Practical Pastor: Preaching from a Tablet

Earlier this year, I was looking to buy a new laptop and I came across a deal where buying an on sale laptop from HP gave you the option of getting their TouchPad for $149.  This seemed like the ideal way to get a poor man’s iPad so I took the deal.  At first, this meant giving my Kindle to my oldest son who reads even more than me, I think.  It also mean having portable access to document, the internet, media, etc—all that a tablet is supposed to be.  But then, I began using it to teach.  I was going over to a couple’s house, leading them through a new members class and it seemed like an great way to have my notes with me without having to print out the most recent revisions or lug my laptop there.

From there, I began thinking, ‘Why not preach from it?’  I had seen someone else preach from an iPad a couple months before at a pastors conference and it stuck with me.  I was worried that it would be distracting on wouldn’t actually work at all and was hesitant to try.  But then, I decided I should just try it and see what happened.  The first time, I also took a printed copy of my notes with me, tuck away in my Bible—just in case.  Since then, I’ve never gone back to paper.  It’s now been about five months of consistent preaching from my TouchPad, and I thought I would offer some practical thoughts and cautions on the why and how of preaching from a tablet.

1. Don’t let the Technology Be the Focus in the Pulpit

One of my big goals in using the TouchPad was to not let anyone know I was using it.  Obviously, anyone who was sitting next to me at the front during the service or was watching me closely would see it.  But I wasn’t about to make a big announcement about changing over to it.  Furthermore, I wasn’t going to carry it around the platform or fiddle with it in the pulpit.  I even go so far as to make myself look up and make eye-contact when I swipe the page, to detract attention away from my hands. Why?  Because there is already more than enough things that can be used as a distraction to people during preaching.  If I really believe that God is speaking through the proclamation of his word, then I don’t ever want to add something to that list of distractions. (If I don’t believe that, then I should get out of ministry.) Whether it’s clothes, an out-of-place illustration, or alerting people to my notes in general, I try hard to avoid drawing attention to myself in a way that causes people to stop listening and start thinking about something else.

2. Use the Technology Only If It Serves Your Ministry

There is a HUGE temptation to use technology for the sake of using technology. It makes you look cool and hip to culture. Forget those things. If the technology doesn’t serve you well in your preaching ministry, then scrap it.  If you’re going to be fumbling around or always pining away for your old system, stay away from the tablet.  Use what works for you. Use pen and paper until you die if you need to because it’s more important that you preach well than it is to be tech-savvy.

3. Know the Basics of Your Tablet

If you’re going to use a tablet, then make sure you know what you’re doing.  By this, I mean know how it works to the degree that you can alter settings that make it appropriate for undistracted preaching.  Don’t buy a tablet and take it into the pulpit next week.  Here some specific things I have learned to do:

  • Turn off anything that will give you an update or an alert. You don’t want anything to pop-up in front of your notes.
  • Turn off the wi-fi.  You don’t want something to update and slow you down, or see an email come, etc. Again, the point here to avoid distraction for you, as the preacher.
  • Turn off  the screen’s auto-rotate.  The first week I preached from my tablet, the screen rotated sideways and I couldn’t get it to fix without putting it almost completely vertical.  I then found the setting to keep it oriented the same way.
  • Make sure you can adjust the brightness.  Depending on the stage lights, you may want to lower or brighten the screen.  The goal is to make it most comfortable for you.  Sometimes, I’ve even changed from my normal setting as I was beginning my sermon because of the brightness (or lack thereof!), of the sun coming in through the auditorium windows.
  • Determine the best font size. When I use paper notes, a 12 point font is perfect for preaching. But that likely won’t work for a tablet because it shrinks the file image to fit the screen.  So, I determined that an 18 point font works best for me.
  • Determine the best file format.  The TouchPad I use can read Word files, but apparently hates doing so.  When I call up such files, the formatting is almost always wonky (I think that’s a Greek term).  I found that after typing up my notes in Word as I have done for the past nine years, I then copy and paste them into a specially formatted document, which I then save as a pdf file.  They work great for simple reading and scrolling.

4. Remember that Technology Won’t Make You a Great Preacher

Use a tablet, don’t use a tablet—it doesn’t really matter in the end.  But don’t fall into the trap of believing that technology will inherently make you a better preacher.  If you’re going to be great in the pulpit, you need to be great in the study, great in the prayer closet, and great at knowing your people.  Remember who you’re preaching to, remember whose help you need in preaching, and work very, very hard at understanding and applying God’s word.  This is what will make you a great preacher.

14 thoughts on “Practical Pastor: Preaching from a Tablet

  1. Chad says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I had thought about using my iPad in the pulpit for months, but ultimately decided against it. You’ve opened the door for me again. I’ll have to revist the idea. Hope you’re doing well.

  2. Les says:

    I was talking to Tom Schreiner at this year’s John Bunyan conference and noticed that he was carrying an iPad. I asked him if he did his teaching and preaching with it, and he said yes, and that he loved it.

    1. John says:

      Interesting! I wouldn’t have necessarily pegged him as an iPad guy. Then again, he did change his eschatological position in the middle of a series on Revelation so, he keeps you guessing!

  3. Chad says:

    John, I think its some of the reasons you outline at the beginning. Probably my biggest one is that I tend to scribble some notes in pencil on the manuscript that become relevant to the text I’m preaching. Honestly, my eyes have gotten use to that format. I think if I’m going to do it; I just need to take the dive. Also the pulpit I preach from is somewhat small on space, so not sure how that will fit into the equation.

  4. John says:

    Chad, if you have an iPad, there is a program that actually allows you to make handwritten notes onto a pdf file. They don’t have that for the TouchPad but I usually save my final version of the sermon notes minutes before the service starts. I used to underline, scribble notes, circle key words, etc. Now, I do my last read through by bolding words, underlining key phrases, breaking paragraphs down into smaller chunks, etc. But, I think you’re right–I basically decided I had to to just try for a few weeks and see what happened. Blessings, brother!

  5. John says:

    Can you link to the app? Also, I could have just as easily said “platform” lights. You don’t need to think about a concert or anything. The point is, most church buildings have special lighting at the front that’s more directly spotted onto the platform, pulpit, etc.

  6. startrack100 says:

    Thanks a ton for the challenge. I’m a preacher serving the Kingdom in the western part of India. Recently bought a Nexus 10 and am toying with idea of preaching from it. I’ve always done from a laptop and projector using powerpoint slides etc. Now, I’m looking to drive powerpoint from the Nexus. Is that far-fetched? Any suggestions for apps that I could use? Or is it pdf and no farther?

  7. John says:

    I can’t speak for the Nexus 10, but I once saw a guy speaking from an iPad and he was able to control a powerpoint-type program from his tablet. So, yes, there is hope if you can find the right app!

  8. GBetts says:

    Hi John this is Gary iam a minister getting ready to buy my first ipiad, your comments have really helped me. Thanks alot!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s