Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Filling in the blanks

I should really like to know how you feel about these. Some preachers always provide hand-outs, with blanks for the congregation to fill in. And, sometimes much effort has been expended to ensure each blank begins with the same letter!

I have been asked to provide one for an address I am giving next week (on prayer). Actually, I confess have found it demanding to give an outline which isn't trite, and allows Scripture to speak effectively. Obviously, some people find filling in the blanks very helpful, but can it encourage a su-doku mentality that delights in solving puzzles and can even lead to a measure of general self-congratulation? Well, that was an interesting talk!

If we asked people to reflect on a particular Scripture text and then write down in their own words: "What is God saying now to me (and my church) through his word, and what am I going to do about it" would be much more demanding and unlikely to happen!

Obviously I do not normally use such fill-in sheets - that's why it has been an effort! I know I listen better when I take notes, and I am sure such handouts can be positive. I hope my handout on prayer will add value. But do you see any dangers?


Anonymous said...

I like to take notes because for me it helps to cement the thoughts and also provides a tool for recollection if I do not recall everything. I do not like the fill in the blank variety generally because frequently the blank spaces are not large enough where I want them and too large where I do not want them. I prefer a blank sheet of paper to begin or the title, date and scripture reference at the top of a blank sheet. That works best for me. I will use the fill in the blank variety but do not prefer it.

Recently I heard someone discourage notetaking during services on Sundays because we were supposed to be worshipping. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but must say it was off putting to hear it. I want to recall the message and feel for me, a visual learner, it assists my recollection immensely. I don't think it is wrong to take notes and feel it is a burden that has been loaded on me to think that I should not or I am not a "good enough" believer to be totally and completely focused on worshipping to the exclusion of notetaking. What do others think?

Anonymous said...

Your question reminds us that the impact of ANY sermon would increase dramatically if we TRULY took even a few minutes to ask ourselves how it applies to our lives or to our church. That might be something that should go on the bottom of ANY sermon note page. I will set this as an assignment this Sunday at the church we are visiting in NY.

To answer your question, I am trying to parse out WHY I like bullet points or outlines (fill in or otherwise). If I am REALLY brutally honest, there is a part of me that sees a detailed outline page and feels reassured that the pastor came with a purpose to teach us something specific today. It provides 'evidence' for the pastor's committment to the task.

In the end, I suppose this only really gives 'evidence' to my own critical spirit.. as if the pastor OWES ME the take home message so that I don't really have to wrestle with it myself.

So, I guess if no one uses outlines as a crutch to say "See I followed along with the sermon today!" then outlines might help us get to that next goal that God would have for us. That is, if we were given God's Word for us in a way that was meaningful, organized, and well prepared, we should definitely be more encouraged to go that next step and ponder what it all really means for our life.

No need to leave any physical space to write down the answer. I doubt highly that most would ever actually put their answer on paper.