12 tips for pastors, Twitter style

Part of the reason I love Twitter is that I can scan it so quickly. Since it’s short, 140 character-max text-only updates, it’s easy to scan and get the highlights. It tends to be just the type and length content I’m looking for many days.

And from a writing standpoint, I love that Twitter forces you to distill what you want to say into 140 characters. You’ve got to cull down the content that you could unpack for 3 pages…into a sentence or two.

So I thought I’d share a few things I have been stewing on. Some of these I’ve found myself needing to stew on because I need to change…others I’ve noticed in others and hope I never see in myself.

These truths could each be pages long, with lots of references to research and theology. But I don’t want to bore you with all of that. :)

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12 tips for pastors. Twitter style.

  • Your family is your primary ministry calling. Other people come and go, but your family sticks around…for better or worse. #PastorTips
  • Quit complaining about people. It makes others wonder when you’ll complain about them. #PastorTips
  • Leading with a heavy hand will leave you with few people to actually lead. #PastorTips
  • Having a seminary degree doesn’t make you a good pastor any more than having a set of clubs makes you a good golfer. Love people. #PastorTips
  • The day you quit recruiting volunteers is the day you should start looking for another job. #PastorTips
  • If you ‘don’t have time for a small group’ then you will ‘have time to look like a hypocrite’ when you lead people to join one. #PastorTips
  • Put the theology book down and read a book on leadership. Your staff will thank you. #PastorTips
  • Work with the door open way more than you work with it closed. People need YOU, not just your ability to study. #PastorTips
  • Little steps in the wrong direction lead to bigger ones. Guard your heart NOW. #PastorTips
  • Encouragement begins when you help people see God at work in them when they don’t see it in themselves. #PastorTips
  • If you’re not leading people towards small group, your view of their spiritual growth is too short-sighted. #PastorTips
  • Quit letting ‘comfort’ drive your decisions. Let faith punch your comfort in the throat. #PastorTips

 Any Twitter-length tips you’d add?

 

The curator

Confession: I am an information junkie.

I follow over 100 blogs. Follow over 13,000 people on Twitter. Over 2,000 people on Facebook.

I read books. Listen to podcasts. And consume vast amounts of media.

Not to be lazy and sit around clicking on my computer, but because I enjoy it. I enjoy new ideas, different perspectives, and stretching my mind.

But it’s a bit overwhelming, and there are days when I just throw up my hands, close my laptop, and stop. It’s just too much to take in. Especially when so much of what people are sharing isn’t worth reading. My official records show that over 90% of blogs aren’t worth your time.

Enter the curator. The person who distills the best of the best and serves it up for you on a platter.

Todd Rhoades (Twitter, Facebook, blog) has been doing this for years. I have loved getting the best of the best content from Todd in his Monday Morning Insights. He does the hard work of crunching more information than you can shake a stick at (for those of you who shake your sticks at information) and putting a post together.

I saw Todd at a conference recently, and encouraged him that the art of curation is something that the blogosphere needs. As a pastor, I love that there’s a guy that I can trust that’s snagging content that I wouldn’t have normally read and putting it together. Doesn’t everybody want to be the guy who finds the coolest stories. The funniest videos. The latest breaking news?

Todd (along with Matt Steen) have just started publishing an ebook. His goal is for this to be a monthly resource, curating a month’s worth of news, covering areas such as:

  • Children’s Ministry
  • Church Administration
  • Church Planting
  • Communication
  • Discipleship & Small Groups
  • Family & Personal Life
  • Church Humor
  • Innovation & Ideas
  • Megachurch
  • Multisite
  • Outreach & Evangelism
  • Preaching
  • Productivity & Time Management
  • Social Media
  • Staffing & Personnel
  • Student Ministry
  • Technology
  • Theology
  • Trends
  • Vision & Mission
  • Volunteers
  • Worship Resources

I’ve read through this month’s and it’s really well done. Some of the articles I’d read already, but many I hadn’t. I found it easy to navigate, easy to download, and full of great content. It’ll cost you a few bucks, but it’s worth it. And it’ll cost you a few bucks less if you use the code BENREED.

