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PowerPoint For This Morning’s Sermon

I didn’t have time to add the PowerPoint for the sermon I posted earlier today. Here it is. Once again, I have used that marvellous iPad app Haiku Deck. It also now comes as a web browser app, but so far my experiments with using it that way have been unsuccessful and I have returned to using my tablet.

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iPad Worship And Visual Impairment

The Daily Mail reports on a Derbyshire church that is sending its prayers, hymn words and readings over the wifi in the church café to worshippers equipped with tablet computers. Apparently it’s a hit with some of the visually impaired worshippers. The Leadership Team at one of my churches has engaged in a lot of research to see what we can do for people who are registered partially sighted, and iPads have been suggested to us. Here is a church actually doing it.

What do you think? Will it meet resistance or fear from some older worshippers who are nervous of the technology? Or is this a genuine way forward?

Guest Post, Gathering the Flock into the Fold Digitally: 4 Mobile Apps for Christian Clergy by Jessica McMann

Having just acquired an iPad, Jessica’s post is apposite for me. I confess I’ve had this on the stocks for a couple of weeks, but we have had major problems with our main computer, so it has had to wait. I’m grateful to Jessica for offering this post, writing it and then being patient while our PC was repaired. – Dave

As with any facet in our modern, connected world, mobile technology can help immensely in bringing people together and helping us do our jobs. And church is no exception. Check out the following apps to help you craft effective sermons, connect with your congregation, and keep learning about the faith:

Yap Tap

Yap Tap is a communication application that helps pastors stay specifically in touch with their youth groups, although it can be used for a variety of church-related groups as well. It’s essentially a social media, text messaging, and email system all rolled into one. Everyone in your congregation or youth group has their own preferred communication method. With Yap Tap, you have complete control in terms of who, when, and how you send communications to your church. Yap Tap is especially helpful for clergy members who find it difficult to communicate with so many different online mediums available. [Editor’s note: in a British context, there might be child protection issues around using this app with a youth group. You may need to check your Safeguarding policies. – Dave]

Not Just Words

Crafting a sermon is difficult, especially when you can’t quite remember the Bible verses you’d like to incorporate. Not Just Words solves this problem immediately. It’s a mobile Bible search application that enables users to search any word or phrase, after which it will generate search results for related words and phrases. For example, if you search the word “speak” it will find verses that use related words like “uttered.” Not Just Words also enables users to search for themes in specific Bible books. If you’d like to find out what the Book of John says about faith, just search “faith in John,” and the tool pulls up all mentions of faith in the Book of John.

Pocket Prayer Pro (Lite)

There are quite a few prayer apps out there, but this one I found to be most useful. It’s a great tool to help you manage prayer requests and maintain a prayer journal. The app also features more than 100 sample prayers that you can bookmark for later use. This is a great one to suggest to members of your church for their own personal use as well.

Create your own App

The Church App is a mobile app platform that enables church leaders to create their own, customizable apps for their congregation. The Church App will build a mobile app for you that enables you to do a variety of things, like share sermons in audio or video, create events with maps, integrate giving, and empower your congregation to communicate.

Of course, these aren’t the only helpful apps out there for clergymen and women. But they’re definitely a great start in getting your church and congregation to be more connected. Good luck!

Jessica McMann is a freelance writer whose primary interest is Christian education. She enjoys writing about homeschooling, Christian universities, and learning through a Christ-focused community. Check out more of Jessica’s writing at ChristianColleges.com

Using An iPad In Ministry

When the iPad was launched, I mocked it. To me, it was merely an electronic toy. It was just about media consumption. Moreover, why had Steve Jobs chosen a name for a product that made it sound like Apple was joining the tampon industry?

But I have changed my views. It all began back in late May, when I attended the New Wine Leadership Conference. Among a few thousand delegates in the Harrogate International Centre, many were using iPads or other tablet computers productively. I tweeted throughout the conference from my smartphone, but it’s small and it wasn’t practical to bring my laptop from the B and B: the battery would have given out too quickly, anyway.

