Turn your iPad into a portable scanner

One word that I’ve consistently used to describe the usefulness of the iPad in my ministry is “versatility.” And as developers continue to create new apps, the range of practical uses for the tablet only increases. I was happy with my iPad last week. I’m even happier with it today — now that it has also become a portable document scanner.

What might a pastor want a portable scanner for?

  • Scan the church guest register on your way out from worship Sunday morning so you can follow up on visitors during the week.
  • Scan documents from pastors’ conferences so you don’t have to carry extra paper around.
  • Keep track of your travel expenses and other receipts.
  • Capture your hand-written notes for reference or to share with others.
  • Take a snapshot of the whiteboard after a strategic planning session.
  • Scan an article from a magazine that you found in the waiting room — either to finish reading it later or to use as a sermon illustration.

Of course, as long as you had at least a second generation iPad you could always take pictures with it, including pictures of pieces of paper and other written words. But the iPad 2’s camera was weak (and even worse, my first generation iPad had no camera at all). Apple’s new tablet has a much improved lens, but what really changed the game was Readdle‘s brand new app (well, new to the iPad — apparently it’s been out for the iPhone since 2009) called Scanner Pro ($6.99 in the iTunes store).

With Scanner Pro, you take a picture of whatever it is that you want to file away for future use or handy reference — say, a document from a convention you are attending. But immediately you’re given the ability to carefully select just the element from the picture that interests you. The cropping interface is simple and quick on the touch screen. Then you’re presented with the choice of saving the scan in photo or document form, with sliders to increase/decrease the brightness and contrast. Once your scan is saved on your iPad, it can be sent to just about anyplace you might want. You can email or print, but you can also upload it to services such as Dropbox, Google Docs or Evernote. You can open it as a JPEG in any app that manipulates photos, or you can access it as a PDF document in apps like Pages, GoodReader, Kindle (and many more) for viewing and/or markup. If you scan in multiple pages of a document, Scanner Pro will let you organize them in a single file.

Scanner Pro doesn’t seem to have an OCR functionality, so pictures of words are just images and can’t be immediately edited as text. But one work around is to send your scans to Evernote which even offers (somewhat limited) hand-writing recognition of notes you upload. Of course, in that case I suppose you could also just use the Evernote app and skip the middle man.

The difference between this app and Evernote (or just taking pictures of documents and storing them in Photos) is that Scanner Pro adds a handy cropping tool, manual adjustments for lighting, automatic conversion to a PDF, and an impressive number of output options. The app is universal iOS, which means that the same purchase will also work on your iPhone if you have one.

Some point out the many things that you can do on your laptop or desktop that you can’t do on an iPad. But they often overlook the growing list of functions and features that only tablet computers offer. Now you can add portable scanning to that list.

Get Stuff Done with an iPad

Apple has rounded up some of the top iPad apps for productivity and put them on a single page in the iTunes app store.

My favorites from this list include . . .

  • Evernote for everything from quick notes and snapshots to snippets of web pages to collections of sermons and Bible studies. Evernote collects all this and syncs them across devices and computers.
  • OmniFocus for iPad is the heaviest investment but also an app that I absolutely depend on to organize my tasks and get stuff done in a timely fashion.
  • MindNode is a great mindmapping tool which I use for brainstorming and collecting ideas. I’ll use a mindmap for organizing a Bible study series or planning meeting agendas.

Two other productivity apps that don’t appear on that iTunes list but that I count on are OmniOutliner and Bento.

What’s your favorite app for getting stuff done in your ministry?

Best iPad apps for Pastors

The modern tablet computer is the perfect tool in the hands of a pastor. Gadgets like Apple’s iPad offer great flexibility in carrying out the wide range of responsibilities that come along with the ministry. Here are 10 apps that a pastor should consider installing as soon as he gets an iPad.

Dropbox. There’s a good chance you already have this installed on your computer at home and/or in the office. Dropbox allows you to seamlessly share files across platforms. Once installed on your iPad, you have access to all your sermons, Bible studies, administrative resources and more. No need to remember to sync files before you leave the office. (iTunes store)

Evernote. Similar to Dropbox in that it also synchronizes files across devices and between computers, but Evernote is much more convenient for taking quick notes and sorting them into useful categories. See my review here. (iTunes store) (my review)

Accordance. This is currently my “go to” Bible app when I’m away from my desk. Other programs may have a more extensive library of books available, but I like Accordance’s agility and speed when it comes to things like Greek or Hebrew word searches. (iTunes store)

