledge of Christ and what he requires of them, to change their lives and the lives of those they meet, notes or no notes. A ‘good feeling’ that lasts until lunchtime, is not a bad thing, but a set of notes, or simply a robust and reliable memory (if you are blessed with such a thing) will serve better to make our sermon listening transformational and long lasting.
Note taking is a matter of personal preference, but I sincerely hope that the top of my head is not seen as a discouragement to the sermon giver, but an assurance that I mean to make this message count in my life.