A Science-based Sermon Note Taking Template

I invest 15-20 hours each week to prepare a Sunday sermon. If you’re a pastor, I’m sure you invest similar time. Have you ever wondered, though, how much of your sermons really stick in your listeners’ minds to help them become spiritually transformed? I have, many times. As I’m learning more about how God fashioned our brain to work in learning environments, I’m testing what I’m learning as I preach. I just began a series on Romans at our church and I created a new sermon note taking template (below) based on some science-based learning principles. I describe it here and include some screen shots if you’d like to modify it for your use.

First, a few basic details.

  • It’s a front and back insert. The image in this post includes both front and back.
  • We hole punch it so people can put it into a notebook, rather than the recycle bin.
  • The front includes basic details such as date, passage, speaker, etc.

Now, some of the science based principles.

  • All Learning is Based on Prior Learning: Next week’s passage. At the top on the front page, I include the following week’s Scripture passage. I encourage our people to read that passage at least five days of the next seven, three times at each sitting. The more familiar they are with the passage I will preach from, the more what they hear will resonate because they are already familiar with the passage. All learning is based on prior learning and the more they know about the passage, the more sticky your sermon will be.
  • Gist or Verbatim memory: Today’s Big Idea. I try to boil down the message into one core statement. [This particular week I simply gave an overview of the book and then shared 9 ways the listener could get the most from the series.] When we speak, we must balance two kinds of memory, gist memory –this means what it says, the gist of what you are preaching, which, by the way, sticks in memory longer – and verbatim memory – specific details of your sermon. The big idea captures the one overall concept, gist memory, what I hope the people retain if they forget everything else.
  • Neurons that fire together, wire together: Last Week’s Big Idea. Although the graphic does not include this line because that Sunday was week one of the series, in future weeks I will include the prior week’s big idea. Repetition truly is the key to learning. The more specific neurons fire together, the more our brain wires itself around what made it fire (it’s called ‘Hebbian Law’). So, when you repeat something, neural circuits around that repeated concept get strengthened. Repeating the prior week’s big idea can help imbed those key concepts you hope will get retained.
  • The Protege Effect: Today’s Key Insight. Students who help tutor other students consistently outperform other students. It’s the old “you want to learn something, teach someone else” concept. On the second page at the top is a box where people can write down one or two key insights that stood out the most from the sermon. I encourage them to envision teaching someone else that concept. Even imagining this will help imbed learning – even better, actually doing it.
  • Social Learning: Today’s Lunch Question. Next, on the backside of the insert I include a box with a question about the sermon. I encourage our people to discuss it at lunch with their friends and family. This process, called social learning (processing what we learn with others) is proven to help deepen learning. As we dialogue with others, we gain different perspectives and new insights, which makes our sermons stickier.

These and other learning techniques you can apply around sermon note taking can help imbed the biblical truths about which you area preaching. Of course, ultimately the Holy Spirit brings transformation. John reminds us of this here.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14.26)

What has helped make your sermons sticker?

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7 Ways to Make a Graceful Exit and Leave Your Church Well

Unless you stay at the same church your entire life, you will leave one ministry or church and go to another, perhaps several times. In fact, the average pastor in the U.S. stays at one place about four years. I’ve served at six different churches in my 35 years in ministry and have always sought to leave well. At my current church I hope I’ll have another 10 years of fruitful service. I’ve learned, however, that leaving is more of an art and is often difficult. Here are 7 insights I’ve learned that have helped me make a graceful exit.

  • Deal with your baggage. Leave with a clear conscience that relationships have been made right, as much as is possible.
    • Acts 24:16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
    • Rom. 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone
  • Don’t leave angry. Process your pain. If you struggle with anger after you leave, get coaching or counseling to avoid bitterness.
    • Hebr. 12:15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
  • Leave on top. That is, leave your ministry as healthy and as strong as possible.
    • Col. 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men….
  • Speak well of the former leaders, both lay and paid. Don’t leave a trail of gossip. Don’t undermine the leaders or anyone else who may have hurt you. Don’t burn bridges. Leave in such a way that your and Christ’s reputation remain intact.
    • Prov. 22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
  • Let go of ownership. You are no longer in charge. You may be tempted to still influence it from afar. Guard against that.
  • Pray that God would bless the ministry even more with the new leader who replaces you.
    • 1Kings 1:37 “May the Lord be with Solomon as he has been with you, and may God make Solomon’s reign even greater than yours!”
  • Grieve well. Change brings loss. You will lose familiarity, relationships, and influence even as you gain those in your new ministry. Don’t be surprised if you grieve. The Apostle Paul grieved when he left the church at Ephesus for the last time.
    • Acts 20: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” 36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Years ago I heard a talk by Ellen Goodman about leaving well. This quote captures the spirit of a leader who makes a graceful exit.

