This morning as I sat at my desk working on my sermon for Sunday I looked outside and watched a man replacing siding on the house across from our church. Seeing him tearing off old siding and attaching the new Tyvek took me back to my days working for a construction company in college. There were lots of things I enjoyed about the job: getting outside, operating big and dangerous equipment, and demo days (shout out to Chip Gaines). But one of my favorite things about that job was my tool belt. I loved the quick access to my most common tools, and eagerly added something new and useful whenever I got the chance.
Needless to say, as a pastor I don’t wear a tool belt to work anymore. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have one. Most of my tools sit on shelves. They are the stacks of books I reference in writing and counseling. And many of my tools live on the dock of my Mac or the home screen of my iPad. These apps are my most common digital tools, and they help me do my job every day. I thank God for the developers who created these programs and I thought I’d share a few of my favorites in hopes that they might serve as additions to your “tool belt” as well.
So, here are 5 apps for the pastoral tool belt that I find particularly helpful:
Things is my task manager. This is the program that tells me what to do and when to do it. I lean on Things as much as I lean on my calendar. If I don’t put an event on my calendar, it’s very likely I’m going to forget it and miss it. In the same way, if I don’t put a task on Things, it’s probably not going to get done. That might sound scary, but I actually find it freeing. I’m not trusting my brain to sort and remember the hundred tasks I need to accomplish each week. I’m trusting a machine with more power than the Apollo spacecrafts to do this for me. Once I enter a task, and assign it a category and a date, I can allow my mind to let it go, because Things will tell me when it’s time to think about it again.
Evernote is my information manager. This is the place I take notes for sermon prep. This is the place I keep notes from meetings. This is the place I store articles and confirmations and anything else worth saving. Once again, I don’t trust my mind to handle all the important information that comes into my life. Evernote provides a space to store and organize all my digital information. Plus, the option to tag notes and the excellent search functionality makes everything easy to find. Perhaps best of all, you can forward emails to your Evernote account. Here’s what that means: your email inbox can actually be an email inbox. If you get an email that needs a reply you can do that now or later. But when you get an email with information you need to save, simply forward it to Evernote, file it away, and your inbox will immediately be less cluttered.
Here are a few things I know about myself: If there’s a TV airing the Cubs game behind my wife at a restaurant, I’m going to be a bad listener. If there’s unlimited pizza at a party, I’m going to eat too much. And, if there’s an option of going to my favorite websites when I should be focusing on work, I’m going to click. That’s why I love Freedom. Freedom is a simple app that works in the background of your devices to either block the internet entirely or block certain sites you select. So, when I want to hunker down and study for a message, or focus on some other deep work, I can start a Freedom session for a few hours and the option of heading to ESPN and Twitter vanishes. I even find my mind desires the distraction less when it’s no longer a possibility.
I’m using Ulysses (and Freedom) right now while I write this post. Ulysses is a dedicated writing app that removes all the distraction from your screen and lets you focus entirely on your writing. While you could technically do this with a word document blown-up to full screen, Ulysses also provides a completely clear and wonderfully simple writing interface. Right now, all I see on my screen is this text. No buttons, no formatting options, no “file” or “edit” tabs. Just clean, uninterrupted text. It takes a little getting used to, but Ulysses is a close digital comparison to the simplicity of writing with paper and pen.
I held off on purchasing expensive Bible software for a long time. Mainly because, well, it’s expensive. But I’m glad I invested in Logos. Logos is how I do all my work in the Greek and Hebrew text. The quick access to translation, parsing, dictionaries, and word studies saves me hours of work. Since I like print books too much, Logos is not my main library. But I do purchase most of my commentaries and reference works in Logos. Here’s why: The ability to search for passages and key words in a number of commentaries and books, quickly jump to Scripture references with the click of a mouse, and copy and paste text (with proper citation automatically included) is outstanding.
The Tools I Use
There are alternative apps for each one I’ve described, but these are five of the main digital tools I use. They help me make the best use of my time, they help me stay organized, and they help me serve my church. I’m grateful for each one of them.