I remember being at a Pastors’ fraternal shortly after coming into the work and hearing a retired minister say that the greatest single enemy of preaching and preparation was the personal computer. I’m not sure how widely held his view was at that time, but as late as the early 2000s there remained a suspicion about the place of technology in the work of ministry. Fast forward 18 years, and technology is utterly ubiquitous – in many of our churches the hymn book has been replaced by the PowerPoint screen, our church diaries are contained on people’s telephones, and decisions on minor matters between office bearers can be realised via text or collaboration apps like Slack. Digital technology has moved in and taken over the house.
In this article I want to provide some personal reflections on how technology has become part of my own preaching ministry. I am in that anomalous generational space where I can still remember transitioning from handwritten sermons to typed notes, and in the past couple of years I have migrated to the exclusive use of iPad for my preparation and public ministry. This is not a ‘how to’ post – an excellent version of that can be found on the website of Tim Challies here – but a mere sharing of how much of a blessing digital technology has been to me in my day-to-day and week-by-week work, and some specific elements of it that have been of help. My hope is that these thoughts might be an encouragement to those considering making a similar move in their ministry.
Here, then, are four benefits I have found through combining an iPad with preaching:
1. My entire study has become portable
I love those times when I have a full day in the study, when I can work in a distraction free environment, gathering my thoughts and composing my materials in advance of preaching. My world, however, is far from distraction free at times – a fact for which I am very grateful. My schedule each week is open to change, my times in the study are often punctuated by personal and pastoral demands which cannot wait, and so I need to embrace a slightly fragmented process of preparing to preach. Hospital visitation is notoriously difficult to pin down at times, and a lot of time can be lost. Perhaps the individual I call with has gone for a scan and I need to wait an hour for their return, or someone is critically ill and I’m needed on hand for a family – it is here that the iPad comes into its own. Via the ESV app I have a clear and cleverly presented version of the Scriptures to work from, via the the Kindle app I have access to commentaries, scholarly works, and popular treatments of the themes I am working on. All of this can fit into a fabric sleeve and, combined with a portable keyboard, allows me to work anywhere. My productivity in terms of studying has been vastly increased by this mere fact alone.
2. I can keep the Bible in its proper place all the time
A retired colleague once gave me some advice about sermon preparation which has helped me ever since – when preparing a sermon you should always check where your Bible has ended up in the process. If it is buried under a pile of commentaries or, even worse, is sitting closed at the side of the desk, then there is a good chance that the actual Word of God is no longer central to our task. The use of a tablet means that I can always keep the Scriptures in the foreground, whether writing my own notes or consulting commentaries I can always have the Scriptures on the screen. With the wonderful technology afforded by the Apple Pencil I can also directly annotate the text of Scripture over and over again, building a set of composite on-page notes without feeling like I am damaging a physical page.
3. I can prepare my sermons visually as well as verbally
I think visually, and the iPad really helps in this process. My jottings, my diagramming, my brainstorming can now be incorporated into the process of preparation in a way which is visually appealing and of lasting use for referencing. I can combine all of my diagrams, my written notes, my observations on the text, and my pulpit notes into one folder which is with me in the pulpit. If I have the blessed experience of someone questioning a particular point made during the delivery of the sermon I can work through my thinking as well as my notes in a way which is presentable and (hopefully) intelligible) to them.
4. I can bring notes into the pulpit in a font size which is easily readable
I no longer carry a sheaf of notes with me into the pulpit, and this means that I can enlarge the type in my sermons to make them easily readable. There is also a smoothness to the transitions from page to page which I could never find with paper, using the Apple Pencil I can also heavily annotate my on screen notes for those last minutes flashes of inspiration which might come my way.
There are many other benefits which accrue to using the iPad for preaching. Undoubtedly there will be those who will keep their vows to pen/paper/books until their own retirement or demise. There is much to be said for that approach, but for me the advent of digital resources has been a revolution and an enrichment to my preparation and preaching.
Endnote 1: I have been blessed by people who have grasped the benefit of this technology to my ministry and have provided support to me accordingly, but I am aware that such a circumstance may not be the experience of all. If you are a church elder or deacon reading this and, in conversation with him, feel that your Pastor might benefit from the technology listed above, it might be an idea to encourage your office bearers/membership to consider making a contribution to bringing it into their lives. Used in the right way, such an investment will be richly rewarded in the preaching of your minister.
Endnote 2: the apps which I have found most helpful for preaching have been the following –
GoodNotes: a really solid platform for making notes using the Apple Pencil, and for combining notes into a finalised document.
ESV App: there are a ton of Bible apps which can be profitably used for preparation, but for me the plainness and customisability of this app make it a winner. A free version is completely serviceable, or for a small monthly subscription more resources can be unlocked.
Kindle: the iPad is now my staple e-reader. The publication of commentaries has come some way in recent years, with most containing page numbers and providing a navigation system which does not make them cumbersome.
Evernote: a great all round tool for making sure that love’s labour is not lost!