Should a pastor use and iPad, iPhone, or printed copy of the Bible to minister Scripture to people?

It is safe to say the Reformers never had to tackle this question.  However, it is certainly one we face now and has important implications to the fruitfulness of a pastor’s ministry today.  As this question has forced its way on the scene as a result of our growing technological advances, so have strong opinions on this matter.  Many of these opinions are nothing more than preferences.  And yet, there are still some pastoral issues that need to be considered if we as pastors in this technological age desire to avoid any unnecessary distractions so to be most fruitful and effective.  Here is a basic template for every pastor to consider in determining the kind of means we should use as we seek to minister God’s word to God’s people:

1)  Consider your audience 

The age of your congregation matters a great deal in discerning these issues.  A pastor could sit at the bedside of a sick person and read God’s word from an electronic device and be found to do so with someone under 40 years old much more than someone over the age of 40.  That is not always the case though.  Just because a younger person will probably be more “tech-savy” does not mean reading from an iPod could not also be a distraction for them like it would be for an 80-year-old.

2)  Determine your level of confidence

These decisions need to be made on your confidence level relationally with the person to whom your are ministering.  How well do you know them? How well do they know you and will they understand, even expect you, to whip out a Kindle when you go to read God’s word to them?  I suggest always erring on the side of caution.  If you are visiting an 80-year-old widow who does not own a computer of any kind and still does not know what the internet is (trust me, they still proudly exist) it is probably best to always take a hard copy of God’s word to read with her.  She may think you are trying to pull something over on her if she cannot see “Holy Bible” printed on the front.

3)  Know your surroundings

Making this decision is not just based on the engagement of the person, but the places you minister where others might be around.  I think hospitals, funeral homes, and similar traditional settings where many different kinds of people with different backgrounds and ages will be involved present needs to be properly evaluated.  Pastors need to realize some might interpret your gadget your brought that “acts as a Bible replacement” as a distraction.  Think of unbelievers in the room who may be wondering what are you reading.  “You could be reading anything from that thing.  How do I know it is the Bible?”  On the other hand, your small group Bible study with your crew of college students where everybody is reading off a Kindle or iPod…a physical Bible might look even strange to them.

4)  Guard from legalism

As many pastors possess their own “soap boxes” on this matter, each of us need to guard from being legalistic about this issue.  God’s word is no less God’s word in printed form inside a really snazzy colored cover with a giant cross on the front, or on the really tiny print on your smart phone.  Let’s keep this from becoming the next “King James only” controversy and just call it what it is: a preference.  As long it is a credible translation of the Bible and a credible, untampered printed or electronic copy of that translation (of which there are many)…it is God’s word.  Don’t make more of an issue of this than it should be.

5)  Trust the source 

Our effectiveness to minister to our people ultimately has nothing to do with the means from which we read it, as long as it is the inerrant, infallible, powerful Word of the living God.  God, by his Spirit and through his living and active word, is what changes and effects people.  Minister that word and do not rely much at all on the “mechanics” of what you read from, but do so in a discerning way that avoids any distractions from God doing what he does through his word in the lives of his people when his shepherds faithfully bring it to bear on souls.

Lately, I find myself doing regular Bible reading off my I-pad mini, yet you will always find me with a hard copy of God’s word when entering a funeral home, hospital room or home of an elderly saint.  At this point, you will not find me using my iPod when I preach, not out of any theological principle, but because of my fear of trusting technology that much.  Each pastor needs to determine his own comfort level to embrace the blessings of technology as we should, yet mindful of any unhelpful perception that might exist that could hinder your efforts to care for souls.

Posted in Caring for Widows, Oversight of Souls, The Pastor's Soul
13 comments on “Should a pastor use and iPad, iPhone, or printed copy of the Bible to minister Scripture to people?
  1. Luke says:

    This is very well thought out. Thanks for the wisdom. As you mentioned, I think it’s helpful to know your audience. If you pastor in a poor community, even something like a tablet could be seen as a sign of status or influence. I don’t use mine for preaching, as I am more comfortable with pen and paper, even as a young person. Some congregations would be distracted by preaching from a tablet as it would seem to be showing off.

    Again, great thought process. It’s good to read someone who does not have a knee jerk reaction to it all.

  2. Cristi says:

    As always – I love your shepherd’s heart and your willingness to avoid stumbling blocks for different generations.

  3. I personally like a hard copy of the Bible. It has my notes written in the margins and “feels like it fits better”, if that makes sense and doesn’t give the appearance of being distracted by an electronic device that alerts with new texts, Facebook updates, emails, etc. (like items #1 and #3 in your article).

    On the other hand, I don’t see a reason not to be permitted to use an electronic one. It could make for the exchange of notes, etc. easier.

  4. Doug says:

    I agree with the sentiments of the article that a printed copy of the Bible still holds sway in selective environments. However, I carry both into the pulpit. I actually find it less distracting using an iPad to preach than turning pages in the pulpit. I’m going on nearly two years of preaching from an iPad and have not had a single tech issue. If someone is concerned about that they can always carry their notes to the pulpit just in case.