Just pick up your copy HERE.

 

 

Short & pithy

I’ve found Twitter a great spot for short, pithy statements. I love the challenge of boiling an extended thought down into 140 characters.

And I love the interaction I have there. For me, it’s been a great hub for ministry and ideas.

But one thing I don’t love is that once a tweet is sent, it’s got a shelf life of ~2 hours. After that, it’s buried under a pile of equally awesome pith. Never to be found again.

“Just repeat the good ones so they’re not buried anymore!” said someone who’s not actually on Twitter. That’s a Twitter no-no. That’s what the spam-bots do, right? Creativity and originality is prized. Not repetition.

But I thought I’d bring back some of my favorites. Partly because it’s good for me to remember the context for why I wrote these. Partly because there are many of you I’m not connected with on Twitter. (you can follow me HERE…if I don’t follow you right back, just message me and I will)

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Digital sermon prep

For the last 6 months, every time I’ve spoken publicly, I’ve done so without paper.

In other words, no trees are killed because I preach.

I realize that I’m going against the method that many of you use to prepare, using printed pieces of paper, napkins you jot notes on, and paper outlines you preach from.

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image credit: inmagine.com

Going digital was a big deal for me. I hate carrying around various papers. I hate writing notes down, only to forget where those notes are written. I hate wondering if I grabbed every note I need before I leave the house to preach. Hate it.

So here are the tools I use in the preparation, and delivery, of my sermon.

Digital sermon prep & delivery

Pre-sermon

YouVersion – my initial, first-pass reading comes here. I read daily from YouVersion.

Evernote – all of my notes, especially my sustained writing time, happens here. This is also my catch-all for creating a sermon over the course of time. As I’m prepping a sermon, I have two files: a “notes and ideas” file and a “final sermon” file. When I’m having lunch one day and an idea comes, I throw it in my “notes and ideas” file. Or I snap a picture for an illustration. Or I record myself speaking and come back to it later when I have time. Then, the week I’m preaching, I start compiling notes, illustrations, and ideas into my “final sermon” file.

iPhone – Instead of writing notes and ideas down on a random index card I find in my bag, I take them via Evernote on my iPhone. I don’t always have my computer or iPad with me, but I’ve always got my phone. For (as above) written notes, photos, videos, and voice records.

Things – In general, Things is a to-do list application. I keep all of my to-do lists here. For preaching, I have a “future sermon” to-do list (called a “project”) for capturing bigger ideas and checklists of additional resources to consult and additional thoughts to pursue. You can see more about Things HERE.

Google drive – at Grace, we keep our sermon series ideas, along with dates, Scriptures, and bottom line ideas, here (think “online share drive”). It’s shared (with all updates being reflected on everyone’s account) with our entire teaching team, giving all of us access to the remainder of the year’s flow of series and sermons. As I make more progress with a sermon, I’ll fill in more details on our Google drive, and everyone knows a clearer direction for my sermon.

Bible Gateway – I study a lot here, because it’s easy to switch back-and-forth between translations. They have just about every translation you’ve ever heard of. In addition, they have study tools and commentaries that are helpful (and free).

Monergism – This is a great resource of sermons and study resources such as commentaries, Bible resources, theology books, free books, and articles. This site can overwhelm you if you’re not careful. It’s well-done, but there’s a ton of information to slog through. This is never a “first pass” study resource for me. I use this in looking for specific, pointed information.

Delivery

Pages – I transfer everything over to Pages, which is Apple’s version of Microsoft Word. Since it offers page breaks (and Evernote does not), it feels more natural to preach from than Evernote. This is just a preference thing for me. Combine this with the fact that Pages now syncs over the cloud with my phone, iPad, and computer, and I love this even more.

iPad – This is what I preach from. I’ve found it incredibly easy to preach from, and even making changes up until the time I begin is easy…just click and start typing. Or click and delete. Changes are quick and easy. It’s not nearly as intrusive as bringing a laptop on stage with me, and is much easier to work from than my phone.