Pastoral Care. A wonderfully handy collection of devotions, prayers and Bible readings for a multitude of ministry situations. With this app on your iPad or iPhone, you’ll never be caught unprepared to share words of comfort, no matter what the circumstance. (iTunes store)

QuickOffice Pro. Although the glass screen of a tablet is not optimized for touch typing, there are times you simply need to work with documents while away from your main computer. QuickOffice helps you get the job done whether you’re working with Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files. (But do consider purchasing a wireless keyboard for the best experience!) (iTunes store)

GoodReader. I do a lot of reading on my iPad. Not just books (for which I prefer Amazon’s Kindle app), but especially PDFs from a variety of sources. Although there are a number of PDF readers (including Dropbox, Evernote, and QuickOffice listed above), GoodReader offers many more options for managing, reading and highlighting those files. (iTunes store)

Keynote. Apple’s Keynote application is seen by many as superior to Microsoft’s PowerPoint in ease of use, flexibility and beautiful templates. This iOS version is only slightly pared down from the full computer app, but just as breath taking in design. You’ll have an impressive presentation put together and ready to show in no time, importing photos directly from your iPad or the internet. All you need to do is plug in to a projector — or hand the tablet around the room. (iTunes store)

PrayNow. Pastors know how vital it is to feed their own souls with God’s Word even as they are called to nourish the faith of others. This app will dole out just enough Scripture each day to give a busy pastor plenty to chew on for his daily devotion time. Daily prayers and Bible readings from both Testaments are linked with selections from Christian writers of the past. (iTunes store)

OmniFocus. Speaking of busy schedules, how do you keep everything organized? My tool of choice is OmniFocus which is probably the most feature-packed task manager available for the iPad but also among the most elegant. The premium price is worth it, in my opinion, for the Forecast view and built in Review function. (iTunes store)

OmniOutliner. My new favorite application, I use OmniOutliner for everything from sermon preparation to five-year ministry plans. Just be warned that there’s a bit of a learning curve before you start to realize the app’s full potential. (iTunes store)

To be sure, there are many other apps available on the iTunes store, but I have found these to be among the most useful in my ministry.

PastoralCare app updated for iPad

I’ve written before about the excellent and highly practical PastoralCare iOS app. It offers a wealth of resources for the busy pastor on the go: rites for every official act a minister may be called to perform, and devotional materials such as Scripture readings, prayers and hymns to be used in a wide variety of settings.

When the app was released late last year, it was formatted only for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I’ve enjoyed having the app on my iPhone for those times when there arose an unplanned opportunity for ministry and I didn’t have any printed resources with me. And the backlit screen works even better than a book when in a dimly-lit room.

Now, as promised, PastoralCare has been updated as a universal iOS app — which means native resolution for the iPad and perfect for use in front of the congregation or in a hospital room. This app should be one of the first that a pastor downloads if he is serious about using his iPad for ministry purposes.

PastoralCare is available for $19.99 in the iTunes app store.

The publishers of PastoralCare are the same that brought us the worthy PrayNow app. Both of them serve well as devotional apps for pastors and laity alike.


Sermon preparation with an iPad

The challenge this week: To see how much of my weekly sermon I can prepare using only my iPad.

Step One: Research.

Because I’ve already done my advance planning (see Step Zero below), the text that I’m going to preach on has already been selected. In this case it’s the Gospel lesson, Mark 9:2-9, the account of the Transfiguration. Now it’s time to spend quality time with God’s word, asking the Holy Spirit to direct my thoughts so that what I end up preaching on Sunday comes from what he inspired the evangelist to write all those centuries ago.

Accordance Bible Software

Accordance Bible Software

There are a number of Bible apps for the iPad, and almost any of them will do the job if all you want to do is sit in a quiet place and read a section of Scripture. If you want to add notes, the selection narrows a bit. If you also want to read the Greek or Hebrew, the list is even smaller.  But none of them allows me to do the kind of in-depth exegetical study that I was taught in the seminary. Or so I thought until I finally tried Accordance Bible Software.

I hadn’t looked at Accordance very closely before because over the years I had already invested heavily into the Libronix/Logos system and I didn’t want to duplicate my digital resources. Fellow Mac-toting pastors had told me that Accordance was superior to Logos in working with the original languages, but again, I was committed (financially) to Logos. The problem is that Logos’ iPad app is limited when it comes to things like morphological searches and in-depth vocable and grammatical studies. To my surprise, the Accordance iPad app handles those tasks surprisingly well. So using up the last of my Christmas money, I hopped over to the Accordance store to take advantage of the sale they currently offer (until the end of Feb 2012) on their tagged resources.

