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.


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.


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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Three Tools to Pray for the Global Church

praying for the global churchAs part of learning God’s greater story, we need to see how God is working outside our community and local church. We need to see how God is moving in the global Church, and learn the stories of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world.

Fifty years ago, American Christians would hear about God’s work overseas primarily through missionaries. Every few years or so, a missionary would take a furlough back to the United States; they would then visit their supporters, sharing what God was doing on the missions field. Over time, prayer letters and prayer emails developed, allowing missionaries to share their stories quicker with their partners in ministry.

Now in the 21st century the world of missions and the global church have changed significantly. Missionaries no longer stay on the field for their entire lives; instead, many see it as a stage in their ministry lives. The work of missions in many areas have been handed from the missionaries to the locals. Regions such as West Africa, India, and Southeast Asia have become either too dangerous for foreign workers, or the local church has become strong enough to be self-sustaining.

With all these changes happening in missions and the global Church, it is important for us to stay up-to-date on how God is working in these areas. Here are three tools I use to pray for and stay current with God’s working in the global Church.

Social Media

Many of the missionaries that our church supports I now communicate exclusively with via social media. One missionary in particular I have never met, but we are friends on Facebook, and we regularly communicate updates and prayer requests with each other. A missionary can post photos and videos on a social media platform and it instantly reaches hundreds of churches worldwide.

Social media is also becoming a top source for breaking news. So when ISIS beheads more Christians or a church in Nigeria is bombed, we can hear about that relatively quickly. That way we can stay informed, and be praying for our brothers and sisters in near-real time.

Dispatches from the Front

Another tool in hearing the stories from the global church is the DVD series Dispatches from the Front. This series takes you on journeys to the far reaches of the globe, all to show you how God’s kingdom is growing in these fertile areas. These videos are encouraging, helping viewers celebrate in the impact of the Gospel throughout the world.

Operation World

The final tool for keeping a global perspective in God’s story is the series of resources produced by Operation World. For the last few years I have frequently used the seventh edition of Operation World, which provides exhaustive information, stories, and statistics for the spiritual and cultural trends of every country in the world. An included PDF makes it easier to find information, but the physical book is more like a reference book: there when you need it but a bit unwieldy to carry around.

pray for the worldThat’s why I’m so excited that Operation World has just released a new resource. Called Pray for the World, this book is an abridgment of the massive Operation World text. Highlighting the praises and prayer requests for each country in the world, this resource also has a daily prayer guide attached. This way, you can work through the book on a schedule, praying for the entire world in a year. I just got this book the other day, and I am already enjoying how the tangible requests for prayer has shaped my prayers for the world.

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22 Steps You Can Take Now to Improve Your Bible Reading for the Rest of Your Life

Regularly and consistently reading the Bible is a discipline vital for all Christians new and mature alike. It should become a life-long pursuit, so that we can gain a deeper understanding of who God is and how He works in history. As D.A. Carson writes,

The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it.

The discipline of reading the Bible is also a skill that you can develop over time. If you are a new or young believer in Christ, the habits and skills you pick up now will benefit your Bible reading for years to come.

Here are 22 steps that should help you as you start honing your Bible reading skills:


1. Find a reading bible.

Not all Bibles are created equal. Pick a Bible that will limit distractions and help you read more. A reading Bible removes cross references, titles, and verse numbers, leaving you with just the biblical text.

2. Find a reading plan.

A Bible reading plan provides structure to your reading; it also helps you work systematically through the entire Bible. Currently I am using the canonical plan tied in with Jim Hamilton’s book; in the past I have greatly benefited from Professor Horner’s plan (PDF).

3. Pick your translation.

There seems to be an unending number of English Bible translations available; for a new believer, it can be overwhelming. Rather than using several translations, make a long-term commitment to one translation. That way, you will learn the particularities of that translation. One way to pick a translation: find what translation your pastor uses. It always helps if the words he is reading on Sunday match the words in the Bible in front of you.

4. Vary your translation.

While it is important to focus on one translation, it can also help to occasionally read from other translations. By dipping your toes into a less formal version (say The Message or NLT), you can read larger passages at a time. Likewise, by trying out a more formal translation (like KJV or NASB) you might be challenged to concentrate on each word of a verse.

5. Journey down the rabbit’s hole of cross references.

If you have a Bible with cross references, take some time to follow them. These cross references, placed there by the translators and publishers, serve to connect themes, images, quotations, and allusions throughout the text. Pick a cross reference from the passage you are reading, follow it to another verse, and continue tracing these references throughout the Bible. You might be surprised where it will lead.

