September 19, 2011

Adam’s Apple: Preaching from an iPad

by Clint Archer

Update: since writing this, I have upgraded my Goodreader app to the new version which allows pdf annotation. I also took the advice of the comments and I now use Dropbox to sync. This eliminates 2 steps. 

And I have added a diatribe of Why I Hate Handwritten Sermon Notes.

Yes, I preach from an iPad. I could say it’s to save trees. Twelve half-sheets per sermon add up over a planned 40 year career of 2 sermons per Sunday. I could say I appreciate the convenience of having an arsenal of dozens of sermons, an ESV Bible, and a library of commentaries with me when I travel. Or I could even say that I only own it because one was given as a gift. But the naked truth is that I simply love preaching from my iPad. Specifically the simple, silent swipe of the page, the use of variegated font colors, and the safeguard against getting my notes out of order or blown away by wind or a poorly positioned fan (yes, I have forgiven that deacon). I realize these are tiny, inconsequential luxuries which no one needs. But like Paul, I have learned to be content in plenty and in want.

I’m the guy word-of-mouth viral marketing campaigns rely on. If I eat at a great restaurant, I tell everyone I know they MUST try it.  If I relish an insightful book, I Tweet it. When I find an audio trove of expository gold, like the vein of ore at (see how I did that), I upload a gig of Jack Hughes’ sermons onto my friends’ Nanos, often without their consent. What can I say, I like to share. Unlike King David’s quip to Arunah, I have no conscience pangs when giving away that which cost me nothing.

So naturally when I spot a fellow iPadian at a pastors conference, I sidle up to them and ask, “Hey, what apps do you run for preaching?” If they have a system better than mine, I poach it. But if their MO is a few keystrokes more cumbersome than my honed routine, I graciously take them under my wing.
I confess that I may have done a disservice to one, (at most two) of my close friends by talking them into using it, but not giving them the prerequisite instructions. Like a buzz saw, the iPad can be detrimental to your dexterity unless used wisely. But if you master the fundamentals before ascending the pulpit, the iPad sermon notes require no period of adjustment. You’ll recognize immediately that your paper notes will forever be shelved with your erstwhile Grace to You cassettes—still there in case you need them, but mainly just office décor with antique charm.

Here is how I do it. If you have a better system, please share:

How not to rock the ipad

Step 1: Be the right person.

All good books on preaching start with a section on the character of the preacher. I tip my hat at this noble practice by reminding you that if you brandish your iPad to complement the trendy hipster image you are carefully cultivating like a hidden hydroponic hemp garden, know this: God knows your heart, and your people will soon smell the stale odor of your pretentiousness. Your iPad, like a ninja, should be undetectable to your congregation. If you pace the platform like a techno-peacock, toting your e-notes into plain sight, then you need to go back to your paper library and read the first chapter of all your preaching books. Be the right person.

Step 2: Type and format your sermon in a word processor on a computer, getting the size and color of your page ready.  The problem with AppleTM  is that when you get enough geniuses together to create a product as cool as the iPad, they’re also going to be smart enough to make sure you need their other products. The iPad is not yet equipped to use instead of a computer. They could do it for us, and eventually will I trust, but for now you need the power of a good word processor, with Logos/BibleWorks poised in your periphery window like a ball-boy at Wimbledon.

I use MSWord. I adjust the page layout to be “2 pages per sheet” in landscape mode on a regular A4 or (8.5” x 11”) page, with margins of 1cm (or half inch) all round. Also make sure you insert page numbers into this document. You may need that while preaching on the iPad.

I choose a blue screen background with automatic font color, which is white. I also change the font color to yellow (not highlight) of each main point or sub-heading. This color combo is the most visible on the iPad with glare from stage lights or outside daylight (e.g. at graveside funerals), and can be used in the dark without any glow on your face making you look freaky (e.g. if there is a blackout in the evening service, which happens in South Africa and I’m sure in other parts of the globe as far as the curse is found).

