The Notes I Have With Me While I Preach

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notes I have with me

In my last post I responded to a question from a reader regarding how I outline my sermons. This week I want to answer the second part of his question about and what I use for notes while I preach. Here is the original question:

Good morning Lane,

First off want to thank you for all of the work put into the blog and podcasts. I’ve personally found a lot of the content very helpful. I preach on close to a monthly basis and am a volunteer youth leader, so I teach youth on a monthly basis as well. I was interested in learning more about your method of outlining your sermon. I’ve been following a manuscript method because that’s how I’ve learned, however I find I never really stay on it and have a difficult time finding my place afterward. So my question is, what do you find to be the most useful outlining method? What do you take into the pulpit with you? Also, do you have an example of your outline you preach from? Thanks!

What do I take in the pulpit with me? This is something I am curious about with EVERY sermon I watch. I’m always thinking… what’s on that piece of paper? Or what’s in that notebook? Or what’s on that iPad? Or if there’s no notes I’m thinking, “are they hidden where I just can’t see them?” Are there confidence monitors with queues? I want to know!

If you’re curious like me, today’s post is for you. I will share how I do notes and what I take with me onstage. I’m always tweaking my approach to sermon notes so these will likely change over time. My notes look differently than they did a year ago. I’ve developed my system over the years to be best for me. My method may not work for you, but the idea is to learn from it and develop what’s best for you.

Here are the basics for the notes I have with me while I preach:

One page. I make all of my notes fit on one page. I take a standard Word document and make it landscape with two columns and .4″ margins. Anything that does not fit on that page doesn’t make it into the sermon.

In my Bible. I put the notes in my bible so it has the visual of reading from the bible. This is why I don’t use an iPad because I like the optics of having a paper Bible. Again, if you prefer and iPad because it works better for you,  then by all means, use one.  I have a string around the spine of my bible that holds my notes in so I’m not fumbling around with papers on stage.

Triggers and summaries. I break my notes down into headers and summaries to servers as triggers for my memory. The headers I make bold and it’s usually the first few lines of the thought. It helps me to look down and see what the next thought is quickly so I can speak on the idea. But unless I am reading the text I rarely look at my notes. They are only there if I need them.

Color coded. I color-code each element to make sure  can easily know where I am whether it’s a main point, supporting idea, illustration, reference, application point, etc.

Texts. Main texts and supporting texts are always printed. It’s important to me to have my passage and my cross references included in my printed notes so I never have to flip around in my Bible while I’m preaching.

Slide queues. I have a reminder of when to advance my slides.


Do I have an example of an outline I preach from?

Here is an example from a sermon I preached recently: Sermon Notes-2015-03-08 Love God Love Others Love Demonstrated John 13 1-17

Here’s a link to the video of that sermon: You could watch and follow along with the notes in hand to see what I write down for myself and what I say.

My system isn’t perfect, but it works for me. What’s your method? Please share in the comments.

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  • Jon Goodwin

    I preach with my iPad but not for notes. I use it so that I can control the slide show and see all my slides. I bring 1-3 index cards up with me. They stay right in my Bible On the page next to main text of my sermon.

  • For years I have used an outline like this: Intro, Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, Conclusion. I would have all of my scriptures typed out in a word document (on my ipad). I would always keep a paper copy on the pulpit just in case something happened to the ipad, then I could essentially keep going without anyone knowing. My main points would be in bold text and numbered so I could find them easily and the supporting scriptures for each point would lead me down my train of thought and on to the next point.

    Recently, however, I switched to using a physical bible and a single sheet of paper. I still use the “5 point” outline but I only have the bible references written on the paper, with a brief description of the content of the verse written next to it. This way I can either talk about the content of that verse without ever flipping to it in my bible, or if I have that scripture memorized I can just quote it. This method has allowed me to not only use a physical bible and encourage others to start bringing and using their physical Bibles again, but it has also allowed me to cut down on the amount of scriptures I use in a given service. I had a tendency to have way too much clutter in my notes because I would list every scripture on the topic I could think of and pick and choose which ones I would use as I taught.