6. Read an entire book in one sitting.

The books of the Bible are each a literary whole—we can do them a disservice by breaking them into chunks. By reading an entire book, you can get the big picture, the author’s argument, or the narrative flow—all of which are harder to see in individual verses. You might think that you don’t have the time to read an entire book in one sitting, but many can be read in under an hour. (ht Desiring God)


7. Learn the order of the books.

The Bible contains 66 books and can be a nightmare to navigate if you don’t remember the order of the books. I remember back when tabs were all the rage; nowadays you can just memorize the order of the books in the English Bible so you don’t have to depend on the Table of Contents.

8. Learn the genres of the Bible.

The books of the Bible are written in certain genres, each of which demand reading a certain way. Learn what those genres are, how to identify them, and how to read them properly. Leland Ryken has written some great guides to this—start with Ryken’s Bible Handbook.

9. Learn the storyline of the Bible.

There is a overarching narrative storyline to the Bible—a story that starts in Genesis 1 and concludes in Revelation 22. In between are all the narrative books, containing stories of nations, people, and even a talking donkey! Knowing the flow and major points in this storyline helps you better understand how each story fits. There are plenty of resources that can help you navigate the narrative of the Bible. What’s in the Bible? is some of the best biblical teaching I have heard—and it’s done by puppets! D.A. Carson’s The God Who Is There is a great book tracing the story of God’s work in the Bible. And if a Walk Thru the Bible event is ever in your area, I encourage you to attend.

10. Find a one volume commentary.

There will be times where you can’t figure out what a Bible passage is saying. It is at those times you might want to turn to a commentary—a book written by pastors or scholars that help explain what the text is saying. The NIV Compact Bible Commentary and the New Bible Commentary are two helpful commentaries in this category.

11. Learn the cultural background of the Bible.

The events of the Bible took place thousands of years ago in cultures vastly different than ours today. At times the meaning behind the text can only be gleaned if you know something about the culture in which the text was written. A good background commentary will explain some of the cultural issues and meanings behind the text. Grab one each for the Old Testament and New Testament.

12. Grab a Bible atlas.

Many of the biblical narratives include towns and locations unfamiliar to us today. And if you are merely reading the words on the page, the names can blend into the background. But if you read with a Bible atlas open, the stories can become even more tangible. With a Bible atlas, you can see distances, geological features, and even political entities that might be at play in the story.


13. Write down your thoughts.

God may be using your Bible reading time to show you some amazing stuff. Don’t lose it, be sure to write it down! Grab a journal or a Bible with wide margins and write down what God is showing you. You can also keep track of prayer requests, praises, and how God is working in your life.

14. Memorize Scripture.

In order to have Scripture truly impact your everyday, you need to have it impressed on your heart. Start memorizing Scripture as soon as possible. It’s like compound interest: the sooner you start, the greater the impact will be later on in life. Use the Fighter Verses website or app (iOS and Android) to memorize one verse per week, or try memorizing extended passages.

15. Remember context is key.

When you stumble upon a verse that is causing you trouble, be sure to look at the verse’s context. Read the paragraph before and after the verse again. Then read the chapter before and after the verse again.

16. Remember who is talking.

Large sections of the Bible are speeches. Many are by God or one of his representatives (prophets). Sometimes they are by God’s people, either to each other or to God. Occassionally they are by the enemies of God. Remember who is the source of the words you are reading, as that will affect how you interpret them.

17. Remember the audience.

In the New Testament, several books are letters to specific churches struggling with specific issues. Keep track of those issues and how the author addresses them.

18. Set up a digital wallpaper.

If you are working on memorizing a passage of Scripture, be sure to put it somewhere you will see it upwards of one hundred times a day: your phone’s lock screen. The Fighter Verses app does a great job of this.

 19. Use a pen.

Be sure to mark up your Bible as you see fit. Circle words. Bracket verses. Underline. Use exclamation points! and even question marks. Note the flow of the argument. All these notes and markings will help you better understand the text.

 20. Listen to the Bible.

There are some great apps that allow you to listen to audio versions of the Bible. This allows you to consume the Bible while in the car, washing dishes, or doing other chores. Pick an audio Bible of your favorite translation; it will help with retention the next time you read that passage.

 21. Get a children’s Bible.

While there are some children’s Bibles that underwhelming in conveying biblical truth, there are a few that provide rich spiritual truth in an accessible manner. The best two that I have found are The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible.