Soon, I began to hear stories of friends putting their sermon notes on their iPads. The morning I had to print off sixteen sheets of A4 for one act of worship, this became attractive. It also dawned on me that I might be able to access other documents online during meetings if I stored them in the cloud. The children would love me to buy one for the games, too, but that really isn’t the most important consideration.

I won’t be buying one just yet: a large car bill last week has definitely delayed the decision. But I’ll lay out my thinking so far in a moment, and I’d be interested in your opinions. Do you think a tablet is useful for a minister or not? Why? Is it just a toy for the rich? If you do use one, what tips would you offer and what apps would you recommend?

My thoughts, then: firstly, operating system. Despite using an Android smartphone (iPhone contracts were just too expensive), I don’t want an Android tablet. Since my phone was upgraded to Android 4.0 a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich, it has become too flaky. Numerous apps seize up. I can’t be doing with an unreliable tablet.

Realistically, then, that leaves me with a straight choice between an Apple iPad and the forthcoming Microsoft Surface. So my second area of thought is around the pros and cons of these two tablets, based on my perceived needs. The disadvantages of the iPad revolve around the lack of additional connectivity and expandability. There is also a question of compatibility with Microsoft Office files since we use Windows PCs at home, although I know you can use third-party services to get around that. The iPad’s advantages include the maturity of the platform, the huge range of apps and its general reputation for reliability.

As to the Microsoft Surface, we do not yet know everything about it, despite the spectacular launch presentation for it back in June. Its advantages include direct compatibility with Microsoft Office and the inbuilt keyboard, cover and stand – no need to buy additional accessories. Disadvantages revolve around some of the unknown quantities: will it have 3G connectivity? I shall need that. What will the price be? How many apps (and of what quality) will there be in the Microsoft Store? Early reports suggest that at present there are only about 2,000 – a hundredth of what is available for the iPad. And we don’t know how it will fare in hands-on reviews by technical experts.

That’s my summary. What do you think? Bring your experiences to bear on this matter.

Death Of A Salesman: Some Christian Reflections On Steve Jobs

Here is my text, and it is taken from a friend’s Facebook profile. She said she

does not feel the need to either beatify or demonize Steve Jobs. I acknowledge that his presence on earth had a significant effect on human history.

I  only own one Apple product: an iPod. Why don’t I own an iMac, a MacBook, an iPhone or an iPad? Firstly, because I can’t afford them. Secondly, because there are certain diplomacies in our family, when a close relative works for Microsoft. Yes, Windows frustrates me at times, and perhaps it would be nice to have a product that allegedly ‘just works’, but that also means re-educating the entire family to a new operating system. Besides, like a car mechanic who doesn’t mind owning a lesser car because he can fix the problems, I can often work out (at least with the help of Google) what to do when we have a problem, and I learn as a result.

Ultimately, finance and functionality are the reasons I don’t buy Apple. It would be nice to have the aesthetically pleasing designs, but on a limited budget the bang to buck equation is about getting the specifications I need. Apple aesthetics are a luxury I can’t afford. But certainly I have to acknowledge that was one innovation Steve Jobs brought into computing. Not for him the world of beige boxes, the man who studied calligraphy wanted products to beautiful as well as simple and workable. Might it be that especially in the free churches, we so concentrate on function at the expense of beauty that we are utilitarian Christians?
I bear Steve Jobs’ family and friends no ill. But in the days since his death, a lot of twaddle has been written, and a lot of Diana-style hysteria has been expressed. Cult Of Mac seems exactly the right title.  The secular website Gawker got it right, I think: Steve Jobs was not God. We have heard that Jobs ‘gave’ us various things. No, he didn’t: he sold us things. (And dreams, too.) Or that he ‘invented’ things. No, the inventors were Steve Wozniak and his successors. Jobs was a salesman and a showman. That isn’t necessarily wrong, either: it just depends how you exercise it.
The genius of Jobs (if genius is not an overused word) was not as an originator, but as one who took products that were failing to reach the mass market and transforming them into propositions that did. The Apple II was not the first personal computer, the Altair 8800 had beaten it, but arguably the Apple created the market. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but he popularised it. Likewise, there were tablet computers before the iPad, but he bossed the market and made it attractive. Would it be unreasonable to suggest that Jobs was the technological John Wesley? Wesley mostly took existing theological ideas and made them explode with power (the one exception, perhaps being his doctrine of Christian perfection).

