evernote and pastoral ministry

Organizing a Pastor’s Life in Evernote

evernote pastorBack in college, I remember taking a class that helped you with practical advice in ministry. One week, we were told to create a filing system for your office, something that was expandable, yet easy to navigate and search. The reason is simple: pastors need to collect and save a lot of info—from journal articles on a specific passage, quotes, and sermon illustrations. Our professor stressed the importance of having a filing system; otherwise you would collect all these pieces of information and never use them. He said this system would become your brain, storing all the info until you needed it.

For this class, I created a rudimentary filing system on my laptop. Using nested folders, I could separate categories and topics; inside each folder was a scanned picture or text document. This simple setup met my needs; as I added more ideas, I simply added folders. But in 2008, these folders were permanently replaced by Evernote, my new digital brain.

About Evernote

Evernote is a collection of apps that allows you to store, access, and search any type of file from any device. Their motto is simple—Remember Everything—and they succeed in helping users do that. What started as a desktop and web-based application has expanded rapidly to virtually all platforms, and has even developed an ecosystem of additional apps that can interact with your Evernote account.

How I Use Evernote

Since Evernote is such a flexible system, you can use it however you want to; there is no “right” way. Here’s some examples of how I use Evernote as a young pastor, in hopes it might help you think of a new way to store and access your information.

Collect Everything

First, I see Evernote as being a large bucket with which I can collect everything. From articles I find interesting, to youth group game ideas, to all my research on a particular passage, all of it goes into Evernote.

This is made easy by all the ways you can put info into Evernote. With browser extensions, I can clip any webpage with just a few clicks. If I download a PDF onto my desktop, I can easily drag the file into the desktop app, creating its own note. Several of my iOS apps can send info directly into Evernote, including my scratchpad (Drafts), my read-it-later app (Instapaper), and my RSS reader (Mr. Reader). If there is a tweet I like, I have set up an IFTTT recipe to copy that tweet and send it to Evernote. I can even forward emails into Evernote, using a personalized, secret Evernote email address all members are given.

Organize Everything

While the search functionality in Evernote is stellar, I still like to organize my notes. This is done by creating Notebooks (think categories), using Tags, and even creating a table of contents note. Here are a few ways I utilize these tools in my system.

Notebooks as Categories

I have created 38 notebooks in Evernote, divided into large categories. I view these as big buckets in which to dump all related notes. Categories like Old Testament, New Testament, Church & Ministry, Personal Stuff, and Culture are large notebooks, containing hundreds of diverse files—but all fitting under each general headline. I also have an @inbox notebook, which serves as a catch-all. It is the default notebook which all new notes first appear in, before I sort and move them into the proper bucket.

Receipts

In my Personal Stuff, I place all my tax-deductible receipts from ministry—whether they are forwarded from email or scanned in. But I need to distinguish between receipts from different years; this is where tags come in handy. I use descriptive tags—like TD 2013—to tell what tax year this receipt came from. So when I prepare to meet with my tax guy, I can simply go to the Personal Stuff notebook and search for all notes tagged with TD 2013. Super simple!

My Own Commentary

Warning: this might get really nerdy!

A few years ago I tried compiling all my notes and thoughts on biblical passages in Word documents—one document per book of the Bible. However, I found this to be clunky, hard to scan through, and annoying to maintain. Then I listened to a lecture by D.A. Carson on preaching, in which he gives a glimpse into his note-taking system, comprised of looseleaf notebook paper. It was then that I came up with the system in Evernote that I use now.

Template for a chapter of the Bible.
Template for a chapter of the Bible.

First, I created a template note for a biblical chapter, featuring room for an outline, verse by verse exposition, and a list of sources. Second, I duplicated the template enough to create a file for each chapter of each book of the Bible. Next, using the Copy Note Link feature, I created two large documents, sort of like a table of contents for each testament of the Bible. Now, whenever I am working on a passage, I can keep all my notes and thoughts in the Evernote note for that chapter.

Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away
Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away

Two advantages for this system: First, it is completely expandable. Each note can be as large or as small as it needs to be. Second, I can link other notes easily to the chapter note. So if I find a helpful journal article on a passage, I can add it to Evernote and link to it in the footer of the relevant chapter note. It may seem like this would take a long time, and let me assure you it will take 3x longer than you think! But having a system in place pays off immensely in the long run, especially if you plan on using your system frequently.

Recall Everything

The final strength of Evernote is the powerful searching feature. At the top right corner of the desktop app, there is a search bar. With this bar, you can search for any word or phrase found in your notes. But you can get even more specific: you can limit the search by Notebook, Tags, and even by when the note was created. And the real power comes in Evernote’s OCR technology, which means you can search through PDFs and other files (a Premium only feature). So if you are looking for that Word document you placed in Evernote two years ago, you don’t need to remember the title, or even the notebook, if you remember and can search for the subject of the document. This is immensely helpful to me; often I am pleasantly surprised by what a search returns to me, as I had forgotten about a file.