22. Talk about what you are reading.

Don’t keep what you are reading and learning to yourself. Join a small group, a Bible study, or grab someone else and talk about what you are reading. This outside support can encourage you when you are struggling, answer questions, and correct you when you are wrong. Plus, they will learn from you just as you are learning from them.

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Organizing a Pastors Life with HootSuite

hootsuiteAt North Baptist Church, we have several Facebook pages, each dedicated to our youth ministry or our mid-week children’s program. Our primary purpose for each page is to communicate info to families on upcoming events, lessons, and cancellations.

We use HootSuite to schedule our Facebook updates to each page, allowing us to prepare a week’s worth of content in a few minutes. HootSuite is an online dashboard for all your social media accounts. Connecting with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other accounts, you can quickly send one update to each account. Plus you can schedule, allowing you to plan your updates ahead of time.

hootsuite info

For our church’s need the Free plan works fine; we can link to all our Facebook pages and even get some basic analytics. Paid plans allow for more linked accounts, team members, security, better analytics, and vanity URLs.

Check out HootSuite for your ministry’s social media announcements, especially if you need to send an update to multiple accounts, or if you want to schedule updates ahead of time.

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Browsing a Bookstore with G.K. Beale

I was listening to a podcast from 9Marks, in which Mark Dever interviews New Testament and biblical theologian G.K. Beale. It was a remarkable interview, which the full audio can be found here: 9Marks Beale Interview.

In this interview, Dever tries a fun experiment. The scenario: Mark is a young pastor that hasn’t read too widely, and he is asking “Uncle Greg” advice on biblical theology books in a bookstore. Oh, and since their wives are in the car, the advice needs to be brief – a few sentences each.

Essentially, Dever is providing Beale with a list of books related to biblical theology, the New Testament, and preaching, and Beale is providing his own comments and recommendations. He gives some great recommendations for books on biblical theology, Christological preaching, and OT/NT theologies. He even provided some additional pastoral tips for young ministers.

I love this concept and I hope that Mark Dever can try this out with other ministers/scholars. I think it could be very beneficial for younger pastors like me.

Additional pastoral tips from Beale:

  • Use 5-6 translations (literal, non literal)
  • Use margin notes/footnotes
  • Use NA27 footnotes for allusions
  • Use scripture index for larger theological books

I compiled a list of the books mentioned – organized by topic – along with Beale’s comments in italics.

Biblical Theology


Old Testament

New Testament

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Listen to Passage Before Preaching

Recently I discovered a great new tip for sermon prep: listen to the passage. For 2 weeks, I listened to the entire book of Malachi once a day – usually while brushing my teeth. After 2 weeks, I felt a good grasp of the book’s structure and argument – and I hadn’t started sermon prep yet!

Benefits of listening to passage:

  • Immerse yourself in the wording of given passage and translation.
  • Gets your mind thinking about passage prior to sermon prep.
  • Helps with memorization.
  • Helps with hard words and difficult names.

It’s very easy to get audio of a passage. Here are three ways to listen to a passage:

  • YouVersion Bible App The YouVersion Bible app has audio versions of Bible translations built directly into the app. Navigate to the chapter you wish read to you, then click the speaker button and click Play. The YouVersion website also has audio built in. Audio versions are available for KJV, ESV, NLT, and NIV (though the NIV2011 recording is actually NIV84).

    Best Option

  • Text to Speech software. Apple OSX has text to speech software built right in. In System Preferences > Dictation & Speech, you can control the speaking rate, keystroke to start, and even the type of voice. You can use this with any text you find on the computer.

    Use without Internet connection

  • Record your own voice. A final option is to record your own voice (via iPhone app/cassette player/etc.) reading the Bible passage, then play that on repeat. Use wherever you have a sound system

If you are preaching through a passage or a book of the Bible, use audio readings of the Bible to improve your sermon prep. It has already helped me.

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I love infographics. If you don’t know, infographics are a new method of displaying data or information about a topic. I like to think of them as charts that tell stories. Unlike a typical graph or business presentation – which requires someone to explain it – an infographic provides provides it’s own narration. One can look at a infographic and understand the data and what it means.