After combing through the Greek text and mining whatever nuggets I could find myself, I turned to the wisdom of the ages. As I said, I’ve built up my Logos library over the years, so I had lots of commentaries to read using their Bible+ app.

The one thing about doing sermon research on an iPad is that there is no multitasking and the screen size is limited. I was forced to take most of my notes by hand — which is fine, except that I like to keep digital copies of my sermon studies for quick and easy reference in the future. If I had been more industrious and less pressed for time, I might have scanned them and imported the notes into Evernote, which offers excellent handwriting recognition. (Instead, the notes were just stuffed into a manilla folder, slid into a filing cabinet, and probably will go unremembered next time I return to this text.)

Step Two: Outlining.

iThoughts HD

iThoughts HD

With notes in hand I was ready to put some order to my random thoughts. I’ve recently started reading (on my Kindle app) a book called “Preaching without Notes.” The author not only argues that sermons are more personable when preached without the use of a manuscript, but he also explains that in order to do so the preacher has to do his outlining with that purpose in mind. If the main points of the sermon are logically connected and flow naturally from one to the next, the pastor should have little difficulty in preaching without having to constantly consult his notes.

I’m a big fan of brainstorming (i.e., mind mapping), and the iPad has some well-designed tools in that area. I’ve worked with Mind Node, Mindjet, and iThoughts HD, with no clear winner in my mind between the three. It comes down to a matter of taste and what you want to sync your files with. Mind mapping is great way to get your thoughts out of your head and these apps facilitate the process of grouping those insights in ways which will eventually form your sermon.

The hands-down winner for an outlining app is OmniOutliner (from the same team that designed my favorite to-do app, OmniFocus). OmniOutliner is a great tool for all sorts of hierarchical lists, and once you learn to navigate the app, it’s ridiculously easy to arrange your bits into a cohesive whole. And I just learned an awesome tip this week: you can export a mindmap made in iThoughts HD to OPML format and open it immediately in OmniOutliner! Here’s an article with more info on using the OPML format in different writing apps.

Step Three: Writing.

Once I was satisfied with my expanded outline, I exported the work I did in OmniOutliner directly into Apple’s Pages app, but I could have sent it just as easily to another word editing app such as QuickOffice Pro (which is quickly growing on me).

Lengthy writing assignments are not where the iPad shines. Frankly, the touchscreen glass on tablet computers works just fine for small bursts of typing, like taking notes, but it’s a terrible tool if you have to put out as much as an entire paragraph. For this, I was glad I had an external keyboard. I use the keyboard-cum-dock accessory that I bought from Apple when I pre-ordered my first-gen iPad almost two years ago now. It works fine once set up, but it’s too awkward to pack easily. If I were buying one today, I’d probably go with this keyboard and stand combo from Logitech.

Again, it would have been nice to have more screen real estate for writing the sermon. I usually have my notes and a Bible program up on one monitor and the word processor open on the other when I work at my computer. On the other hand, I felt more focused and less prone to distractions when it was just my iPad, a keyboard, and me.

Sending my final draft to a printer on our wireless network was painless with Printopia installed on my Mac.

Step Four: Memorizing.

Every preacher is different. Every pastor has his own tricks for committing written sermon to memory. My personal routine involves a darkened room and lots of pacing. At this point, it may be helpful to underline those passages you are having difficulty with — or perhaps rearrange some sentences that don’t follow a logical progression. A breeze if you’re pacing with your iPad.

Step Five: Preaching.

I’ve written on the subject of preaching from your iPad before. If I recall correctly, I was mostly against it at the time simply for the reason that I didn’t want my listeners to be distracted by the shiny new gadget in Pastor’s hand. That may be changing more quickly than I imagined with the huge surge in tablet popularity. iPads and their Android cousins are everywhere these days, and we’ve mostly moved past the early days when I couldn’t take out my iPad anywhere in public without drawing an admiring crowd, oohing and saying, “Wow! Is that an iPad? Can I touch it?”

Since the time I wrote that post, I’ve had the opportunity to use an iPad to conduct a wedding, and I have to admit it worked very smoothly. I tend to not take any notes or manuscript with me into the pulpit (see the book I’m reading above), but I can totally see how easy it would be to use the iPad as a teleprompter. Of course, there’s an app for that.

Step Zero: Planning.