When you are done with your sermon, save the document as a PDF (this will be required if you want to swipe the page to turn it).

  Step 3: Acquire the following two apps: iAnnotate and Good Reader.

  iAnnotate allows you to mark up a PDF and add text or emphasis markers, and to underline or strike through text. This is very useful for those times a verse pops into your mind on the way to church, or someone asks you to announce the ladies committee meeting, or if your worship leader goes too long and you need to delete 2 paragraphs and make a note to fire him. iAnnotate

  Good Reader is a PDF reader that allows you to swipe the page to turn it, rather than the annoying and impractical scrolling of most document readers.

  Step 4: Connect your iPad to your computer and use iTunes to go to the “Bob’s iPad” tab on the left, and then the “Apps” tab at the top. Scroll down until you see, under “File Sharing” the icons of your apps which can be used to read the PDF. Click on iAnnotate and then click on “Add…” at the bottom of the page. This will let you browse to find your PDF sermon, and double-click on it to add it to your iAnnotate. The sync is automatic.

Step 5: You are now ready to go to church. I leave the sermon in iAnnotate for as long as possible, in case I think of something to add. By selecting iAnnotate on your iPad, you can find your sermon, scroll down through it before you preach and go over your notes. If you want to underline or strike out text, or add thoughts, this is the stage to do that.

Usually, as the last set of songs are being sung before I go up to preach,  I surreptitiously select “Open in…” from the iAnnotate sermon, and it gives me options of other apps I have that can read it. I select Good Reader, select the “Annotated version” and it opens automatically in Good Reader, with the notations I made in iAnnotate.

Now the document cannot be altered, but I can swipe the page to turn it. This is what I preach from.


Some warnings (Things I learned the hard way)

1. Be disciplined to not put your finger on the screen as you read a quote. When you touch the middle of the screen it may act weird by flipping a page or zooming in or something. You can also disable the “Double-tap for zooming” setting.

2. Paste the verses from Logos into your notes so they are there for future reference, in case you need to repreach it with no Bible, or it’s too windy, or too dark to read your Bible, BUT as a rule take your Bible into the pulpit so your people see you use it, and flip around in it like they do, otherwise they might not turn to the passages you are cross referencing, because you aren’t, and you’re not giving them enough time to.

Ecumenical iPad

3.  Adjust the time it takes for the page to autolock from the regular 5 mins to 10 or 15 mins. You don’t want the screen to black-out if you happen to camp on a point for longer than you thought you would. Go to Settings, General, Auto-lock to adjust it.

4.  Be sure to hit the mute switch on the top right edge to avoid e-mail alerts chiming while you preach.

5.  If you preach in a wireless zone, you will need to disable wireless prompts beforehand, or it will keep popping up asking if you want to join the network. This also saves battery life.

6.  Ensure enough battery power for the length of your sermon. There is no quick-fix for a dead battery. You may need to adjust when your iPad warns you. I get a warning at 20%, but I never go into the pulpit with less than 70% charged, and have never had the 20% prompt pop up. I use the iPad 1, so the batter life is vastly better from what I’ve been told; I can preach at least four 45min sermons when its been fully charged.

Again, if you have a better idea on how to do this, or have unearthed superior apps, please post in the comments. I am searching for a PDF reader that lets me annotate and swipe the page. This would eliminate a cumbersome step and streamline the efficiency.  Enjoy.