Conclusion

By now I have spend so much time and energy placing articles, thoughts, and ideas into Evernote, I can’t imagine ministry without it. If you are looking for a way to easily store and retrieve your myriad of files, articles, and illustrations, or if you are looking for a digital replacement for a paper-based system, I would encourage you to check out Evernote.

One word of advice for younger pastors or seminary students who are about to start with Evernote: be sure to stay on top of your organizing. You get what you put into your system. If you don’t spend the time, your system will not be as helpful as you hoped it would be. Take the time—like a free Saturday or a few open evenings—to develop and organize you system. Your future self will thank you.


 

organizing-pastors-life-evernote-screenshotFree eBook!

I have put together an eBook with additional tips on organizing a pastor’s life with Evernote. Click here to sign up for your free eBook.

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lancaster pa

Big Changes for the Schmidt Family

I have been silent for the past few weeks on social media and this blog, and for good reason. We’ve been working on some pretty big, life-altering news, and now it’s become official and public: we are moving to Lancaster in October!

Since moving to Corning in 2010, we have made the long trek down I-99 and Route 15 to Lancaster about a dozen times a year. Mostly this is to see family, but we have always loved Lancaster county and we’ve always said that one day we would want to move there. With Norah about to turn one next month, we want her (and us) to be closer to family; so that “one day” wish to move to Lancaster is becoming a reality.

ydopWhen we move, I’ll be joining the team at YDOP, an internet marketing company right in downtown Lancaster. I’ll be writing content for clients, meaning I’ll get paid to research and write—a dream come true! I’ve enjoyed getting to know the fun team at YDOP this past month, and I’m looking forward to being down there full-time.

We will miss all the friends we’ve made here in Corning the past five years, friends at North Baptist Church, Corning Christian Academy, and in the community; but we are grateful that we live in an era where friendships can stay strong through FaceTime and Facebook.

If you think of it, pray for us during this transition time. We are still working out the housing situation, bank accounts, and the hundred other little changes that have to happen in the next month. I’m sure we will be reaching out to all of you for cardboard boxes and your muscles to lift those cardboard boxes.

 

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5 books that shaped my life

Five Books That Shaped My Life

5 books that shaped my lifeReading is a passion of mine. I always seem to be reading 2-3 books at a time, even when up feeding a newborn in the middle of the night (thanks Paperwhite!). While I do read some books for fun, much of what I read is intended to stretch me. I have set myself to be a lifelong learner, and reading is a great way to continue learning.

There are five books that have had a great impact on my life. These books have shaped how I view God, the Bible, and my relationships with Jesus and others. I thank God for how He has used these books in my life, and I hope they might have a similar impact in your life.

Dominion and Dynasty by John Sailhamer

Growing up in the church, I have always been familiar with the biblical narratives. I remember listening to them in Sunday School and from family members, eventually growing to the point where I could read the stories for myself. But for a long time, they were just stories; they were unconnected tales about God.

Books like Dominion and Dynasty helped me see how the Old Testament stories are connected. This is very important for Christians readers; it gives us value for reading the Old Testament, as it is the story of God interacting and saving his people. I especially love this book because of the clarity and level of connections shown between stories. It is one of the first books I turn to when preaching from an Old Testament narrative passage.

We Become What We Worship by G.K. Beale

This next book, a survey of idolatry through the Bible, reminds me of the importance of worship. We are all creatures of worship, and we start to resemble what we worship, whether it is good or bad. While it is rather academic, this book also has a profound impact on my Christian walk.

The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson

This is a gospel-rich book aimed at ministering to the heart of the minister. In it, Wilson reminds pastors that our value and identity is found in the completed work of Jesus Christ, not in attendance, donations, or praise. I regularly return to this book for a reminder of how Christ’s grace and mercy is necessary in pastoral ministry.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This book is a riveting true story of Louie Zamperini, and is the inspiration behind the upcoming movie Unbroken. I love how Hillenbrand structured her story of Zamperini’s life around what was unable to break him: his rough childhood, his competition at races, his 47 days adrift in the Pacific, his years of captivity and punishment as a POW, and his descent into alcoholism and PTSD. And the one thing that ultimately broke him: the Gospel of Jesus Christ, presented by Billy Graham.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

This classic book, the first in the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, is a childhood favorite of mine. I remember going to the library with my mom and picking this book again and again. What I found so special about this book was that it opened my imagination. I could get lost in these stories, while still seeing the grace and love of God in every page.

