Thursday, November 28, 2013



How many church sermons have you heard? How many do you remember? Two people sitting in the same church may learn a very different amount.  If you go to church every Sunday, you will probably spend thousands of hours there.  These points will help you benefit more.

1.  TAKE NOTES:  Don't write everything. Write down the following:
- The outline of the sermon (sometimes pastors helpfully project this to a screen). 
- The points that strike you as relevant to apply to your life.
- The scripture references.
- Questions you are uncertain about.
- What you see in the passage in addition to what the pastor is saying.

Why take notes?
- So you can follow the overall logical thread of what is being said.
- To help focus your attention on the sermon.
- So you can review the main points of the sermon in future. 

2.  QUESTIONS: Throughout the sermon, think of questions related to the topic and what the pastor is saying.  Write the more important ones down.  Hopefully, the pastor will answer some of those questions later in the sermon or you will remember some other scripture that answers that question.  That way your mind will be more focused. If by the end of the sermon your question is not answered, then you can discuss your question with the pastor or someone else who knows their Bible after the service or at a home group during the week - and/or you can research the topic in the Bible later.  But if you are continually asking and answering questions then you will be more awake and learn more.  By writing down your questions, you will concentrate better, be more interested and have more chance of persisting until you find answers than if you just keep your question in your head.

3. LOOK UP REFERENCES: Look up the Bible references.  The Bible commends the Berean Jews (Acts 17:11) for looking up what Paul was saying in the scriptures to check whether what Paul was saying was true.  There are three reasons to do this.  Firstly, if the Bible confirms what the pastor is saying then by reading the scripture reference, that point will be more solidly in your mind than if you had only listened to the pastor.  Nevertheless, even the best pastors are fallible.  Listening to a sermon can be compared with eating fish.  You must eat the fish and not the bones.  Checking the scripture references help you sort through whether what points are: i) taught by scripture ii) out of context iii) only said in one Bible translation iv) a speculative interpretation v) only half the story (in which case it needs to be balanced with other points not quoted). If the scripture verse hits you as very helpful to your situation, then try repeat and learn that verse.  Thirdly, if you learn the Bible reference, then you can use that to teach someone else or answer their question in future.

4. TAKE YOUR BIBLE TO CHURCH: Either take a physical Bible or put your Bible on your smartphone or tablet. There are many free Bible applications for cell phones you can download, but the more popular Bible translations you need to pay for in order to read offline.  In my opinion, "Olive Tree" is the best application for the small screen (, and you can also use any resources you buy on your PC.  On an Android phone, select the 'Google Play' application, while connected to Wifi and search for 'Bible' to see a selection to choose from.  (If you are not connected to Wifi, you may use up your data limit very fast downloading Bible resources).

5. STUDY THE BIBLE CHAPTER BEING PREACHED FROM:  When a pastor preaches from a particular chapter of scripture, then read that chapter again and again during the sermon and write down in a separate column what you see in that passage.  Then compare what you see with what your pastor is seeing in the text.  That way, you will get a better understanding of what he is saying and will also get additional bonus insight.  If the sermon is thin on content or not so relevant to your situation, then you will find more truth to supplement.

6.  READ BIBLE BOOK BEFORE: If the pastor is doing a series on a particular book of the Bible, then read that book of the Bible preferably several times during the period of the sermon series.  That way you will understand what he is saying 'in context' and combine what you found in the Bible book with what your pastor found.

7.  FILE NOTES: File the notes either by subject or in the order they appear in scripture so that when you are studying that passage of scripture in your personal Bible study or if you are struggling with an issue in you life that was preached about - then you can use them again.  If the pastor preaches a topical sermon, then probably sometimes it will be more relevant, other times less relevant to your life.  But keeping the notes means you can remind yourself again of the Biblical wisdom at a later date when you may be facing that issue more directly.

8.  DISCUSS THE SERMON: Deuteronomy 6:7 tells us to "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up".  The point is that when you discuss Bible teaching with other people for example over coffee after the sermon or while you are driving home, then: Firstly you will remember more of it and you will also be helping the other people you discuss it with to remember more of it.  Secondly, out of the discussion you may get more insight from that scripture passage than either you or your pastor saw.

9. PREPARE YOUR HEART: If your relationship with God is not right, you will have difficulty receiving benefit from the scripture.  The communion meal challenges us to make right with God through applying the cross: repenting of sin, forgiving others and trusting Jesus for his high priestly cleansing of our sin (Hebrews 10:22).  When communion is offered, that is a reminder to apply the cross. Nevertheless, there is no reason why we should not also do so before the church meeting.  Jesus said that God reveals the scripture to little children (and those with that attitude) but hides it from the 'wise and learned'.  The state of the heart matters more than the intelligence of the listener.

10. RESPOND TO BOTH THE GLORY AND THE APPLICATION: The Word of God works in us in two very different ways: Appreciating God and hearing his instructions to us.  Both are important. Many Bible books (e.g. Romans, Colossians, Ephesians) are divided into two parts: The first part focuses on the glory of God and the second on the practical things we must do.  Other books mix the two.  Seeing the glory of God has a mysterious and powerful effect on us (2 Corinthians 3:18) quite apart from trying to follow practical instructions.  When we see the glory of God revealed in scripture, then we must respond by glorifying God or otherwise we will be judged by God with spiritual blindness (Romans 1:21).  When we respond with thanking God and praising God for the glory we see, then God will reveal more of his glory to us.  Even if we later forget the sermon, the glory of God revealed will have had a powerful effect on our minds and consciences.  When we respond to God's commands with obedience, then he will show us more.  If we respond in disobedience we risk his judgment.  We praise God for his glory and we do what he says.


* NON-CONVERSION: Many people sitting in church Sunday after Sunday are not converted Christians.  They go for a variety of reasons: they go with their family; it is a tradition they enjoy; they like the music; they are looking for friends.  One person who spent decades in church before converting told me he did so with 'cotton wool in his ears'.  Suddenly on his conversion, Bible teaching came alive, because the Holy Spirit was opening it up to him.  A person who is not converted will be very limited in how he benefits from the Bible.  Thus it is important to ensure that you have repented of your sin, made Jesus Lord of your life and believe in him to save you. Likewise those who teach should seek to evangelise the unconverted members of their congregations.

* POST-MODERNISM: Many people going to church, while they may have believed Jesus for salvation use our postmodern culture as a lens to interpret the Bible rather than the Bible as a lens to interpret the culture.  Sadly, probably the majority of middle class youth fit in this category.  Thus they end up filtering the sermon through ideas they have got from the secular media and state schools.  What the Bible teaches is thus not taken as an absolute commands and truth but as inspirational suggestions to pick and choose from.  Such people need to cut down their intake of secular entertainment; increase their intake of Bible; realise there are two opposing ideologies that cannot be reconciled - and choose to renew their minds progressively with the truth of scripture.

* If you are a pastor, consider encouraging your congregation to use these ideas.

Philip Rosenthal