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Thanks for the post Clint. I started preaching from and iPad a couple months back (it too was a gift). It sounds like PDF Expert is the same as iAnnotate, it allows me to scribble on PDFs. I preach from iBooks as it also allows me to swipe side to side. I tend to just email a pdf of my sermon to myself and then it is on my iPad and I can open it in whatever app I prefer. I don’t use landscape or have mine 2-up per page. I use 22 font on a modified A4 (made it a bit wider to fill more of the iPad screen). That’s nice and easy to see. I haven’t thought about a blue background, though I do use colour and other visual identifiers for main points, illustrations, application, etc. Still doing some experimenting with this. Page numbers is good. The only drawback, when I used paper I put my page numbers counting down, so no matter how many pages I had, I knew when I got to 1 I was done. Any idea how to count down my page numbers, other than manually inserting them? Now I need to go find a pulpit with an iPad holder…

    • Gus

      I use PDF expert as well and I actually preach/teach from it. One quick thing, do make sure that you do turn off the wireless or you will keep getting emails notifications! 🙂

  • I use PDF Expert and love it. I think it would eliminate your need to use both iAnnotate and Good Reader. Explanation here:

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  • Brian Renshaw

    I always use PDF Expert (I haven’t preached using an iPad yet) but PDF Expert allows you to annotate and swipe easily. I also have a free drop box account that I sync with this program so every time I have a WiFi signal and open it up I can sync it either to or from my Mac. From my experience this has everything you need in a PDF app. It is a bit pricey (9.99) but it is worth it IMO.

  • Ppieri1

    iPad preaching for about a year now and love it. I was typing my outlines in Word but have since switched to google docs. I save as PDF to my SugarSync account which is also synced to my GoodReader app. Open good reader and there is my PDF synced and ready for markup! Wanting to try using PDF expert but it is only opening from g-docs as read only…haven’t yet put in the time to figure it out, but will! Great post!

  • Greenbranch

    I almost hesitate to type this, but there is an app . . . Documents to Go. Check it out at You can create, view, edit, and even print (if you have an HP printer compatible with IOS) all sorts of files, including MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint; syncs with your computer really easily. the app works great, is intuitive, and all that stuff. Of course, it’s easier to type on one’s computer, but an iPad is so much easier to carry around. If you have a web document open in Safari on your iPad (such as an article in pdf), you can open it in Docs to Go, save it there. Just FYI.

  • Bromike45

    Great post. I’ve been preaching on my iPad for about nine months. However I use a different method. I type up my manuscript on Microsoft Word, transfer it through Zumocast app, and save it on Pages app. I can still alter it and keep my formatting. Saves lots of paper but also saves me a lot of money on those expensive ink cartridges!

  • Jeff

    I use Evernote. Very nice. I’m not worried about flipping va scrolling. Another nice feature is to use it as an archival process for your sermons. I generally format on the Mac then sync it on the iPad. Also, with Evernote, you can publish a link to your notes (uneditable) that we use to post as an extra on our podcast page on the church website.

  • I am not a Tablet user (still wedded to my 11inch laptop), but I do use a Kindle to preach from, as do some of my friends who do have iPad’s, because I find the non-backlit screen less distracting. Although I imagine the lighting is different in my church building context.

    I blogged about using the Kindle in ministry here …

    I have linked that post to this one.

    • Anonymous

      I too preach from the Kindle DX. I tried the Ipad for a few sermons, and then made the jump to the kindle. Longer battery life, fewer steps (Word to PDF to Kindle to pulpit), and I could not stop accidentally zooming on the ipad. So I’m back with the Kindle, and haven’t preached from paper in about 2 years.

      • DX never made it to the UK sadly. I lead funerals from the Kindle, but other liturgical services I could really do with a bigger display.

  • Joey Cochran

    I use accordance as my bible ap. It is specifically designed for Macs and runs flawless. Goodreader and evernote are also musts, and I finally switched over to Pages from Word. It makes sense considering I have an iphone, ipad, and macbook. It was a really inexpensive switch.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when ios5, icloud and airplay get updated next month. Our Lead Pastor is using his to run a keynote presentation for his sermons.

    Thanks for being supportive of this concept.

  • Thanks for the tips. I’m curious to try out the blue background concept. At first I would’ve thought black would work but I can see how that might be problematic with glare.

