As A Minister: Why You Should Care About What Apple Said This Week

Monday in San Francisco, Apple kicked off WWDC, their Worldwide Developers Conference. As a minister, why should you care about such things? I'll give you few reasons why. 

The iPad is Changing. There may be some new products on the horizon, i.e. the rumored 12-inch iPad Pro, but even without that announcement yesterday (Apple has since stopped making major product announcements at WWDC and stuck to developer stuff), the iPad is changing. 

There was some stuff demoed that we will see with iOS 9 in the Fall that is amazing - it's what the iPad should have been all along. If you're a minister and you use the iPad on a daily basis, you're going to be impressed with what Apple is doing. 

Two of the biggest things on the iPad - working with text and multitasking - have been completely redone. Now you can have two apps running side-by-side in tandem and resize the windows. This isn't a revolutionary thing - Samsung has been doing it with tablets and even phones for a while now - but it's wonderful to have on the iPad. Now you can have two Bible apps open at the same time, or an internet site open in Safari on the left and a writing app on the right. Pretty sweet stuff. 

The other is text selection. We preachers live in text. At least I do. And Apple has designed an intuitive form of text selection that nearly looks like a trackpad. You can depress two fingers on the keyboard and zip around to highlight text and move your cursor. Very cool. Much faster than dragging your finger in just the right spot and getting frustrated when it goes below the line you wanted it to. 

The Mac isn't changing. I say that because Yosemite was a complete redesign of OSX, and yes, it has more bugs than an abandoned hotel. But this release, named OSX El Capitan (named for a rock face in Yosemite National Park...Leopard > Snow Leopard, Lion > Mountain Lion, Yosemite > El Capitan). El Capitan is focusing on performance and stablity, so in effect, Apple is slowing down the on new features in order to make the current ones work much better. 

Search on iOS is getting better. Universal search on iOS is going to be much better thanks to deeper integration. What does this mean? It means you can find more stuff that you need quicker. Siri will be lots more useful, a la Google Now on Android devices. Siri is more intelligent too - you can say "Show me photos from Florida last October" and it can fetch those photos, provided you have them synced in the new Photos app. 

The new Notes app. 

The new Notes app. 

Notes I can now finally recommend. The built-in Notes is an app that lots of ministers I know use a lot just to jot down things they come across. Notes wasn't very functional or useful in my opinio. You couldn't style text or insert pictures. Now you can. Not only that, the app has been redesigned for all platforms - iPhone, iPad, and the Mac. And it syncs via iCloud so you don't have to worry about it. I still think there are better note-taking apps for your phone and tablet - Drafts, Editorial, and Simplenote to name a few - but Apple is really making strides with the app that 75% of their users use because it's just there

This was only a few things that Apple announced of many, but these things will continue to improve my experience on iOS and the Mac and I know as ministers it will benefit you as well. 

Preaching from a 5.5-inch iPhone

The supposed 4.7- and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 to be announced next week. Source

If the overwhelming rumors hold true, Apple will announce not one, but two new iPhones next week at their special event in California: an newly-designed iPhone 6, one with a 4.7-inch display and one with a 5.5-inch display.

If you take a ruler to your current iPhone, it's just 4 inches diagonally. Now expand that out to 4.7 and 5.5 inches. You'll see that the 5.5-inch phone is much bigger. You get a whole lot more screen real estate with 5.5 inches.

Which brings up an interesting question - if you use an iPad mini to preach from, would you consider using a 5.5-inch iPhone to do the same thing?

I would. And I'm planning to. And here's why.

1) One device, not two. Right now I have the trifecta - the iPhone, iPad mini and my Macbook Pro. But I would love to trim that down to just two devices - my iPhone and Macbook. I use the three devices I have now for very different things. I use the phone for taking pictures, checking Twitter, taking down quick notes, and oh - texting and talking on the phone. I use the iPad mini to preach from, and I've found myself not using the iPad mini as much as I've wanted to. I surf the web and read a lot on my laptop versus my iPad. I write and watch videos on my laptop. I'm not much of a digital reader so I don't use the iPad for that (plus I do most of my reading right before bed, and they say that looking at screens before bed leads to sleep problems).

2) It won't be a 'blown-up' iPhone. Apple wouldn't do that (or at least I hope they wouldn't). They didn't just blow up iOS to fit on an iPad, they made a different interface for it. The 5.5-inch iPhone, whether it comes out 10 days after the announcement or not until 2015, will have a different kind of OS. In my opinion, it will still run on iOS of course, but it will be some kind of hybrid between iPad and iPhone views. Don't ask me to explain all of that, I just think that's what Apple will do with it.