    • Prentiss Yeates says:

      Carrying a bible also provides the church a comfort that the minister will present the text to the congregation. The iPad may appear as a status symbol , that will take away from the message. Besides , a bible can travel anywhere and doesn’t need a electrical outlet.

  5. Chris Amos says:

    Well said… I have just transitioned to an I-pad but not before sharing with my folks the benefits the I-pad offers to my personal studies and sermon preparations. They appreciate my desire to become a better student of God’s Word believing the better the student, the better the teacher/preacher. I do not think the older folks would have been quite as receptive had I not done otherwise.

  6. Chris Land says:

    Personally, I have no problem with using an digital Bible from an ipad for preaching/ministering but I am still prefer using a hard copy of the Scriptures regardless if I am in a setting where it was acceptable or not. I will not judge those who use them nor those who don’t. We have several people in our church that use e-Bibles on a daily basis and that is great. I do use an e-Bible occasionally but never for preaching.

  7. Also – get the right cover. Pad&Quill and the Dodo cases offer a nice “journal look” to your iPad and most will never know it is not a journal. I use it with five generations and teaching in every possible venue – no negative comments! Try it!

  8. Julie Watson-Fuerte' says:

    Honestly I could care less what is used in the pulpit or a hospital room, or the funeral home. To me, as long as it’s from the G-D’s word, it should not matter. (Just so you understand, I’m not a Pastor).
    If you want to use legalism, then lets just do that. All of the Christians that use a printed, bonded bible are WRONG! The Original Old Testament was on parchment scrolls and were kept inside the temple. Nobody had their own bible.. Now…you say the New Testament was not written yet…True, but the first written New Testament was also written as letters, on parchment paper, and was in either Greek and or Hebrew. Maybe some Aramaic. So, I again stress that all Preachers of the New Testament are WRONG because you should use parchment paper letters and you better brush up on your Greek and Hebrew…. Also, the congregation is also wrong… They too have their own printed bibles….they take them home to read… That was not so when the Christian Church began… So much for legalism…

    Now that’s out of the way….

    Tell me…. If a person hears the gospel by an iPad and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, do you think G-D is worried about how you shared the scripture or that a person was just snatched from going to hell, to be eternally separated from G-D?? We focus our attention way too much on the small stupid stuff while people are dying without knowing Jesus!!!

    People….Pastors…… WORRY INSTEAD OF WHAT G-D THINKS AND NOT MAN!!!!!

    Set you minds on eternal things, not temporary things. Use the Holy Spirit to share G-D with all people…

    By the way….Jesus, did all his teaching from memory… Then again, he is the author! ;)

    • KStock says:

      Julie, I think that you’ve misunderstood the issue. This isn’t a matter of legalism. The question is not whether it is right or wrong to use an iPad for preaching, but whether it is wise or unwise.

      Paul talks about being “all things to all men” and by “all means saving some”. Talking to Jews, he starts from Jewish history. Talking to gentiles, he ignores Jewish history and starts from their false gods. In that way, he avoids obstacles that would get in the way of the message of the gospel.

      A teacher or preacher has a message to communicate. He has to consider possible obstacles to that message and avoid them, even if the obstacle is not in itself sinful.

      Consider a simple example. I dislike wearing a tie. There are people who consider that it is disrespectful for a man to enter a church (let alone preach) if he is not wearing a tie. For that reason, I always wear a tie when I preach outside of my home church. Not because I’m worried what people will think of me, but because I don’t want to create an unnecessary obstacle to the message which I believe God has given me.

      In the same way there are situations where using an iPad may be appropriate, and others where it may be inappropriate. With a group of reasonably well-off teenagers, there’s probably not a problem. If the teenagers are poor, then it might be better to avoid it (jealousy over the fact that the pastor has an iPad could prevent them listening). With some older people, it could be a problem. For others, it’s fine. In my home church, where everybody knows me, I can probably get away with just about anything.

  9. KStock says:

    I generally teach from my Kobo (it’s page oriented and easier to use in the pulpit than my tablet; no virtual keyboards opening up as I go). I usually include the text of the passage I want to read on it (that makes it easier to include remarks to help give the context).

    That said, I always take a printed Bible with me. Two reasons:

    1. It makes a clear statement about the basis of what I’m teaching.

    2. Even though I will read from the Kobo, I still stop to find the passage in my Bible. That helps me make sure that I’ve allowed enough time for other people to find it before I start reading.

    I hope that’s helpful

  10. I enjoyed your article. I use my iPad and a handwriting app for my notes. It works great and I find it works better for me than printed notes. I still use my bible too. Great points and helpful.

7 Pings/Trackbacks for "Should a pastor use and iPad, iPhone, or printed copy of the Bible to minister Scripture to people?"
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