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monday update

Monday Update #90 – December 1, 2014

[alert-note] Note: Every Monday I will be posting about what I have been reading, listening, writing, and doing in my life. Hopefully it gives a little insight into my life. Enjoy! [/alert-note]

What I Learned This Past Week

Mono sucks! The last two weeks have been a constant state of blah: nothing but sleeping, coughing, and a quasi-awake state. Last weekend we got the diagnosis: mono.
What really stinks about mono is how you get exhausted from everything. Even the slightest action and I am gassed. I can’t even focus enough to read. And I have been in a state of quarantine, meaning I have to limit how close I get to Norah. But the good news is that my symptoms are showing the slightest amount of receding, so I am hoping the worst is behind me.

What I’m Reading (Books)

I am currently reading:

I finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. This is one of my favorite books, and I reread it in preparation for the upcoming movie based on the book.

What I’m Learning

Creation

Fall

  • End for Iraqi Christians

    In parts of the Middle East, Christianity is in danger of extinction. In 1991 there were 1.5m Christians in Iraq. Today there may be as few as 300,000. In Syria and Egypt, in places where there have been churches for almost two millennia, Christians are being persecuted and killed and their places of worship destroyed.

Redemption

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monday update

Monday Update #89 – November 17, 2014

[alert-note] Note: Every Monday I will be posting about what I have been reading, listening, writing, and doing in my life. Hopefully it gives a little insight into my life. Enjoy! [/alert-note]

What I LearnedThis Past Week

A New Normal of Sleep – I’ve always heard that a newborn affects your sleep, but now I know. The good news is that my body is adjusting to less sleep, and it is having a positive impact on my productivity! Before Norah, I always needed 8–9 hours of sleep; I just couldn’t function without it. But now, if I add up my pockets of sleep each day/night, I’m lucky if it totals 6 hours a day. And while some may see me and think I’m a zombie, I don’t feel bad.

I’m also learning that there is an early morning and that I can be productive during it. Recently I have been taking the 5am (ish) feeding shift; afterwards I typically can’t get to sleep so I redeem the time by getting a jump on the day. So thanks Norah!

What I’m Reading (Books)

I am currently reading:

I finished Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter by Michael White & Tom Corcoran. This book describes church revitalization, and the journey the authors took in moving a suburban Catholic from sickness to health. I found this book very helpful, as the authors faced similar situations that I have faced or am currently facing.

What I’m Reading (Articles)

Creation

  • Antarctica’s Dry Valleys Look Like Another Planet

    There is a series of dry valleys in Antarctica, about 4,000 kilometers square, that have no ice on them at all. The world’s harshest desert, the moisture is sucked from the dry valleys by a rain shadow effect – winds rushing over them at speeds up to 200/mph – that leave this bizarre and fascinating landscape, much closer to that of Mars than the rest of our planet, open to exploration.

Fall

Redemption

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monday update

Monday Update #88 – November 10, 2014

[alert-note] Note: Every Monday I will be posting about what I have been reading, listening, writing, and doing in my life. Hopefully it gives a little insight into my life. Enjoy! [/alert-note]

What I Enjoyed This Past Week

Norah is One Month Old! I must admit: keeping a human being alive for a month is a big task. It should be the first thing on anyone’s resume: I am a parent! We celebrated Norah’s first month last week. She is growing in size and personality, and hopefully soon will be learning to sleep a little bit longer each night.

What I’m Reading (Books)

I am currently reading:

I finished What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. Part theology of vocation, part practical GTD advice, this book is a helpful read for the Christian who wants to get a hold of doing all things—including their to-do list—for the glory of God.

What I’m Reading (Articles)

Creation

  • Bats Jam Each Other’s Sonar While Hunting

    Just as one bat was within a split second of snatching a moth or other insect in mid-air, another bat that was also out foraging used its vocal chords to emit a specialized jamming call to prevent the first one from making the catch.

Fall

  • Stuff First-Century Christians Fought About

    The first major church dispute actually was over how fast multiethnic churches were growing outside of Jerusalem. These ethnically diverse congregations were blowing up the mental and cultural circuits of the Jewish believers in the holy city.

Redemption

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monday update

Monday Update #87 – November 3, 2014

[alert-note] Note: Every Monday I will be posting about what I have been reading, listening, writing, and doing in my life. Hopefully it gives a little insight into my life. Enjoy! [/alert-note]

What I Enjoyed This Past Week

Radio Appearance! Last week was Reformation Day, which commemorates the anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses. In light of this, I wrote a brief blog post highlighting the impact Luther’s 95 theses has had on the Christian story.

Turns out that a radio host from Pittsburgh found my article on Twitter. We connected and he invited me on his radio program that afternoon to talk more about Luther! Here’s the audio from the show; my interview starts at the 14 minute mark.

What I’m Reading (Books)

I am currently reading:

What I’m Reading (Articles)

Creation

Fall

  • Lecrae: Christians Have Prostituted Art to Give Answers

    His music troubles the stereotypes of both Christian music and mainstream rap—it doesn’t really feel wholesome or sanctified, but it’s also filled with self-deprecation and explicit warnings about immoral behavior.