The JoyFactory Case – I needed a way to prop my iPad up just a little so that it was easier to read. And I found a case I love, made by The Joy Factory. There are tons of cases that work well…this is just the one I use.

Is there still a place for printed resources? Sure. I’ve got loads of books that are very much worth consulting when I preach. On my shelf are volumes of commentaries, Puritan classics, and books that I’ve been given at conferences.

But when I preach, I have entered the digital age. And I challenge you to join me.

Question:

When you preach, or speak, do you use digital notes or printed notes?

 

7 truths I’ve learned from 4 years of blogging

4 years.

Hard to believe I’ve been hacking at this blog for so long. It was a bit rocky at first, but I think I’ve found my voice and my niche in the blogging world. I’ve formed real friendships, fostered off-line ones, challenged, and been challenged. I’ve grown immensely through the community that’s continuing to grow here.

4 years.

Still growing.

image credit: CreationSwap user Bokeh02

In this 4-year process, I’ve learned some truths. Some that are personal. Others that are more general.

7 truths in 4 years

1. I love writing.

I gain clarity through writing. My thoughts make better sense to me when I can extrovert them through writing. In fact, I’ve found that when my blogging frequency decreases, clarity around key ideas and issues I’m dealing with decreases as well.

My challenge to you: Find a way to communicate. Hone your craft and hone your ideas through some sort of open forum publicly.

2. Writing impacts people.

I know, I know…this isn’t revolutionary. Words are powerful. I’ve tried to become increasingly cognizant of this truth, knowing that words carry weight in incredible ways. This causes me to pause before I ever hit “publish.” I reread, re-pray, and edit more thoughtfully with the understanding that real people with real struggles in real communities can be profoundly impacted as God uses words to change hearts.

My challenge to you: Write thoughtfully. Write a lot.

3. Sometimes I get it wrong.

I never try to let “I might be wrong” keep me from writing. In the early days, I did. I was hesitant that I’d put a thought out there and completely miss the mark. And you know what? I did. Quite a few times. :) But I’ve learned that “I might be wrong” is never reason enough to not write.

My challenge to you: Wrestle with tough concepts. Challenge your readers. Challenge yourself. If you get something wrong, admit that you did and move on. Or delete the post and act like it never happened. :) Getting it wrong is better than not getting it at all.

4. Authenticity is king.

My favorite posts to write, and the ones that get the most interaction, are the ones where I share personal stories and personal details. Those are the glue that help people stick to the truth.

My challenge to you: Be the best “you” you can be. The best “you” is always better than being who you think others want you to be. God’s created you uniquely, with unique gifts, talents, and passions. We need you!

6. Evernote is my best friend.

I use it constantly. I’d be a terrible blogger without it. Seriously, this is where my ideas go initially, where they’re fleshed out, and where they find their substance.

My challenge to you: Capture every idea that crosses your mind, and find a way to store those. Having a wealth of ideas is invaluable on days when ideas are dry.

7. There are blog posts around every corner.

Sometimes blog posts have cropped up out of meetings, at Starbucks, at the golf course, or at the beach. Other times, they’ve happened at the gym, or while running. Yet others have happened while preaching. I’ve learned to constantly have my eyes open, which has made me a better observer of life.

My challenge to you: Observe life. Live in the moment. Enjoy every gift, large and small, that God gives.

Question:

I’d love to get a better handle on the readers here on Life & Theology. If you’re a reader, whether regular or sporadic or a first-timer, leave a comment below with your name and the city where you live. 

 

7 Ways to Not Be a Slave to your Phone

You know you’ve got a problem with your smart phone when you check it during

  • church services you’re leading
  • your child’s recital
  • your morning commute
  • the middle of a counseling conversation
  • a meeting you’re leading
  • a bike ride with 4 other guys riding with you

image via unsafepictures.com

When I hear the “ding” on my phone,  I’m like Pavlov’s dog. I can’t not check it. It’s just not possible. Something inside of me goes off. If I can’t immediately check my phone when the ding happens, I start getting the cold sweats. My right eye starts to twitch uncontrollably, and my left big toe squirms.

