A pastor’s continuing education with an iPad

The need for ongoing growth

I’m a big believer in continuing education for pastors. One of my first posts on this blog was about using the iPad (exclusively) for two weeks of classes that I took this summer at my old seminary. Although I haven’t made it back for what our seminary calls “Summer Quarter” every year, there’s no doubt in my mind that the expense and effort are well worth it. When I was a student, our seminary professors made it clear that although the training they offered was sufficient to prepare us for the pastoral ministry, our skills and ability to serve God’s people with the Word would quickly stagnate and even decline if we didn’t find ways to grow spiritually and professionally throughout our lives. There are many different ways to plan for pastoral growth, but here are some suggestions for how to use your iPad for continued education.

1. Take a class on virtually any topic.

iTunes U offers a growing list of lectures in many different disciplines. Pastors young and old might benefit from a  review of Greek grammar or of elementary Hebrew or of the principals of Biblical Hermeneutics. Or you might expand your understanding of how the secular world thinks with courses like Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason from Oxford University or The Story of Psychology from Missouri State. Or any of thousands of other courses in the areas of business, health & medicine, history, the fine arts, and more. (Note that I don’t necessarily endorse the content of all these links, but they are places to start looking for items that you might find useful in your own situation and ministry.)

2. Read books, essays, and monographs.

Any sort of reading can be helpful to a pastor in his ministry. It’s important to be well-read and able to converse on a wide range of topics. Of primary concern, of course, is growth in theology and Biblical subjects. Although the Religion sections of the iBookstore and the Amazon Kindle library are limited, elsewhere on the Internet there are many essays and monographs that can be downloaded as PDF files and read in an app like GoodReader (or even iBooks).  The seminary I attended has an online essay file on everything from Abortion to Zwingli. I also try to scan in papers and essays as soon as I return home from a conference so that the information is easily retrievable for future study.

3. Learn a foreign language.

The Church today continues to follow our Lord’s Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.” These days, however, we find all nations right in our backyard and down the street. Many pastors see a ripe field for evangelism all around them, if only they could communicate in their neighbor’s language. The iPad can help with apps for learning foreign languages. I’m currently trying Living Language – Spanish which comes with 11 free lessons and the option to purchase more.  The popular computer program Rosetta Stone has a free iPad app — but it only works if you purchase their pricey subscription plan.

Update: Apple just added (or I just discovered) a handy link for many of the top apps for learning languages in the iTunes store.

4. Record yourself preaching.

With the iPad 2’s built-in camera, it’s easy enough to set it to record yourself preaching — either in a service or in your study. You can then review the video yourself or share it with a brother in the ministry that you trust to give you helpful feedback.

5. Learn to play an instrument.

In the right hands and with the right apps, the iPad itself can make some decent music. Apple’s own Garageband includes lessons for playing piano and guitar. Another app called Learn Guitar has three hours of video to help the beginner do just what the app’s title suggests. Many, many others are available on the iTunes App Store.

Just do it

Whether he wants to learn a new skill or grow in your appreciation for the truths of Scripture, a pastor can find a number of apps for the iPad or iPhone that can help him. Whether he can find (or make) the time is another question! What tools do you find essential for a lifetime of learning in the ministry?

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