I am a lectionary preacher. Although I sometimes will preach a three or four week topical sermon series, by and large I stick to the appointed lessons for each particular Sunday of the church year. I’ve taken to doing my advance planning in Bento. I’ve set up a template that has one data sheet for each Sunday. It was easy to use the spreadsheet layout on my MacBook to import the assigned readings for the entire year. Then it was just a matter of adding in hymn choices, choir anthems, sermon themes, and any additional notes. After syncing with my iPad, I now have all my planning notes with me and can easily add or make changes on the go.


If nothing else, this exercise proved that it is possible to do the entire process of sermon prep — from desk to pulpit — using nothing but an iPad. I will continue to use the more sophisticated tools on my laptop for working with the original languages, but if I were a seminarian today I might consider investing in Bible software that has a fuller feature set on the iPad (like Accordance or Olive Tree). The iPad will still have a place in my sermon workflow, both for reading commentaries and especially for organizing my thoughts. I love the way I can tuck my tablet under an arm and find a calm corner in a coffee house to quietly contemplate the text. What a privilege to have a calling which allows (requires!) me to spend quality time with God’s Word and share it with others!

How have you used your iPad in sermon preparation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Using the iPad in music education ministry

Today we have a guest post from Sarah Mayer who writes on her own blog “Composing Music Education.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us, Sarah!


I think that I use my iPad in unique ways, because really, I work in a unique ministerial capacity.  I really am a utility man, so to speak.  In my position at our high school, I teach Pre-Algebra for freshmen, assist the high school band director in rehearsal when time allows, teach 60+ private instrumental lessons at our federated elementary schools, and conduct 2 concert bands.  It’s a lot to keep track of, to say the least.  This is the first school year that I have used an iPad, and I don’t know how I would do my job without it!  Here’s a small list of ways that I make use of this amazing piece of technology.

1. iBooks – I have imported my Math textbook, chapter by chapter, into iBooks.  My teacher’s edition is collecting dust on my shelf.  I have it with me everywhere I go and can do planning anytime I have time.  I have also come along good teaching resources for music and have imported those PDF’s into iBooks.

2. Dropbox – I use this app for all of my files now and share files with my teaching partner in the Music Department.  It has been a wonderful addition to always have my files available anywhere I am.  The sharing feature allows us two grade school band teachers to collaborate on documents from different sides of the federation and work more efficiently.  No more editing through email!

3. Noteshelf – Keeping track of my lesson students – assignments, needed materials, parent questions, etc. – has always been a huge challenge.  Noteshelf is a great app to use for journals, to-do lists, and so forth.  Each of my students has a notebook in this app where I keep a running record of every student’s lesson every week.  Having this kind of organization alone has been so helpful.

4. Evernote – Saving the best for last, Evernote is the app I have on every device and couldn’t live without now.  My project in progress this year is compiling digital portfolios for my lesson students.  Summative assessment is a very powerful tool, and it is a trend in education that I think is here to stay.  With the growth of technology in the classroom, digital portfolios are becoming more common every year.  I use Evernote in a similar fashion as Noteshelf.  Every student has a notebook in the app.  During lessons, students archive compositions they’ve done, recordings of their favorite songs from lessons, and I include PDF’s of their progress reports.  It truly is a work in progress, and the logistics of archiving are still being worked out.  The great part of doing digital portfolios is seeing the kids start to take ownership of what goes in and the self-assessment that goes into it.  Kudos to my students for playing along with me!

5. PLN (Professional Learning Network) – Social media really has made the world shrink and made collaboration easy.  PLNs can include friends on Facebook, contacts on Twitter, and blogs on an RSS feed.  I discovered the idea of creating a PLN from a friend in grad school last summer, and it has become the single most effective way to keep up with new ideas and technology in education.  There’s no one app that I use for it, but I use my iPad to keep up with the various sites I use for my PLN.

These examples are only the major ways I use my iPad in ministry.  It has changed how I work, and I can’t wait to see how education evolves with the improvement and availability of the iPad.  God bless!

Using Apple’s iBooks Author in your ministry

Last week I wrote about getting your personal documents onto a Kindle or your iPad’s Kindle app. At the time, I assumed that all e-books were more or less equal. That is, since it’s all just text, it doesn’t much matter what device you read it on. And then Apple’s announcement last week changed everything. Suddenly an e-book is not just a long string of text with the occasional static picture thrown in. With the iBooks 2 app, electronic books can become truly interactive and multimedia experiences. And even more incredibly, the (free!) iBooks Author tool allows absolutely anyone to publish them. Video, audio, interactive links and more can be easily added to text, creating an immersive reading experience.