I’ve talked with guys who just put their smart phone on the bedside table when they get home from work and don’t touch it until the next morning. But I can’t do that. Pastoral emergencies happen.

I was just tired of my smart phone controlling my life. I had a problem. So I decided to take action.

7 Ways to Not Be a Slave to your Phone

1. Turn off auto push for email.

Don’t have emails automatically come to your phone and alert you when they arrive. This is the #1, easiest way to make your phone work for you, instead of you working for your phone. See, when you do it this way, you get to check your email when you want…rather than hearing that “ding” when you’re in the middle of playing with your 3 year old.

2. Turn off push notification for all twitter and Facebook.

If you have someone’s updates ding your phone every time they post, you’re asking for trouble. And you’re asking to:

  1. Hate social media. “Gosh…don’t they know I’m eating dinner?”
  2. Hate the fact that ____ posts all of the time. “Why are they posting NOW? Shouldn’t they be working?”

3. Take pictures, but post later.

I love being able to capture moments and not fumble around looking for my camera only to realize it needs fresh batteries and I haven’t changed the SD card out since 2007. Taking a picture with my phone takes little to no time at all. HOWEVER, posting said picture to Instagram takes a bit more time. Tweaking the filter thinking of a witty text to go along with it completely removes me from the moment I’m trying to capture. So take as many pictures as you want…but post them later. Nobody cares if that cute picture of your baby in her infant tankini isn’t posted in real-time.

4. Use “Things.”

Or Wunderlist. Or some sort of note taking tool. Jot down to-dos so that you don’t forget them later. Oftentimes, my job depends on me remembering what small group leader I need to touch base with, what friend I need to pray for, or what task I still need to finish up before our next training event. But I don’t fully follow through with these things in the moment. It takes very little time or effort to open my to-do list manager, type in the task, and “save” it to the cloud. When I get back in front of my computer, voila…I’ve got my full list.

5. Yell mean things at your phone and tell it you’re boss.

If it doesn’t listen, yell louder. That’s what we pastors do when we’re preaching, right?

6. Use Evernote.

Jot down ideas here, but don’t flesh them out on the go. Similar to “Things” (above), I have lots of new, fresh ideas. Some for small groups, some for our church at large, and some for various writing projects I’m tackling. If those ideas don’t get jotted down, they’re gone. I’ll forget them. So I jot them down, and leave them until I have time later to go back and tweak/flesh them out. I rarely, if ever, flesh ideas out in the moment.

7. “No phones at the dinner table” rule.

We’ve just recently imposed this rule at our family dinner table. Phones are off-limit while we’re sitting down for dinner. I do get the shakes sometimes when I get a text message, but those shakes are easily disguised by popping another bite of chicken in my mouth. This rule will help your family feel valued, and help ensure you’re not a slave to your smart phone.

I was tired of being a slave to my smart phone. I’m guessing you are, too. Or if you aren’t…I bet your friends are tired of you being absent from the moment.

Question:

Are you a slave to your smart phone?

 

 

6 Social Media Rules Every Pastor Should break

There are lots of social meda “rules” that form over time. Just as with any product or service, usage often determines the unspoken set of ground rules. And if you’re not careful, those “rules” can pigeon-hole you.

And nobody likes a pigeon hole. Well, nobody but pigeons.

image credit: CreationSwap user Paule Patterson, edits mine

Whether you’re a pastor that’s a casual user or a power user, a rookie or a veteran, there are certain rules that you should adhere to. Rules that will help you with engagement…and help you not come across as

1. Completely out of touch with culture.

2. A self-centered self-promoter.

3.  A person that others unfollow when they read your updates.

So here are 6 rules that every pastor should break daily with social media.

6 Rules Pastors Should Break

1. Only quote the Bible

We know that you’re in love with the Bible. We get it. But there’s got to be more to who you are than random quotes from Scripture, right? Didn’t Martin Luther say anything good? CS Lewis? Can’t you come up with anything worth saying that’s at least remotely original? How about reading your Bible and applying it…and making that an update?