    Upad is another fantastic app that allows you to read PDFs and mark them up. In addition to PDF markup, Upad lets you can write free hand, draw, etc. After taking notes you can push that document to a PDF, send it to Evernote and depending on your penmanship Evernote will OCR the document making it searchable. That app coupled with the Boxwave stylus have revolutioned the way I study and do work.

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  • Chriswu

    Good post. Thanks for the app suggestions. I construct my sermon using Word too but instead of saving it to my hard-drive, I usually save it to my Dropbox account. As I type and save, it sync’d to the account and I can take it with me anywhere I go. When I’m finished with the sermon, I save it as a PDF and then open it in my iPad and then use iBooks. The only caveat is that if you are without wifi, you’ll need to draw the file from Dropbox beforehand.

  • Anonymous

    Huzzah for word-of-mouth and shameless plugs. Speaking of expository audio troves, take a look at for a collection of sermons that come from a group of reformed guys, that listen to lots of sermons, and then share the standouts via web/podcast. Jack Hughes sermons included.

  • Jason Gear

    I have been preaching from my ipad for about six months. I type out the sermons in Microsoft Word and then save them as a PDF in Dropbox. Good Reader links to my Dropbox Account and opens the PDF’s like a charm

  • Jason Gear

    I have been preaching from my ipad for about six months. I type out the sermons in Microsoft Word and then save them as a PDF in Dropbox. Good Reader links to my Dropbox Account and opens the PDF’s like a charm

  • Jason Gear

    I have been preaching from my ipad for about six months. I type out the sermons in Microsoft Word and then save them as a PDF in Dropbox. Good Reader links to my Dropbox Account and opens the PDF’s like a charm

  • Jason Gear

    I have been preaching from my ipad for about six months. I type out the sermons in Microsoft Word and then save them as a PDF in Dropbox. Good Reader links to my Dropbox Account and opens the PDF’s like a charm

  • Jason Gear

    I have been preaching from my ipad for about six months. I type out the sermons in Microsoft Word and then save them as a PDF in Dropbox. Good Reader links to my Dropbox Account and opens the PDF’s like a charm

  • Anonymous

    I use GoodReader with Dropbox. My entire sermon folder is on Dropbox and is synced with good reader so I never need to hook up to my computer and every sermon I’ve ever preached is on my iPad.

  • Kyle Groger

    If you are cheap, like me, you can get a pretty similar effect with an electronic photo frame. The bonus is that you usually score a remote 😉

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  • Marc5Solas

    Re: #3 of “Some Warnings”: Free app “Caffeine” will allow you with one click to turn off screen lock and screen black out. Make sure to turn this off later for security purposes, but I use it routinely for presentations.

  • Richard

    Airplane Mode

    Eliminates email checks, wifi hot spot searches and any other thing you may forget. Easier to turn off and on than wifi (fewer taps)

  • Richard

    … oh yeah, clever title. Took me awhile to get it. 🙂

  • Thomas Slawson

    One more tip that’s very important. I wear glasses and early on was told that some people could see the iPad screen reflecting in my lenses. I remedied this by setting the home button so that when I triple click it displays a negative image of the screen. This can be adjusted under “settings”. The result is that the text is displayed as white and the rest of the screen black. I was told that it was virtually unnoticeable after this.

    • Anonymous

      or you can get glasses with the anti-glare coat on the lenses. =)

    • Jason

      That’s a great tip!

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  • Anonymous

    Me Genoito! To bring worldly products whose logo symbolizes the fall of man into the holy pulpit! Anathema!

    (PS – do you know how I can get a Greek font onto my MacBook Pro so I can make my point against Apple products ?)

  • Daniel

    Clint, GoodReader actually is capable of doing annotations, at least the US version is. You can add comments, highlights, and all sorts of stuff. I don’t know if it is as slick as iAnnotate, but with a little practice it works fine for me. Also, I have changed my page size in Word to 8.25 inch width and 6.25 inch height, which aligns fairly well with the iPad (sideways). This way each page is one iPad screen.