Redemption

  • Sound Waves May Help Tissue Regeneration

    Researchers have developed a way to use sound to create cellular scaffolding for tissue engineering, a unique approach that could help overcome one of regenerative medicine’s significant obstacles.

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norah mae schmidt

How Life Changes With a Newborn

norah mae schmidtA few weeks ago we celebrated the birth of our first baby, a girl named Norah. And my how things have changed!

Plenty of people gave words of wisdom during the pregnancy; many noted how life would never be the same. While I nodded and agreed with them, I never fully realized the magnitude of changes this little baby would produce.

  • I never knew that I would cheer when a belly button stub fell off.
  • I never knew that I would congratulate someone when they burped.1
  • I never fully understood what sleep-deprivation meant. But now I can sleep on command, and sometimes even when I don’t want to. Recently I have been forced to pray with my eyes open so I don’t fall asleep.
  • I never knew how much planning would be involved for a trip to the grocery store. We have to figure out her eating schedule, pack enough bags for an overseas trip, and get two shopping carts: one for the baby carrier and one for the groceries.
  • I never knew how much joy and love I could get from such a small little package. How I would look at every little sound she makes. How I could hold her for hours at a time, just staring at her face.

So no, I didn’t know how much my life would change with the baby.

But I’m glad it did.


  1. Aside from my college days. 

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monday update

Monday Update #86 – October 20, 2014

[alert-note] Note: Every Monday I will be posting about what I have been reading, listening, writing, and doing in my life. Hopefully it gives a little insight into my life. Enjoy! [/alert-note]

What I Enjoyed This Past Week

Another Week With Norah! This week was all about learning what life looks like with a newborn. It is crazy how your priorities and schedule shifts with a new baby; earlier this week we had a doctor’s appointment at 1:15 pm, and already at 8 am we were discussing how to set her feeding schedule in preparation for the appointment!

Having a new baby also changes your definition of success. We now celebrate when she sleeps for more than 2 hours at a time, if she has a dirty diaper, and especially when she does not dirty a new diaper immediately after I change her.

What I’m Reading (Books)

I am currently reading:

What I’m Reading (Articles)

Creation

  • Lockheed Closes In on Atomic Fusion

    Fusion promises unlimited clean, renewable energy without the nasty byproducts of the uranium-splitting fission that drives today’s nuclear plants. The problem is figuring out how to contain it.

Fall

  • Wrongly Translated Latin Motto on Library

    “Nos Secundus Coniecto Omnia”
    It’s a powerful-sounding Latin statement that is fit for higher learning.
    That is until you translate the expression.
    Should Be: “We Confirm All Things Twice.”
    Translates To: “We Second Guess All.”

Redemption

  • 9 Things Everyone Should Do When Reading the Bible

    5. Recognize That Lamenting is OK.

    Yes, there is joy and peace and hope in Christ. But true believers still mourn and lament. There is space in the life of faith for complaining, tears, grit and depression. Just look at the Psalms.

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monday update

Monday Update #85 – October 13, 2014

[alert-note] Note: Every Monday I will be posting about what I have been reading, listening, writing, and doing in my life. Hopefully it gives a little insight into my life. Enjoy! [/alert-note]

What I Enjoyed This Past Week

Norah Mae was Born! Last Monday we welcomed Norah Mae Schmidt to the world. Born on 6:11 pm, she was 7 lb, 7 oz and 21 inches long. Since then she has been a delight to her mother and I; while we are still working on the sleep-at-night thing, she has taught us a new meaning of love.

What I’m Reading (Books)

I am currently reading:

Last week I finished Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. This is a great memoir of Nabeel’s journey, from growing up in a very conservative Muslim family, to researching the historicity of Christianity, to finally seeing Jesus as Lord and Savior. I really enjoyed this book, not just for his conversion story, but for also how reverently he portrays his former Muslim culture.

Last week I also finished Dangerous Calling:Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp. A very helpful book that I really needed.

What I’m Reading (Articles)

Creation

Fall

  • I Survived a Weekend with the Cult of Oprah

    I’m determined to meet her. It feels like my destiny: to come to this House of Oprah and not find her physical form would be the ultimate failure. I have eight hours plus a press pass and am very sneaky. I will find Oprah. For moms everywhere, I will find Oprah at this Oprah weekend.

Redemption

  • A Christian Apologist and an Atheist Thrive in an Improbable Bond

    The true paradox of “True Paradox” is that the volume might not have existed at all, or certainly would not exist in its present shape and voice, without the secular scientist as its midwife. And that odd reality is testament to a rare brand of mutual civility in the culture wars, with their countervailing trends of religious fundamentalism and dogmatic atheism.

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