A great many gifts and skills are needed to be a pastor, but I do think that the skill that most parishioners take for grated is that of preaching. And while most pastors are skilled preachers, not every single pastor was born to be a preacher. Nor is every great preacher skilled in the art of sermoncraft. I’ve heard many pastors who have excellently delivered a sermon that said nothing at all, and yet their congregation ate it up…but that’s for another blog post.
Right now, we’re going to focus on how a pastor can use his or her iPad (or tablet or smartphone) to craft a sermon that is both logical, comprehensible, and effective. To do this, we’ll look at sermon prep in three stages: planning, researching/reading, and writing.
Planning: Numbers and Excel
I grew up in a denomination that puts high value on following the “leading of the Spirit,” and so many believe, incorrectly, that pastors should not plan their preaching schedule or sermons any further out than the Monday before they speak. In reality, some of the best preachers I know plan out their sermons well in advance. They do this through prayer and deliberation and leave room for God to interrupt their plans, and overall, I’m fully confident that the success, the efficacy of their preaching starts with their planning.
To do their planning, they of course start with an idea, but let’s breeze past that and get to the apps, specifically Numbers and Excel. (You can use Google Sheets if you want to, but why would you?) You might be wondering why they use a spreadsheet app to plan a sermon, but you need to think about this as the first step to planning sermons—note: plural—instead of just one. Thus, these pastors use a spreadsheet to plan a snapshot of their sermons over the course of four to six or even twelve months. Here’s how I’ve seen it done:
Column 1: Date
Usually, this type of planning is just one for Sunday AM services—or whatever service is your flagship service—so, unless you’ll be planning different messages for different types of services (Sunday PM, Midweek, Saturday PM, etc.), all you’ll need here is a date. If you do need to plan for those other services, I’d create a separate spreadsheet, unless those “other” services are few and far between.
Column 2: Series Title
If you’re planning your sermons out in this manner, you’re likely grouping them into a series of some sort. Put that information here. It might be a rough draft of a title at this moment—”Series of Luke,” “Gifts of the Spirit,” “Easter Series”—just so long as you know what it is and take time to create a catchier name in time to start promoting the series.
Column 3: Sermon Title
This is fairly straightforward, and like the Series Title, can start out as a rough draft.
Column 4: Scripture
What verse—or better, passage—will you base this sermon on?
Column 5: One Senentene Summary
What is the main point of the message, the takeaway that you want all or your people to remember and be challenged by? This box might change its contents a few times as you might think a sermon will go one way before you get into and realize that God takes you (and your congregation) somewhere else.
Column 6: Notes
Do you want the worship team to play a certain song at the beginning or the end of the service as a tie-in? Do you have a video you want to use? Is there a prop or something that you’d like to use to make your point? All of that can be placed here.
Whatever spreadsheet app you want to use is up to, but this is how I’d set it up. Now, on to the next phase.
Research & Reading: Logos
Researching a sermon topic often amounts to a lot of reading. Whether you’re researching a topic, checking a commentary, or reading through a book of the Bible several times before you speak on it, there’s a lot of words to process through. This is where an app like Logos can be of some serious help.
For the uninitiated, Logos is a Bible study program, but’s also so much more. Thanks to it’s corporate ties to Vyrso, Noet, and the rest of the FaithLife family, Logos serves as quite the media hub. All you have to do is index/tag it. My pastor went to a Logos training earlier in the year and was able to dramatically improve his use of the program. Using apps like Logos are helpful, but learning how to properly use an app like this can prove to be invaluable.
Logos is a bit sluggish on my MacBook, but it’s very quick on my iPad. If you have a desktop/laptop that can run the larger, you might be able to identify some passages worth reading in varies books or commentaries, and then you can switch over to your iPad or tablet for a more comfortable reading experience. Don’t be fooled, though. Logos is expensive, first for the program, which is stratified by what amount of initial resources you’d like, and then, if you want to expand your library, you’ll pay for each extra book or book set. That said, I use Logos greatly for its searchable commentaries and classic sermon collections. It’s very helpful. If the price is an issue, perhaps you can discuss a cost-sharing strategy with your church.
Writing: Pages, OneNote, and Evernote
Now, writing your message is going to be a very individualized task. Personally, I make my Keynote slides first and then sketch out some notes or highlight some phrases that I want to make sure are included verbatim. Otherwise, I merely preach from what God puts in my heart to say. I’m a bit of an outlier. Most ministers that I know either construct a detailed outline, write out their sermons in manuscript form, or use a hybrid of the two. And yet, I think I can offer a bit of insight here.
Tablets are incredible content creation devices, regardless of the criticisms thrown their way at their introduction. (Confession: I was one of those haters.) This line is being written on my iPad. This, in fact, is my second post on this iPad tonight. I’m currently using Evernote, my preferred blogging app, but it’s not what I use for my sermons.
In general, I use Pages. I outline my sermon in Keynote, export them as images, and then embed then in Pages, where I add some some notes for my own use. (Then, I export to iBooks so that I don’t accidentally edit my notes during my sermon.) One pastor I spoke with a few weeks ago uses OneNote because it combines the word processing power of Pages—specifically, he loved the it’s superior outlining ability—and the synchronicity or Evernote.
Now, this is beyond my experience, but I’m intensely interested in the iPad Pro and the Pencil. I’m an occasional doodler, and I’d love to be able to doodle as a part of my sermon prep. Some of my best sermons started with stick figure drawings, which I ended up using in my presentation. Pastors need to do more to incorporate visual representations of theological and doctrinal concepts as we become an increasingly (and tragically) visual society.
Back to writing, though, I will admit that typing on a tablet isn’t the easiest. That’s why I’ve got a Bluetooth keyboard, as mentioned in the introduction to this series, as that helps me to power through my writing. Carrying my iPad and my Bluetooth keyboard in my backpack is still lighter than either of my laptops, so even with this accessory, portability hasn’t been comprised.
I don’t think my iPad is where I’d like it to be for it to replace my laptop for all of my sermon writing, but it certainly offers a lot in the way of my planning and research. Again, the point in this series isn’t to advocate for an iPad; I’m only trying to demonstrate who an iPad or tablet could be used successfully and efficiently by a pastor. To this end, I think we have time for two most posts. Be on the look out for a discussion on the use of a tablet for “intellectual stimulation” and a “devil’s advocate” post presenting a variety of arguments against buying a tablet. Fun stuff on the horizon!