I am a very concrete-sequential person, so I appreciate infographics because they make the numbers and stories tangible and understandable. Just like how Prezi can transform how we see presentations, infographics transform how we communicate numbers and ideas. As you can see from NewSpring Church’s Annual Report, infographics can communicate all kinds of info, from finances to baptisms to church growth. Here are some ways you can use infographics in your ministry:

Already-Made Infographics

First, VisualUnit is a great website for free Bible and theology related infographics, useful for a youth ministry lesson, a small group discussion, or just helping a student or leader visually understand a particular concept. I especially like the infographic on the ages of Adam’s descendants.

Tim Challies has a cool series of Visual Theology infographics, in which he communicates important doctrinal truths – like the order of salvation and Reformed theology – visually. You can even order physical prints of the Visual Theologyinfographics.

GOOD Magazine also makes some killer infographics. They do an amazing job at explaining a complex idea in a simple, visual manner. Each page would likely take 2-3 pages of written explanation.

Create Your Own Infographics

While some of the best infographics are made by professional graphic designers, you can make your own with some powerful online tools. If you are looking for a quick way to make a slick single infographic, this might be the way to go.

Infogram is free and has some really slick designs that are easy to use. You can post it to Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest, and you can embed the infographics on a website. I only wish you could also export it for offline use.

Easelly is also free and has some great themes to use. I found it a little harder to use than Infogram, but the editing and design features are much more robust. You can also download your completed project as a jpeg. Easelly is currently in beta.

Question: What is your favorite infographic?

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Migratory Patterns cover

Lowercase Noises

Migratory Patterns coverI am very picky when it comes to what I listen to while reading or writing. It must be upbeat, it can’t have words, and it must fade into the background. Essentially, I need ambient music that filters out all background noises.

Up until recently, my go to reading/writing music has been Explosions in the Sky. They do some of the best background music out there, with my favorite albums being Take Care, Take Care, Take Care and the Friday Night Lights soundtrack.

I will occasionally supplement EITS with some All the Bright Lights and Sigur Ros (because Icelandic gibberish doesn’t count as words). That is until I heard about Lowercase Noises.

Lowercase Noises is music by Andy Othling, a musician from New Mexico. He has released 6 albums featuring the beautiful ambient music I enjoy. I highly recommend Migratory Patterns, the latest album. In fact, I would almost go as far as dedicate this week’s sermon to this album, since I have had it on repeat the whole week!

Be sure to check out all his music, including his covers of How Deep the Father’s Love and Nearer My God to Thee.

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Using iMovie for iOS in Youth Ministry

iMovie iOS iconThis past Wednesday, Apple held a large press event where they announced the new iPad. During this event, they also released several updates to popular iOS apps, including an update to iMovie ($4.99). I did not previously have iMovie on my phone or iPad, so I cannot comment on the improvements. However, after seeing some clips of what the app can do, I immediately downloaded it and tried it out on my iPad 2.

The idea behind iMovie for iOS is similar to that of iMovie for OSX: slick yet basic movie editing. In iMovie for iOS, there are several slick templates for movies and trailers that are very simple to use. The app tells you what size clip to use in which spot; you either film a new clip in the app or use an existing clip to fit the spot.

The best part of using iMovie for iOS is the simplicity: I was able to make the entire trailer on my iPad, including title editing, filming, clip editing, and uploading to YouTube. No need to find cables or transfer files from one device to another. I found the iPad adequate to use for filming, but in the future I will likely use the lighter and more portable iPhone for filming.

For this test, I created a teaser trailer for an upcoming lesson series called Finding God in Hollywood. It was a simple idea I quickly threw together with stuff in my office and using only the iPad for filming. Here is the finished product:

It took about 1.5 hours to go from opening the app to uploading to YouTube, with some of that time spent fiddling with the different controls.

If you are a youth worker with either an iPhone or iPad (with camera), I strongly suggest you pick up iMovie for iOS ($4.99). With it’s super simple yet strong controls and templates, you (and a few students) can make a slick trailer for your next event or lesson series quickly and easily.


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Free Logos Training Workshop

Logos Bible Software is an insanely powerful tool. I have been using this software since 2003, yet there are still tips and uses that I am learning every day. That’s why I am excited about an upcoming free Logos Training workshop.

On Thursday, February 23, Logos will be holding a 2 hour training workshop at the Liberate Conference. During this workshop, the Logos team will show off all the tips and tricks that I only wished I knew. And the entire workshop will be streamed online for free!

If you have never seen what Logos can do, or if you are unsure how Logos would fit into your sermon prep workflow, check out the livestream. Of, if you are like me and use Logos on a daily basis, join me in finding new tweaks and tips to fully utilize your Logos library.

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