There is a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over-and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on, rather than out.

What insights would you add to this list?


“I just learned some good insight about how to gracefully leave a ministry.”(tweet this quote).


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Tithing: a Simple and Effective Way to Encourage People to Tithe

I believe every pastor should help his church grow in generosity. One tool I’ve used for many years is called a “Tithe Demonstration Day.” It’s essentially setting aside one Sunday each year, usually in a stewardship sermon series, when we challenge every person in the church to tithe, give 10% of one week’s income. It’s always the highest giving Sunday of the year. And weekly giving usually increases after that Sunday as well. I’ve included below the text of a bulletin insert we’ve used that simply explains it. We called this one the “7-30-90” plan because we encouraged not only tithing for one week, but continued tithing/increased giving for 30 or 90 days. Most people who build a habit over 90 days make it permanent.

If you schedule a Tithe Demo day, consider these pointers first.

  • Promote it well through all your promotion channels. Start a month prior.
  • Use a tithing testimony the week prior.
  • Mail a reminder the week prior in addition to sending an email reminder.
  • Create a special envelope for that Sunday.
  • Have your church tithe 10% of the offering given on Tithe Demo day to some ministry outside the church. Be sure to promote this well. This models for the people that your church will also tithe.
  • If you are the senior pastor, share your commitment about giving.
  • Report the results the week after. Make it a big celebration.
  • Include some sort of continued giving commitment that you are comfortable with, as the insert does.
  • Ideally, teach a four-week series on generosity and schedule Tithe Demo day on the fourth week. If you don’t do a full series, preach on giving two weeks prior.

Here’s the text of the insert we used. Use it any way that helps.


The 7-30-90 Generosity Plan

If you consider (church name) your church home, would you prayerfully consider accepting the “7-30-90 and beyond” challenge?

Recently Pastor Charles challenged those who don’t yet tithe to trust God to enable them to begin tithing in a step-wise fashion. He also challenged those who do tithe not to view tithing as a ceiling, but a foundation upon which to become a “beyond” giver.

God’s Word teaches that Christ followers should generously give back to Jesus their time, talents, and treasures. A tithe serves as a monetary ‘benchmark’ for systematic, proportionate giving. The word “tithe” is a mathematical term that means “a tenth or 1/10.” It means giving 10% of your income back to the Lord (Malachi 3:10).

The “7-30-90 and beyond” challenge is a three-step faith venture.

Step 1: tithe (give 10% of a week’s income) on Sunday, (date) on our all church Tithe Demonstration Day* (details below)

Step 2: after taking that first step continue to trust God and tithe your income through the entire month of March

Step 3: continue your faith journey and trust Him to enable you to continue tithing for three months (March-May)

Tithing example: If you make $52,000 per year and divide that by 52 weeks, your weekly income is $1,000/week. $1,000 weekly income x 10% = $100. A weekly tithe would be $100.

Note: Because of your financial situation, you may need to modify Steps 2 and 3 by increasing your giving over a longer time period so that by year’s end you can tithe regularly.

After three months of faithfulness, tithing will become a regular part of your financial plan.

If you now tithe, consider the ‘beyond’ part of the challenge an opportunity to review your giving and consider giving beyond a tithe.

(the back side of the bulletin insert is below)


TITHE DEMONSTRATION SUNDAY – SUNDAY, (date)

WHAT IS TITHE DEMONSTRATION SUNDAY?

It is an invitation for everyone who calls (church name) their church home to give one week’s tithe on this Sunday (10% of gross household weekly income). The purpose is to demonstrate what our potential could be if every household in our church family tithed.

WHAT IF I WON’T BE IN CHURCH on (date)?

If you can’t attend church on (date), please use one of these three options: (a) Mail in your tithe so it will arrive prior to Sunday, (date); (b) Drop your tithe off at the church office; (c) Send it with a friend; (d) use our online electronic funds transfer option (go to…your website… for instructions).

WHAT IF I’M ALREADY TITHING?

Thank you for your faithfulness. If you give on a monthly or biweekly basis, please adjust your giving schedule to participate in this church offering for this one Sunday.

WHAT IF I FEEL ABSOLUTELY UNABLE TO TITHE?