Clearly the news last week had far-reaching implications for the world of education. Even K-12 institutions will be able to upload their content to iTunes U which was previously limited to colleges and universities. Hardcover textbooks that used to cost students hundreds of dollars at times will now be produced electronically for a fraction of the price. Backpacks that previously were loaded down with a ton of books now only need to carry an iPad (although suddenly the 16 GB version seems a tad limiting).

But I read the reports on the iBooks Author app with dreams of what I could do with such a tool in my ministry. Remember, you can disseminate your iBook creations through iTunes, but you can also simply create documents to be downloaded from your website or handed out on a CD. Here are some ideas that came to mind while brainstorming.

  • A catechism instruction book with your PowerPoint slides built in and links to BibleGateway.com.
  • A book of your personal sermons, complete with audio and/or video of the day you preached them.
  • An intro to your church for prospects, with an interactive map, welcome video from the pastor, tour of the chancel, etc.
  • Bible study “textbook” for your Sunday morning classes, with links to supplemental materials on the internet.
  • Or record a Bible study series and, when it’s done, create an iBook version with text and video for those who could not attend.
  • A worship manual for the altar guild or worship committee, with how-to videos on setting up for communion, etc.
  • An interactive Bible History book for use in Sunday Schools, parochial schools, and homes.
  • An outreach tool with the “way of salvation” clearly laid out through a combination of text and videos.
  • A virtual trip to one or more of our church’s world missions with video of  local worship services and interviews with the missionaries.
  • A book of devotions prepared by the pastor. Could you include audio of the church choir singing? (I don’t know about the copyright laws on that one.)

My plan is to adapt my Interactive Passion History site for the iBook layout, if I can get my hands on some good art to accompany it.

Of course, as inspiring as this authoring tool is, it’s clearly limited by the fact that it only works on iOS devices. That’s unfortunate. Apple’s decision is obviously meant to drive their hardware sales rather than purely out of a desire to improve education.

But perhaps enough of your target audience already owns an iPad or iPhone or iPod Touch to make it worthwhile. They seem to be everywhere these days. If you decide to try the iBooks Author, let me know how you intend to use it in your ministry.

Sending personal documents to Kindle

My wife just got a Kindle Touch for Christmas and she loves it. It’s lightweight, the screen is perfect for reading in daylight, and it came practically preloaded with a bunch of books. Well, Amazon doesn’t actually ship their Kindles with books, but because I had been using the Kindle app on my iPad for the last 20 months, all the books that I had collected or purchased during that time were ready to be downloaded into her Kindle registered under my Amazon account.

On my iPad, I prefer the Kindle app to Apple’s iBooks for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the fact that whatever books or documents I have registered with my Amazon account are available to be read on any device that runs the Kindle app (read: just about anything your heart desires, including but not limited to PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices). That, of course, includes the line of Kindles themselves.

I read a lot on my iPad, both professionally and for leisure reading, and I was perfectly content with the Kindle app — except for one feature. I admit to having Kindle envy, not for the lighter weight or the e-ink display, but for the ability to email any document to be immediately available for reading. The Kindle app is great for books, but I wanted to be able to add my own custom content or documents in other file formats.

If you’re like me, I have good news and better news. The good news is that last month Amazon added that “e-mail document to Kindle” feature also to users of the iPad app. Just make sure your iOS app is uploaded to the most recent version, open the Kindle app, and touch the little “i” icon on the bottom right of the screen. You’ll see your own personal “Send-to-Kindle E-mail Address” which will work for that particular device (but also be available in your other Kindle-app-ready devices). Each file is limited to 50 MB, but the list of formats supported is fairly generous:

  • Microsoft Word (.DOC, .DOCX)
  • HTML (.HTML, .HTM)
  • RTF (.RTF)
  • JPEG (.JPEG, .JPG)
  • Kindle Format (.MOBI, .AZW)
  • GIF (.GIF)
  • PNG (.PNG)
  • BMP (.BMP)
  • PDF (.PDF)

The even better news is limited (so far) to Windows users.  You can now download a free “Send to Kindle” application for your PC which will allow you to send any document (in the above-listed file formats) with a single click from Windows Explorer or through the print menu of your software. Again, this works for both the regular Kindles as well as any device with a Kindle app.

This is a wonderfully convenient way of making all sorts of documents available for reading on your iPad: sermons, devotional materials, Bible studies, study notes, and much more. I used to think that I would be asking to borrow my wife’s Kindle from time to time, but instead my iPad has increased its usefulness to me.