Ipads in the Pews? (T)

My friend Brad Johnson runs a blog for the Adrian Rogers Center for Biblical Preaching and asked me to write a random article related to preaching. I simply ‘blogged’ a response to an e-mail from one of WBC’s IMB missionaries who asked my opinion regarding electronic devices being used during church.

You can find the blog and the article here.

Here is what I wrote:

Recently I received an e-mail from one of our IMB missionaries who currently serves in Central Asia. His question was, “Do people where you pastor use mobile devices for their Bibles while you preach?” He proceeded to ask that, if they did, do I have a problem with it? I believe his question is a very interesting one, and also one that more and more pastors will need to think through in the very near future.

Here was my response:

A few of the church members where I pastor have begun to bring their iPad, Kindle, or Nook to church to follow-along in their electronic ‘Bible’ as I preach through a passage. I do not know of tons doing it, but I would guess a half dozen to a dozen have. I am currently unaware of anyone using their phones, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a few do.

Does it bother me? Not at all. I like it. As a matter of fact, I have heard of some preachers who use their iPad themselves in the pulpit with their sermon notes and Bible all right there with them. I do not know what I think about that (at least for me, it would stress me out), but as far as someone wanting to follow along on a mobile device, I am totally okay with it. In fact, if I was sitting in the pew, I would really like to have my iPad where I can read the text and take notes all in one place!

I can think of several positive reasons for someone choosing to use mobile devices to follow along with the preacher during a sermon:

  1.    A mobile device guarantees access to the Bible. By and large, whether one has a particular Bible app or not, a smart phone or other electronic device will allow someone free access to just about any version of the Bible via the internet.
  2.   A mobile device allows for the listener to follow along with the preacher’s preferred Bible translation. Not only is the listener able to access the Bible, but he or she is likely to have access to the same translation as the preacher who is preaching. Thus, the listener can follow along ‘word for word’ with the preacher during the sermon and not lose where the preacher is as he reads the text. 
  3.   A mobile device allows for the new Christian listener to find support passages with the preacher. Oftentimes, the preacher may reference a supporting text or have the congregation look up a supporting text in their Bible along with him. For the new Christian or unchurched ‘Joe,’ this could be embarrassing, or it could prevent them from actually seeing what the preacher was reading due to lack of knowledge or distraction while looking for the text. A mobile device would allow them to simply search for it in the device’s search engine.
  4. A mobile device allows for the learned listener to ‘check up’ on the pastor DURING his message. Depending on the device, a listener who hears the preacher reference a Greek/Hebrew word and/or refer to an article or a quote in a book can immediately check it out and mark it to be read later.
  5. A mobile device allows for note taking and Bible reading all in one place. This will depend on the device that one carries, but if the device is capable, the listener can make notes and follow along in the Bible – all without having several different items to juggle during the sermon. This also allows for notes to be in one place, rather than potentially getting lost or thrown away.
  6. A mobile device is easier to carry around.  I know this isn’t a MAJOR advantage, but it is easier to carry an iPad around than it is the ESV Study Bible (which can all be downloaded on these devices, by the way!). It is easier to carry around a Kindle or a Nook or an iPhone than it is a Bible and a notebook and paper and pens, etc.
  7. The use of mobile devices in church services will allow for other possibilities in the future. Paperless bulletins sent right to your device? Notifications of meetings and other announcements? Sermon notes sent to your e-mail or Evernote account? Sermon outlines available for download prior to the sermon via PDF? Tweeting or texting the pastor a question about a comment made in the sermon in real time (for him to refer to later)? The possibilities are endless!

 I can also think of some potential negatives that electronic users would need to be careful about:

  1.  The possibility exists for MAJOR distractions for the listener. With a mobile device comes opportunity to get an e-mail, a tweet, a text, a Facebook message, etc., not to mention the ability to surf the web and/or check scores for a game if things get boring from the listener’s perspective. If the listener with the device is smooth enough (I use this phrase very loosely), all this could be done with NO ONE knowing but he and God!
  2. The possibility exists for MINOR distractions for surrounding listeners. In a context like where I serve, the majority of people presently do not have devices that contain all of the aforementioned bells and whistles – or at least they don’t think of bringing them to church. Thus, when someone turns on a device such as this during the sermon, it will raise some eyebrows and draw attention. These kinds of distractions can be eliminated with time, but they can be distractions from the preaching of the Word, nonetheless.

At the end of the day, the Word of God is the same whether it is black ink on a white page, or black words on a white computer screen. It has power whether it is written, spoken, or viewed because of what it is – the word of God. Anyone who chooses to bring an internet or phone service mobile device to church for the purpose of studying the Bible is totally welcome to do so at the church where I pastor. As with just about anything else, however, he or she must do so with wisdom and self discipline to stay on task and use it to enhance – not distract – their experience of sitting under the Word.

What are your thoughts?  Should we welcome and encourage our members and guest to use their tablets in the pews?  Leave a comment and let us know what you think.


About pastormpearson

Follower of Jesus. Husband to Katie. Father to Luke, Seth, and Birtukan. Pastor of the First Baptist Church in El Dorado, Arkansas.

Posted on July 7, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Connie Pearson

    So glad you asked.
    First of all, I appreciate your well-thought-out response to the issue from both sides. Just recently, we have seen e-Bibles show up in the SS class, your Dad is teaching — 35-40-ish age group. It doesn’t bother me a bit, in fact I’ve been fascinated by this new tool.
    On the other hand, I don’t think I’m ready for my pastor to stand up in the pulpit without an impressive, well-used-looking version of a paper Bible with proper leather binding. 🙂 A few years from now? Maybe. But not yet.
    About the literal “bells and whistles” issue — we often have enough interruptions from cell phones that have not been turned off. I can only imagine the distracting dings if half of the congregation showed up with I-pads, Nooks, or Kindles.
    Also, I have used the same go-to-preaching Bible for years and have lots of notes in it from past sermons. I like have access to previous notes to build on with the new insights I’m given. I’m sure it’s possible to build up a set of notes over time on just about any given passage, but I’m not quite there yet.
    A mixed bag, I would say.
    Certainly doesn’t fall into the “sin” category.

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