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Local pastors find tablets still have place in sermons

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    Pastor Jeff Lavalette poses for a portrait with his tablet at Glass City Church in Toledo on Sunday, April 29, 2018.

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    Pastor Jeff Lavalette preaches, with a Bible and tablet at hand, during a service at Glass City Church in Toledo on Sunday, April 29, 2018.

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    Pastor Jeff Lavalette preaches, with a Bible and tablet at hand, during a service at Glass City Church in Toledo on Sunday, April 29, 2018.

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    Pastor Jeff Lavalette uses the tablet as he plays music during a service at Glass City Church in Toledo on Sunday, April 29, 2018.

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    Pastor Jeff Lavalette preaches using his tablet during a service at Glass City Church in Toledo on Sunday, April 29, 2018.

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    Pastor Jeff Lavalette poses for a portrait with his tablet at Glass City Church in Toledo on Sunday, April 29, 2018.

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You hope everything goes smoothly on Sunday morning, but, inevitably, something goes awry.

Something like, say, the printer.

When you’re in the practice in printing off the sermon notes you reference at the pulpit, a wonky printer can really throw a wrench in things, as Pastor Jeff Lavalette came to appreciate in 2011.

“I ran out of paper or I ran out of ink. I forget what it was,” the pastor recalled recently of a preservice hangup at Glass City Church in Toledo.

Needless to say, the glitch was frustrating. And that, ultimately, became the catalyst that pushed him toward a solution.

“After that,” he said, “I was like, ‘Alright, I’ve got to get a tablet.’ ”

Pastor Lavalette is among the growing ranks of preachers who deliver sermons with the assistance of digitized notes, often positioning an iPad beside a Bible on the pulpit on Sundays.

Tablet-using pastors said there’s plenty to recommend the practice, including a defense against lost or misplaced notes — so long as you’re a savvy manipulator of the device.

That means being aware of things like battery life, Internet accessibility, and the possibility that distracting text messages or notifications could pop up onscreen in the middle of a sermon.

And maybe, too, of whom last used the tablet, as Pastor Mel Bedi of Cornerstone Church’s Wayne Campus learned after his daughter nabbed his device to watch cartoons one night.

“I’m getting ready to preach, and I open my tablet, and Peppa Pig is right there,” he said.

“I’m trying to close out of Peppa, but it was stuck there,” he continued. “So I told the congregation, ‘Look, guys, I guess my daughter got ahold of my tablet the night before, so I’ll just have to preach from memory today.’ ”

Tablets aren’t a good fit for every preacher, but for many they’re a convenient way to pull up the outlines or manuscripts that ensure that he or she hits all the key points in a sermon. Pastor Lavalette, Pastor Bedi, and Pastor Jeff Woolum of First Baptist Church of Perrysburg are among the local preachers who almost exclusively favor screens over paper, while Pastor Karen VanderPloeg, representing another tablet-using camp, said she finds herself reaching for her device more often under unusual circumstances, like, say, an outdoor wedding.

Pastor VanderPloeg, of First Presbyterian Church in Waterville, sees pros and cons to preaching from a tablet; the size of her screen means that she can see less of her notes at a glance than she can on a printed sheet of paper, for example.

But as her First Presbyterian makes moves toward reducing paper, she said, she can also see herself shifting more firmly into the pro-tablet camp.

“I think that it is possible that at some point I could move toward using the technology more and more and more,” she said.

Underscoring pastors’ embrace of screens in ministry is the availability of tablet-friendly lecterns (see: iPulpit) and development of sermon-focused web applications, like Sermonary, that enable preachers to easily create and deliver sermons from a computer or tablet.

Among the most popular features of Sermonary, according to co-founder Justin Trapp of Houston is a “podium mode” that presents documents with an on-screen timer.

Sermonary rolled out last year and has since facilitated an estimated 20,000 sermons, Mr. Trapp said. He said developers didn’t so much seek to push pastors toward screens as they did tap into a subset that was already engaged with them; more than 30 percent of respondents to a survey undertaken by the developers about two years ago indicated that they referenced a tablet while preaching.

Mr. Trapp said he figured that number would certainly be higher today.

While anyone who deals with electronics might be wary of potential technical failure, tablet-using pastors said it’s actually the reliability of tablets that, in many ways, encouraged them to switch from paper to screen. If a pastor uses the right programs to write or store notes, they’re accessible by any Internet-connected device — smartphone, tablet, computer, you name it.

That can certainly be an advantage over old-school paper notes, as Pastor Lavalette points out. Consider, for example, the outdoor weddings he’ll frequently officiate in the summertime.

“If the wind blows the papers away, they’re stuck with me trying to improvise,” he said. “[The tablet] is nice because it’s solid; It’s not going to fly away. I can’t lose it. Even if I were to misplace this particular device, I just grab one of my other devices.”

Pastor Woolum appreciates that aspect of tablets too.

He purchased his first tablet with an eye toward ministry in 2012. Since he typically types up notes on a laptop — a physical keyboard is preferable to an onscreen one in this case, he said — it’s convenient that he can, through cloud technology, pull up the same document on his tablet.

It removes a step in his sermon-writing process that had a tendency to frustrate in his pretablet days. Once he would type up his notes, he recalled, the trick was to finagle them into the right format and font size to easily read them at a glance.

“I just felt like I was recreating the wheel,” he said.

Pastor Woolum and others said they find that casually swiping at the screen of a tablet can be less obvious and perhaps less distracting than shuffling printed pages at the pulpit. Last-minute additions, too, are often more easily added to digital outlines or manuscripts than they are scribbled in margins.

There’s also the convenience of centralized resources that comes with tablets. Apps make accessible numerous translations of the Bible and, for subscribers to some services, additional commentaries and research materials that a pastor might want to incorporate into a sermon.

That was a key reason that Pastor Bedi switched over four of five years ago.

“I started realizing that I could listen to all my books on this device, could write all my notes on this device,” he said. “I have access to any version of the Bible on this device. … you can do it all on one.”

Pastor Bedi still pulls out pen and paper when he’s preparing a sermon. He’s a tactile learner, he said, so he likes to hand-write a condensed version of all the relevant information he gathers while preparing a sermon; when he begins to arrange those ideas into a coherent outline, it’s back to the laptop or tablet.

(Luckily, he tends to commit sermons to memory, so his notes are really just a backup, he said. The Peppa Pig incident didn’t spell disaster.)

Pastors acknowledged a learning curve to tablet use that might, in some cases, mean running an extension cord to the pulpit for a dying battery, squinting ineffectually at a screen in bright sunlight or hurrying to hush the ring of a FaceTime call mid-sermon.

But there are ways to work around these sorts of potential mishaps — and, often, doing so is well worth it.

“I think it’s a great tool,” Pastor Woolum said. “I don’t think we need to be afraid to use technology.

Contact Nicki Gorny at ngorny@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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