3) The resolution will be crazy high. And that will lead to great looking text - at any size. Whether you're looking at Evernote, Simplenote, or a PDF in Goodreader, it's going to look fantastic. Text will be able to be resized to whatever you want it to be.

Are there trade-offs to a huge iPhone? Why sure. For one, you look wacky with the thing on your ear talking on the phone. Like holding small Bible to your head. Another thing would be how portable it is - will it fit in your pocket?

But to me, having one device that has everything I need and is big enough so that I can preach and teach from it will be invaluable to me.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

Embracing Criticism

Jerrie Barber is one of my favorite ministers, and I've only heard him speak a couple of times, mostly about being a preacher himself. Jerrie has what he calls a "Criticism Contract" that reads as follows: 

"All criticism about Jerrie Barber should be directed to Jerrie Barber and Jerrie Barber alone. Jerrie will listen to your criticism and embrace it. Likewise, any criticism about the staff or Elders must be directed to them as well." 

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First of all, great policy. Second, Jerrie says that he embraces criticism. 

Do you embrace criticism? Or do you dread and loathe it?

Indirectly and unintentionally, I have always tried to encourage my youth committee and Elders to constructively criticize me in all things. I need to know when something is wrong and then, hopefully, I can fix it. I can't do anything about anything if the problem with me is not directed at me. Sneaking around and talking about someone to someone who can't fix the problem is just juvenile and anti-Christian. 

As ministers and youth ministers, we should have an attitude of embracing criticism, not abhorring it. We should tackle problems with solutions instead of getting depressed or something about what so-and-so complained about whatever you did, said, or didn't do. Our jobs are ones that invite every type of criticism, viable or not, and we need to learn to embrace it and take it, not dread it. 

The Ministry Bits Podcast

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One of the things God has blessed me with was the ability to know stuff about technology that most other people don't know. I don't say this because I'm an expert (because I'm not), I say this because every day I come across someone who surprises me with either their knowledge or lack thereof about technology.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Youth Ministry Workshop at the Freed-Hardeman Lectureships this past week - and I was on the other side of the table. I know a lot of stuff about technology - maybe too much. But I learned about new ways of doing things, new apps, new ways to create apps - stuff I had literally never heard before. 

So my new podcast I (re)started about 2 weeks ago is just that. It's about technology - both the tools we can use and the lessons we can learn from it in ministry. It's called Ministry Bits, and you don't have to go too far to listen. 

There are lots of people in the ministry that you and I know that are good at a lot of different things. Some are good at graphics. Some are good at using technology to preach and teach. So how can we use their knowledge to make our ministries better? We can see how they did it. 

If we want to be like Christ, we need to do the things he did. If we want to use technology effectively in our ministries, then we need to do the things that effective people do. 

Ministry Bits is an attempt to cobble together all this knowledge into one weekly podcast, so that everyone can listen and benefit. We will have guests in the coming weeks talk about perspectives on technology in ministry, reading, writing, and teaching and preaching in ministry. I hope that you the listener will benefit greatly from their knowledge and experience. We'll have shows on apps, workflows, and gadgets to use in ministry. 

Thank you in advance for supporting the new podcast. It's going to be a great ride. 

You can check out Ministry Bits right here on the website, or you can subscribe with iTunes in your favorite podcast client for easy listening. Shows run 25-30 minutes, no more. Your time is valuable. If you have a request, a comment, or would even like to be on the show, give me a shout at chad.landman@gmail.com

Don't Be A George Foreman Grill

I love to grill. Like, hardcore. When my wife and I had a grill that worked (we've been "grill-less" and too busy to buy one lately), we'd grill out every other night.  

When I was in college, however, we couldn't have grills in the dorms. Something about setting off smoke detectors and being a "fire hazard." Whatever.  

So I got a George Foreman grill. Biggest mistake ever.  

This funky clamshell cooking apparatus had such promise. It was going to be the savior to my college grilling problems. I had dreams of cooking hamburgers and steaks for my friends, and us having one of those dorm parties that makes all the other dorms jealous.  

It worked fine for a week. Then reality set in.  

For some reason, the GF Grill didn't want to get hot anymore. It would literally take 4 hours to cook a burger to medium rare. I believe the hottest the grill got was like 85 degrees. It was like sitting my meat outside on the sidewalk or by the pool. In fact, it got so bad that I would start to put my various meats in the grill to keep them cool

And if that wasn't enough, when it did work, there was this handy little grease tray THAT DIDN'T ATTACH to the grill. If you know anything about Foreman Grills, they're kind of set on this downslope so all the unhealthy grease just slides right off your food and into this little tray so you can have the illusion of being healthy. But if the little grease tray was one micron off, all your grease from your food would be like a waterfall of nastiness spilling out into your countertop and floor. 