If Jobs had an area of originality, I would suggest it was iTunes: he took all the sanctimonious moaning of the recording industry about pirating, and forced them into a fairly reasonable pricing model. Other download sites have since, in my opinion, rushed through the open gate created to provide a better and often cheaper service.

Then, although selling is a dirty concept in Christianity, I have to admire the man’s enthusiasm in his product unveilings. Having famously taken such detailed interest in the precise design of products, I take the excitement he projected when unveiling a new toy as utterly genuine. For those of us in the church who have got tired, jaded and cynical, a dose of Jobs’ passion for what he introduced – even though we do not sell the Gospel – could be good for us.
Jobs has been compared to various people in the last few days, from Thomas Edison to Walt Disney. Whatever the merits, I suggest two British comparisons: Richard Branson and Felix Dennis. Like Jobs, they were ex-hippies who made vast fortunes in business. Dennis, perhaps, is the most striking, as the editor of Oz magazine who was imprisoned, but who now heads up the Dennis Publishing empire. Compare that to Jobs, who dropped out, travelled to India, took LSD and took up Buddhism – although where his Buddhism influenced his business is far from certain. At least his arch-rival Bill Gates set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Perhaps nowhere is Jobs’ post-hippie business philosophy better seen than in his famous Stanford University Commencement Address of 2005. While it also contains powerful statements such as those on how the certainty of death should focus everyone’s life (he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year before), some of it is a shallow, individualist, follow your own road creed. If you don’t have time to watch the entire fifteen minutes below, the text with annotated commentary can be found here.

And he finesses the story in places. Is it true that ‘Windows just copied the Mac’? More likely it’s true that both copied the GUI (Graphical User Interface) they saw at the Xerox PARC Research Center.
I have no desire to be cruel about Jobs. I leave that to the nasty words of people like Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, whose comments at the time of Jobs’ death were so foul I shall not even link to them here. But I do wish there was a sense of realism. Jobs was the visionary and extremely clever CEO of a consumer products company. Yes, a massively influential one. But just as Princess Diana’s funeral overshadowed the death of Mother Teresa the day before, so on the same day as Steve Jobs died, a hero of the American Civil Rights Movement also passed away, the Revd Fred Shuttlesworth (as the Gawker article I linked to above notes). Which one contributed more to the kingdom of God? That has to be a Christian question. Because for God, it is less about the feted celebrities and more about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Rest in peace, Mr Jobs. May your loved ones find comfort in your passing. But may the rest of us stop getting carried away.

The Writing Industry And The Digital Revolution

We know the decimation of the music industry in the face of digitisation. A whole industry looked for a beach full of sand and buried its collective heads.

Thankfully, there are some signs that in the world of writing and publishing, there are some more visionary leaders. Take this Guardian interview with John Makinson, the head of Penguin books. He knows that devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad are changing the landscape, now that Amazon’s US operation sells more e-books than hardbacks. He envisages all sorts of added value content in ebooks. Steve Ballmer knows that Microsoft needs to play catch-up. What are the pros and cons? A few thoughts:

1. Carrying around 3500 books with you on one small device, such as you can with a Kindle, has to be amazingly appealing.

2. Being able to search a book, rather like you do a Word document or a PDF, must also be a terrific advantage.

3. There is a clear focus from Makinson and others on the core issue, which is the promotion of good writing, rather than holding up soon-to-be-outdated structures. See Clay Shirky’s recent thoughts about newspapers and jounalism: the question isn’t protecting papers with paywalls, it’s a concern for journalists. Hence why I refer to the writing industry, not the newspaper industry or the publishing industry, even if what we are talking about is new forms of publishing.

4. More negatively, will we take in less cognitively this way? It’s generally accepted that people absorb about 25% less information on a PC screen than on hard copy. Will the same be true for 6 inch screens, even with e-ink?

5. What about the financial implications for smaller publishers, given the cash flow problems of independent publishers or the well-documented difficulties of Christian bookshops and publishers? Will they simply have to persist with print while the rest of the world marches on, or will this finish them off?

What do you think?