2. Keep up your “professional pastor” persona.

You’re not a walking Christian zombie, are you? You don’t only read Christian books, only watch Christian movies, and only eat at Christian restaurants, do you? There has got to be more to you than the Christian subculture. Building relationships with those outside of the faith isn’t going to happen if you’re tweeting YouTube videos out like this one, of Michael W Smith from the late 80s. Gotta love the vest. I think the song should’ve gone, “Nobody knew I could rock a vest like this…”

3. If you’re frustrated, complain. A lot.

Twitter can become a megaphone for you to voice your complaints about a lot of things: culture at large, politics, “other” pastors, or even your own church. Complaining doesn’t become you, though. In fact, Paul urges us

Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, especially on Twitter… – James 5:9 (additions mine)

 4. Never update during “work” hours.

Give people an inside peek into who you are and what you do during your normal day. A behind-the-scenes, if you will. Social media can be a great voice for Truth and engagement throughout your week. Don’t have time to update during your work day? Schedule updates when you’ve got a few minutes.

5. Never share personal information.

Bologna. Share who you are. Share what you value. Talk about your family. Talk about your struggles. Share your pain. Your joy. Your victories.

6. Only follow other Christians.

If pastors want to bring hope to the hurting, grace to the downtrodden, and Truth to the places where people engage, we’ve got to track along with those outside of our Christian bubbles. And here’s a freebie for you…nobody judges your theology by who you follow on Twitter and Facebook.

 Question:

Do you interact more on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or on your blog?

 

The best way to capture, record, & search data

Most of my posts here on the blog are for pastors and small group leaders.

Occasionally, though, I venture outside of that. Today happens to be one of those days.

As you may know, I’m an Evernote fanboy. I’ve found all kinds of great ways to use it. From gathering ideas, to capturing meeting notes, to traveling, I’ve found Evernote to be one of the most helpful software programs around.

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Recently, it’s taken another step forward for me in my workflow.

For the past few months, I’ve worked out at a local Cross Fit gym.

They encourage you to buy a journal to log your workouts, times, max reps, and goals. There is a section to daily write in the details of your workout, and another space to write in your personal records. Which is not a bad system…for the 1950s.

Evernote does all of this, and more.

After every workout, I type in the details of the workout, the weight I used, and my time.

I also make sure to add in my max rep/weight. Know how I do that? I record it like this:

Max bench press: ___

Murph time: ____

I can do this on my phone or on my computer. In fact, I can even snap a picture of the white board before I leave, and import it in. (this image is searchable…Evernote recognizes your handwriting in the premium version)

The great part about this is that Evernote is searchable. So next time we’re doing bench press, I don’t have to try to wrack my brain to figure out what my last max weight/rep was. I just search Evernote, on my phone right before I work out…and voila…I’m reminded.

Some workouts are repeated, and it’s easy to search for a particular workout, or personal record (PR) for a movement.

And since it’s all searchable on my computer or my phone, it’s easy to quickly jog my memory, and keep a record in one place, syncing between my devices, forever.

No more accidentally forgetting a journal. No more paying money for another device to carry around. No more flipping between pages to figure out where to put the information. Evernote does it all.

Where else could this data capture work for you?

Using Evernote to capture data

  • Practicing for a sport
  • Recording test results for a class you’re taking
  • Recording travel mileage for tax purposes
  • Keeping up with sermon illustration ideas
  • Tagging your favorite Bible verses
  • Snapping pictures of receipts for use during tax season
  • Jotting down quotes from books you’re reading
  • Remembering web pages.
  • Keeping up with places you’ve traveled
  • Storing your thoughts from restaurants you’ve eaten
  • Keeping up with your medical/immunization records
  • Storing gift ideas
  • Remembering names of people you meet
  • Keeping up with your to-do lists

Any time you may need to capture, and later search for, information, Evernote does it.

For free.

Question:

Do you use Evernote?

