The pastor at play on an iPad

All work and no play makes Pastor Jack a dull boy. Sometimes even (or especially!) pastors need to unwind a bit, relieving some of the stress that inevitably builds up from the ministry. For that reason, I don’t have a problem talking about entertainment apps and games on a blog that claims to give justification for purchasing an iPad for serious use in the pastoral ministry. I rolled my eyes at my wife’s suggestion that the iPad was just a toy to play with, but the truth is there’s a lot of fun to be had on an iPad — when you can find some spare time.

  • Games. If you’ve played and liked Angry Birds, you might like other physics-based games like Cut the Rope or World of Goo. I’ve looked at these, but I prefer apps that emulate some of my favorite board games like Carcassonne, Catan, Scrabble, and Ticket to Ride. The iPad is also a great medium for sudoku and crossword puzzles.
  • Leisure reading. We’ve already talked about storing your pastor’s library on the iPad, but it obviously works just as well for personal reading.
  • TV/movies. Sometimes you just want to veg during your downtime and be passively entertained. Or maybe you want to set up a video to watch while you work off some of your “friar’s fat” on the treadmill at the gym. For a monthly fee, apps from Netflix and Hulu offer a never-ending stream of Hollywood fare. Or, if you prefer to watch a BluRay on your family room’s plasma TV, the IMdb (Internet Movie Database) app is perfect for finding reviews and behind-the-scenes information about celebrities you see on the screen.
  • Music and audio books. An iPod may be easier to cart around, and you sure won’t be jogging around the park with an iPad in your pants. But you can easily connect your iPad to your car speakers to listen to an audiobook or podcast while you’re driving to visits. Try the iTunes U store for university-level lectures from a wide spectrum of disciplines (including Biblical Studies & Theology).
  • Sports. This year I began managing my fantasy football team on Yahoo Sports’ dedicated iPad app. It didn’t keep my starting quarterback from injury, but I was able to make some last minute changes to my roster without having to turn on the desktop computer. For keeping tabs on all the latest scores and highlights, I recommend the free SportsTap app.
  • Hobbies and fun. One of Apple’s recent commercials for the iPad highlight the versatility of the iPad for learning. No matter what your personal interests or hobbies are, you’re sure to find apps to enrich your experience. Hiking. Cooking. Astronomy. Learning to play an instrument or a language. I haven’t looked, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a woodworking app.

Hopefully I haven’t contributed to the delinquency of a minister by suggesting these time-wasting recreational apps. Now back to work!

New Amazon Kindle tablet

Earlier today Amazon announced their new Kindles. The most anticipated was the Kindle Fire, an Android-based tablet priced at $199. In addition, an even cheaper Kindle Touch ($99 for wifi-only, $149 for 3G) gives more real estate to the Kindle screen by replacing the keyboard with a multi-touch interface.

This isn’t a “tech blog” in the normal sense, and I don’t really care if the the Fire is an ‘iPad-killer’. I’ve never taken sides in the Mac vs PC or Apple vs. Android fanboy wars. Most pastors I know are simply looking for affordable tools that will assist them in their ministries. If you are looking for a tablet mostly for reading and storing your pastoral library digitally, my guess is you will be well served by purchasing one of these Kindles rather than an iPad and saving yourself $300-400. Think how many digital books that will buy!

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.”

My two-week iPad only experience

Wisconsin Lutheran SeminaryI returned mentally exhausted from my two weeks of continuing ed courses at the seminary. (If you’re curious, I took courses on “The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers”, “The Doctrine and Practice of the Lord’s Supper,” and “Reconfiguring Your Sunday School.”) The first week alone I had 33+ hours of classroom time. It’s been 17 years since I graduated, and although I study on my own and have been back to the Sem a number of times, I can feel the effects of time beginning to take their toll.

I’m glad to report, however, that my iPad-only experience was a rousing (although still limited) success. There were some tasks that I actually felt were easier to do on the iPad. And those things I couldn’t do directly with the tablet almost always had a work-around.

Things that were better with an iPad:

  • Portability. Unlike the other students who had to carry bulky bags to class with their laptops, most didn’t even know that I had brought an iPad with me unless/until I brought it out for research or to take notes.
  • Reading. All of the courses I took required extensive reading outside of class. I enjoyed loading up the PDF files in GoodReader and sitting in the comfy chair out in the lounge or in the library. GoodReader has an excellent highlighting feature built into the app. Others had to hunch over their laptop screens — or kill an entire tree to print out the materials. Unless they had a Kindle.
  • Battery power. Most of my fellow students needed to sit near outlets to make sure they had a steady stream of electricity to power their laptops. (Although the seminary thoughtfully provided power strips in most classrooms.) I only need to remember to plug in the iPad before my head hit the pillow at night and I was good to go for another day.
  • Entertainment. Naturally I mean outside of classroom time, when my reading assignments were done. Far be it from me to check FaceBook while the professor was lecturing! One night I started watching a Netflix movie, but I soon drifted off. The best recreational use I got from the iPad was reading a book during the flight home. Read more of this post