The grease tray design was bad enough. The grill didn't work properly either, so about 11 days and 50 bucks later, it was retired to the closet. I was too embarrassed to even bring it back to Target.  

So what's my point this morning? Don't be a George Foreman Grill.  

Don't promise the world and then not deliver. Specifically, for youth ministers, don't make grand plans and promises you can't keep. Keep it real, be realistic with your goals for the ministry you work for.  

Don't be lazy. In a couple of weeks, school will start back. It's what youth ministers refer to as the "Happy Month." You need to take a break, yes, and perhaps even a vacation, but don't look at August-September-October as the "easy months." Be aggressive and get some things done. Organize your youth storage room so you won't perpetually be looking for stuff come May. Write out a report for your leadership on the events of the summer, letting them know just how awesome you are. Maybe, after school has settled in, you plan an extra even for your teens. Look far in advance to any camps and retreats that need speakers booked and events planned. Don't be ineffective after a period of work like a George Foreman Grill. 

Realize your ineffectiveness. Is an event or tradition that you have not having the same effect for your youth group or church? Maybe it's time to take a hard look at what is doing a good job of getting people to Jesus in your ministry. It's so easy to do the same things over and over, year after year, but what about when things become ineffective in leading people to Christ? What about when you start to become ineffective? It may be time to look at a break, a vacation, go to a conference, or even, in the last resort, a move. We as youth ministers can become burnt our very quickly if we don't watch ourselves. 

Don't be a George Foreman Grill. Don't be broken, badly designed, and ineffective at what you do. Always be striving for the best to get people to Christ. 

(And I swear if anyone comes on here and says "I loved my GF Grill, it was the greatest!" I'm going to punch you in the face.) 

Stop Being Horrible At Communication

I am the first to admit - I'm pretty horrible at communication sometimes. But I have made a conscious effort in the last few years to communicate better and more effectively with my wife, my kids in the youth group, my church, and my church leadership. 

So how can you be more effective at communication? Here's some tips to help out.  

Minimize channels. Some of us have lots of ways we communicate. If you're tech savvy at all, then you may have more. Right now I can think of 4 emails, 6 different social networks, and 3 websites that I get communications from. All of my notifications come to one email. The sometimes overflowing river of emails and notifications comes all to one email address. If I don't do any serious communication on Google+, for example, then I set up my notifications to be virtually non-existent from Google+. I unsubscribe to 3 or 4 "accounts" per week to minimize how many emails I get a day. I even have pre-written TextExpander snippets to reply to emails and Facebook messages I get for routine things like speaking engagement requests and tech requests. But I have taken all of my networks and things and minimized it to one channel that routes everything to me in an organized fashion. Gmail is also a great product for organization and archiving as well. Outlook.com is a great free webmail client as well. You can have multiple email addresses for work, recreation, and organizations but route them all to one main email. 

Act on incoming data. Sometimes we can't respond right away to a question or request in a Facebook message or email, but you can act on that notification. Find an application (mine is Drafts for iPhone) that will remind you to get back to that message the next day. If someone has something urgent, they should call you. Otherwise, emails, messages, and other internet communications cannot expect less than a 24 hour turnaround. So whether you take a few minutes to respond to a request or mark it down for later, just make sure you act on it. Looking at a message on your phone or computer and making a mental note to "do that tomorrow" doesn't work. You'll forget someone's request or message and they might wonder if you're ignoring them. 

Get organized. This relates closely to our first tip. If you have a lot of speaking engagements, have an old fashioned paper calendar to write them down on in your office, or at least input them into a calendar app. Use Contacts Cleaner to fix up your iPhone or iPad's contact list. Give people ONE email, even if it is coming from different sources. Use Drafts to jot down quick bits of text and info for saving to Dropbox. Organize your desktop and computer to make it easier to find things on said computer (I used Alfred for finding whatever I need - I probably have 1,000 folders on my computer). When was the last time you organized your filing cabinet? Buy a pack of manila folders and get labeling. Case in point - my wife and I are buying a van this week, and we all know that minister's taxes and salaries are a little wonky, and having an organized, labeled filing cabinet let me grab files very quickly that I needed instead of searching for them. I was also able to pull down several things for our VBS this week and save myself a lot of time having to redo layouts of certain things - they were already done last year and in the VBS 2012 folder, so why do it again? Everything on your computer must have a folder, in my opinion. 

Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and become better organized and be a better communicator. Preachers, summer is a good time to get organized, and youth ministers, August may be a great time to reorganize for you.