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  • Justin Lester

    Thanks for this post! I use pages as my application for preaching. I know it scrolls but it allows me to move more efficently through my notes to get through my sermon with everything on one page. I tried NotetakerHD and I love that application as well. you can annotate with a stylus as well as type over a document/note pages.

    I simply love my ipad.

  • Graham

    Great article. The PDF reader you can add annotations to would be GoodReader.

    As far as preaching from notes on the iPad, I use plain text in Writing Kit but add the Markdown code and then preach from the preview. That way notes are stored on Dropbox and are readable by any plain text editor on any platform. Using Markdown your notes are already instantly available in HTML if you want to post them in a blog or anywhere on the web.

  • JB

    Finally! I have been waiting for someone else to chim in on this topic. I had always had trouble with the page turning. Thanks!

  • Martin Winter

    I’m not a pastor and have preached only one sermon so far, but it has been from the iPad. I used Pages on the Mac to write and edit it and Pages on the iPad to read from. The nice thing there is you can still make edits “in the field”, as it were. Be careful to use fonts available on both platforms so you don’t run into reflow problems.

  • JackW

    Here’s a twist, I use iPad while listening to the sermon. OliveTree’s BibleReader is amazing, you have access to all your resources and notes and if that is not enough you can switch to Logos on the fly. I thnk it makes the Pastor a bit nervious when he sees me analyzing everything while he preaches though. BTW, you can also add a bluetooth footswitch which will turn pages with a foot tap … handy while playing guitar during praise time.

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  • This is a great post. Gotta love practical Preacher to Preacher advice/consumer reports!

  • Timothy

    Good Reader. That’s it. Nothing else. It lets you annotate to your heart’s content.

    1. Dropbox on my laptop, where I write my sermons in MS Word.
    2. Save as PDF, and NUMBER my sermons.
    3. Grab my iPad, and open Good Reader.
    4. Sync (wirelessly, in Good Reader, through Dropbox).
    5. Open the latest numbered sermon, and Go: Annotate, preach (swipe :), and done. (re-sync if you want your annotations to get back to your laptop).

    (I do size 18-font, Cambria, but not landscape, and only one page at a time.)

    … and well said 🙂

  • I have been preaching from it for about two months. I type up the sermon in pages and then save as an epub. I then upload it to ibooks via iTunes. In iBooks I can flip through the pages, change font size and event add highlights or notes last minute. One thing that I have done for both my iPhone and iPad is get an anti-glare screen protector. They go on super easy with no bubbles, they let you swipe much easier on the screen (no sticky feeling), and (obviously) there is very little glare.

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  • Jeff Noel

    Thank You! I discovered that using “Dropbox” is a much easier way to transfer the document to your iPad than iTunes. You can still easily open the pdf in iAnnotate then convert to Goodreader. I’m loving it…thanks for the valuable infor for a newby to the iPad preaching scene.
    Jeff Noel

  • Thomas L

    Was great to read.

    There was a meeting between some pastors once at a Pastors retreat. They talked if they would ever preach from a laptop and how “unreformed” that would be. They discussed it for more than an hour. (Facepalm)

    A laptop is just too bulky for me but, an iPad is just fine.

    • I think if Luther had the ability he would have posted his grievances in 95 Tweets.

  • PD

    thanks for the app recommendation for iAnnotate. i will check it out.

    one suggestion for you, add Dropbox to your workflow. it makes syncing seemless between the word/pdf docs on your computer and on your iPad. no need to always sync between machines; just save one file and have access across multiple machines.

  • “Your iPad, like a ninja, should be undetectable to your congregation.”

    Quote of the day – nay – quote of the week.


  • John Glass

    Sweet article! I believe this coming Sunday I am launching a new era of ministry in Geneva, Switzerland… preaching from an I-pad. Will post the success or disaster next week…

    • Bonne chance, mais pardonez moi sil vous plais sil c’est un disasteur.