We ask that you give consistently as God leads you. If you feel absolutely unable to tithe, check your heart and God’s Word and make sure it is consistent with His leading.

On that day our church will tithe that day’s offering. We will be giving 10% to (ministry).


“I just learned a simple way to encourage tithing in my church.”(Tweet this quote).


How have you helped increase your church’s generosity?


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14 Questions Pastors should Avoid if they Fear Vulnerability

Some time back I read an incredible book – Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Dr. Brene Brown. I highly recommend it. Her TED talk on this subject has garnered over 30,000,000 views. She strikes a chord for leaders about risking vulnerability. As a pastor vulnerability is scary and carries risks with which we must practice care when being vulnerable. As risky as it is, Dr. Brown says it’s a key to what she calls wholehearted living, what I’d called a Spirit-filled life. She says we live in a culture of scarcity and poses 14 questions in her book (p. 27) in three categories that caused me to reflect deeply about my family, my ministry, and my world. I’ve quoted some here and paraphrased others.

14 really scary questions about vulnerability…

As you read them, what is God saying to you about your family, your life, and your ministry?

SHAME

  • Is my self worth tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance?
  • Do I use the threat of belittling or ridicule to keep people in line?
  • Are put-downs and name-calling rampant?
  • Are blaming and finger pointing norms?
  • Am I guilty of favoritism?
  • Am I a perfectionist?

COMPARISON

  • Has my creativity been suffocated?
  • Do I constantly compare and rank myself against others?
  • Are people in my family or church held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions?
  • Is there an ideal way of being or one form of talent that is used to measure everyone else’s worth?

DISENGAGEMENT

  • Is everyone struggling to be seen and heard?
  • Are people afraid to take risks or try new things?
  • Does it feel as if no one is really paying attention or listening?
  • Is it easier to stay quiet than share stories, experiences, and ideas?

As you read these, what question really resonated with you?

What question would you add to this list?

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5 Ways to Make Brainstorming More Creative

Brainstorming sessions have become standard fare for ministry teams that seek solutions to problems. The two key rules are to generate as many ideas as possible and don’t criticize the ideas. These concepts came from Alex Osborne’s book Your Creative Power published in 1948. Since then it’s been common practice to avoid criticizing the ideas in brainstorming sessions. The underlying assumption was that people won’t speak up if they fear criticism. There’s only problem with this kind of brainstorming is this: it simply doesn’t work. In this post I explain why it doesn’t and give 5 ways to make brainstorming more creative.

Multiple studies have shown that groups who use standard brainstorming rules generate less ideas than do individuals (Lehrer, 2012). In other words, when posed with the same problem, individuals consistently generate more possible solutions to a problem than do groups. When I learned this I was shocked because I’ve always applied these two basic rules in brainstorming sessions with my teams.

So based on the latest research, I’ve listed below 5 ways we stifle creativity and the antidote to each.

  • Stiflling…Discourage dissent. Don’t allow anyone to debate or criticize an idea in a brainstorming session.
    • Antidote: encourage friendly debate and healthy criticism. Set up rules beforehand, though, such as don’t personally attack people, clarify before criticizing, use phrases like I have a different view, etc.
  • Stiflling…Make the group an all boys club.
    • Antidote: include women because they, in general, have greater empathy skills and emotional intelligence and can offer unique perspectives.
  • Stiflling…Only includes your BFF’s (best friends forever).
    • Antidote: include in your brainstorming team both people with longstanding relationships and newbies. One study found that the creative teams behind the most successful Broadway musicals included people who had known each other a long time and newbies (Ellenberg, 2012).
  • Stiflling…If you are the leader, telegraph your views at the beginning of your brainstorming session.
    • Antidote: if you’re leading the session, be as neutral as possible or you may hinder some people from sharing a good idea because it may conflict with yours. And, most people don’t like to disagree with their leader.
  • Stiflling…Make the brainstorming session a serious, linear, logical experience.
    • Antidote: make the session fun, out of the box, and as rule free as possible. Encourage individual idea generation, counter intuitive ideas, and mind wandering. Mind wandering often produces some of our greatest insights (Christoff et al., 2009).

What have you discovered that encourages creativity in your team in brainstorming sessions?

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Sources:

Christoff, K., Gordon, A.M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. & Schooler, J.W. (2009) Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), pp.8719-8724.

Ellenberg, J. (2012) Six Degrees of Innovation. Slate. Available from: [Accessed 9 May 2013].

Lehrer, J. (2012) Groupthink. The New Yorker. Available from: [Accessed 25 February 2013].