 

 

An open letter to the social media junkie

image credit: Creation Swap user David Lindner

Social media junkie,

It’s okay that I didn’t read your latest status. Really, it is. I’m not offended that you’ve written it…but don’t assume that I read it.

There’s so much information available today, I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’d love to say I have time to read everyone’s updates, but I don’t. And I think that’s okay. Even though you’re my friend. My good friend. Most of what you write I genuinely care about.

But it’s okay that I didn’t read your latest status update.

Because I didn’t read your latest status:

  • I can be genuinely surprised about the news in your life next time I see you.
  • We can have a conversation about the little things, and the big things, in your life.
  • We can laugh together, until we cry, over something hilarious your kid just did.
  • I can look you in the eye and tell you I appreciate you, rather than clicking “like” or ReTweeting your update.
  • Not reading your update allowed me to be engaged in playing Legos with my son.
  • Unless you’re going to offer me a bite of that burger, I don’t want to hear about it.

Keep posting on Facebook and Twitter. This is no indictment. Just don’t assume I, or anyone for that matter, read it all.

Signed,

 

 

Ben

 

 

Evernote for travel: 5 new uses

image via iStock Photo user: Maurits Vink

I’ve written a few times about my love of Evernote. I’m a big fan.

I use it in so many ways, and it’s become my go-to app for writing, idea generation, travel plans, meeting notes, and collaboration. I wanted to share a couple of new ways I’m using it. Last week, I led a missions team to Costa Rica. Evernote helped in big ways.

Next time you travel, I think it will help you, too.

Using Evernote for traveling

1. In coordination with IdeaPaint

I shared last time that I had a white board sticker that I put on my wall. The only problem with the sticker was that it kept falling down, which is not very professional during a meeting. So I decided to use IdeaPaint, a paint that is used like a whiteboard. I can write and erase on it, and it leaves no ghost marks or faint colors behind. As I was planning things out for our trip, I could write them on my wall, snap a pic when I’m done, and save the pics to Evernote.

2. Scanning in important info

As part of being a team leader of our trip to Costa Rica, I had to gather lots of info from each team member. And lots of info for the organization we were going through. And lots of information for Grace. And I needed to have all of that info with me. I had passports, emergency contact info, insurance information, etc. I had hundreds of pieces of paper I needed to travel with. So I scanned every one of them in to Evernote, and they were instantly searchable. So, for instance, if I needed to search for Justin’s drug allergies, I didn’t have to dig for the right paper…I just typed it into Evernote and voila!

3. Collaboration with key documents

I’m the small groups pastor at Grace, not the missions pastor. So I don’t personally need to keep a record of everything from our travels to Costa Rica. That’s the responsibility of Lindsey Frey. So I “shared” the “Costa Rica” notebook with Lindsey, and she’s able to file away every document I put together. And when I make changes to the notebook, those changes are reflected in her notebook, too. Which means I don’t have to make a second copy of everything, or update her every time a change is made.

4. Keeping up with travel arrangements

I saved all of our itineraries to Evernote. Most of our team were traveling on the exact same schedule. Two team members, however, were traveling back home 3 days later. So things could easily get a little sticky. But with Evernote, I was able to keep the itineraries separate, and quickly and easily pull up the various airline information for each team member. Which was nice, because I was able to share those itineraries in a flash with our team, and with anyone in the States who needed the info.

5. Writing blogs

I wrote blog posts every day updating our progress. When I was at The Abraham Project, I didn’t have access to internet. But even without access to internet, Evernote works. So I’d jot down my blog post ideas throughout the day, then when I got back to the bed-and-breakfast where we were staying, Evernote would sync up, and I’d have access to the notes on my computer. Rather than just trying to remember my thoughts throughout the day, I had downloaded them when they came to mind. Which made the writing process much quicker and easier.

Next time you’re leading a missions team, or taking a trip of any kind, consider using Evernote. It’ll make your life much easier.

Have you converted to using Evernote? Are you “sold” on it?

* image via iStock Photo user: Maurits Vink