The pastor’s library on an iPad

After preaching, teaching, and visiting, the activity that most occupies my time as a pastor during the week is reading. King Solomon wrote long ago: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Eccl 12:12). Fortunately, today we have tablet computers like the iPad which not only store more books than you can fit in a library, they make it easier to read anywhere you go. A perfect combination for the busy pastor.

Here are some items that a pastor might use his iPad for reading during the week:

  • Bible. Although this is most obvious kind of app that a pastor might read, I’m going to hold off and talk more in detail about Bible apps in a separate post. Suffice it to say, there are a number of options and they each have their own strengths. I most often use the Bible app from Logos and the YouVersion app, but the Glo Bible has a lot of neat features.
  • Devotional books. You may not find many dedicated apps for devotional reading, but one that I absolutely love is PrayNow. PrayNow is actually a digital version of the Treasury of Daily Prayer which I highly recommend. Both versions offer daily readings from the Old and New Testaments, another from the Church Fathers or some other theologian, and a daily prayer. In addition, you’ll find orders of service which will kick your devotional routine up a notch, so to speak. The advantage of the iPad app over the printed copy is that it automatically opens to the correct readings each day. The app also works perfectly on the iPhone for when you’re on the run.
  • Other books. There are many ways for reading all kinds of books on your iPad, whether for your ministry or for leisure. Apple’s iBooks app looks the prettiest, but the iBookstore selection isn’t as large as others. Amazon has a free Kindle app, and Barnes & Noble has one for their Nook. You don’t need to own either of those e-readers in order to download books from their stores. Classic literature by the thousands are available for free on all of these apps. The rest is usually substantially cheaper than the printed version.
  • Newspapers and magazines. Whether combing the news for a sermon illustration or reading the highlights of the game you missed due to an emergency call to the hospital, you can find it all on your iPad. Not only can you visit the same websites you would check out on your PC, many media outlets also offer dedicated apps. The New York Times app has limited content but a nice interface. I like the layout of the USA Today app, although I’m frequently distracted by their in-app crossword puzzle. Zinio is an excellent app for subscribing to a wide range of popular magazines which look exactly like the printed version, but with the added feature of being able to touch a picture and automatically have a webpage open up with more information.
  • PDFs. A lot of what I read on my iPad did not come from a publisher or a major media outlet. Most of it is content generated by regular people: essays presented at conferences, Bible studies, and more. Either it is sent to me in PDF form, or it is a hard copy which I scan into my computer for later reading. As soon as I get home from a church convention or pastors conference, I scan all the documents quickly and easily with my Fujitsu ScanSnap. Although you can sync PDF files with iBooks, I prefer reading them in GoodReader which allows me to annotate and highlight much more easily.
  • Instapaper.  This app is actually an online service, which installs a bookmarklet on your web browser. Whenever you come across an article or post on the internet that you don’t have time to read now but you don’t want to forget, click on the “Read Later” bookmark and the article is instantly saved to your Instapaper queue to be read at your leisure on any device. The other feature is that Instapaper scrapes out the ads and pictures and reduces the whole page to a simple text file. There are times when I put an article into Instapaper just because I can’t stand the formatting of the website it appears on.

I spent a good chunk of change in the seminary years building up a workable pastor’s library. Some of it succumbed to the mold during my years serving in Brazil and had to be thrown out. Some of it I just got tired of hauling around and now lies forgotten in a basement. The volumes I cherish the most are on a shelf in my office near at hand. Wherever the books are physically, I try to keep track of them on GoodReads.com. But as time goes on, more and more of my library is digital. You can’t see it looking impressive behind me on a bookshelf, but on the other hand, I carry the majority of my library with me wherever I go.

As a Lutheran pastor serious about the study of God’s Word and interested in how Christians across the centuries have understood it, I love that I can pull up any of the Church Fathers, the works of Martin Luther, or the writings of modern theologians anywhere at any time on my iPad. For heavy research and note taking, I prefer reading them on my desk computer or a laptop. But how awesome is having the option of working my way through Luther’s Bondage of the Will or the Augsburg Confession while reclining in a comfy chair in my backyard while the sun sets over the vineyard? If it looks like my eyes are closed, remember that Qoheleth warned us that “much study wearies the body.”