Technology can be a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Nowhere is that more true than in the area of Christian ministry, especially for the preacher preparing sermons. My aim in this article is to help preachers use technology in such a way as to get the most out of this willing servant, but also to avoid it becoming a damaging tyrant. To do that, we will honestly face some of the dangers of technology in sermon preparation; then, we will outline a number of ways technology can help in sermon preparation; and finally, I’ll give you a brief description of the primary ways in which I use technology in sermon preparation.
The Dangers of Technology
Even someone writing sermons with a quill and parchment can be distracted from his task. However, the time and the effort it takes to get and read another scroll from the vault would usually be sufficient disincentive to distraction. Modern technology, however, makes it much easier to be distracted. We’re just a couple of clicks away from Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and so on. It’s so fast, so quick, and so, so easy. And so damaging to deep thought. Thankfully, we can use technology to keep technology under control, by using software such as LeechBlock to limit Internet access.
When all the early preachers had was a Bible, they had to wrestle with the text and prayerfully seek the help of the Holy Spirit, especially in dealing with difficult passages. With the availability of the Internet and Bible software, it so much easier to ask Google than to ask God. Admittedly, books pose a similar danger, but the ease of Internet searching and the huge capacities of modern Bible software make it all the more tempting to rely on these resources rather than on the hard work of prayerfully striving to understand God’s Word with a dependent spirit.
Digital books and the Internet have made it so fearfully easy to simply cut and paste swathes of text that some preachers are just parroting collations of other men’s sermons and passing the material off as their own. This is deception that not only damages the preacher’s relationship with God, but also undercuts his hope of God’s blessing.
The more we depend on electronic resources and the more we simply cut and paste, the more we degrade our own thinking abilities. The less thinking we do for ourselves and the more we let others do our thinking for us, the harder and harder it becomes for us to think. Yes, it’s easier just to lazily reach for the commentary or to open Bible software, but we must resist those urges in order to develop the muscle of our own mind which, like all muscles, gets stronger with use.
In my thirteen years of teaching seminary students, I’ve noticed that students take far fewer notes in class than they used to. One reason for this is that they think they know where they can find information on the Internet when they need it. However, there’s a big difference between knowing where to find something and knowing something. Also, when we take knowledge into our minds, information on one subject is no longer separated from another subject as it is on the Internet. Instead, the knowledge of different subjects is mingling in our minds, cross-pollinating and fertilizing, all while renewing our minds and building a godly worldview.
Many preachers will concede that there is often a devotional deficit associated with using technology to prepare sermons, compared to writing with pen and paper. I’m not sure why that should be, apart from the fact that it just takes longer to write things out and that we write more carefully than we type. Somehow, using a computer can make sermon writing a more mechanical and automated process rather than a spiritual and devotional exercise.
If we’re older, there’s the danger that we’ll despise the use of technology in ministry. If we’re younger, there’s the danger of despising those who don’t use technology much at all. It’s important that we don’t make our preference the rule for others, but find whatever works best for our minds, talents, and methods. Let’s be careful that we don’t let use lead to abuse, or abuse lead to non-use.
The Benefits of Technology
Although some modern Bible software is expensive to buy, on the whole, they are good value. If you keep your eye open, you can usually pick up software packages and individual books at significant discounts. There are also websites that offer many free books for Logos. Or, if you use the Kindle App on your computer, you will be able to buy some of the quality Christian books that Amazon offer daily.
With the help of my Mac and my Kindle, I can now carry thousands of books with me wherever I go and access my books even without Internet access. This allows me to prepare sermons in airports, on planes, in hotel rooms, and literally anywhere ministry requires me to go. Logos also syncs its software with its tablet and Smartphone App.
Most Bible software and some online software are regularly updated with the latest morphological, syntactical, and archeological research, lending increased accuracy to our studies. That helps us to avoid relying on dated information that is no longer credible. Remember, the wide availability of Bible software has also made it easier for people to check what we are saying on their smartphones in their pews as they listen to us. That should challenge us to do thorough research!
Technology has the potential to save us hours of time. It is simply much quicker to hover over a word on Logos and get immediate parsing and lexical information than to do this using parsing guides and lexicons. The same goes for counting up how many times a word is used in a chapter, a book, or in the whole Bible. Some software will even present this information in color on pie and bar charts.
If I want to study a topic, such as justification, I can enter that word on Logos and it will open every resource in my library that refers to justification. This is like standing in front of a library of hundreds of books, saying “justification,” and having all the books that reference justification appearing immediately, open on our desk at just the right page. In addition, I have all my preached sermons filed in Evernote, which allows me to search all my previous sermons for specific words, phrases, or topics.
Although it might be thought that the use of technology for original language study would undermine a preacher’s ongoing development in Greek and Hebrew, I have found the opposite to be the case. Most “purists” who don’t use technology for this eventually discover that their approach is unsustainable given the demands of pastoral ministry, and they not only give up their idealism but also their Greek and Hebrew. Those who take a more pragmatic approach, using some of the God-given tools to make the task easier, usually find that over the years they are using the technology less as they have absorbed so much Greek and Hebrew through regular exposure to the languages through the initial use of the technology.
Technology allows us to extend the life and usefulness of sermons by uploading them to sites such as www.sermonaudio.com. We might also use parts of some sermons as blog posts or take out certain sentences to use as quotations on Twitter or Facebook. I know many ministers who use the Logos “notes” feature to attach their sermons to specific texts, so that if they are studying them in future, the notes are right there for them to access, again extending their usefulness into the future.
Examples of How I Use Technology
Although Logos is more expensive than other options, and it is bulky and frustrating at times, on balance I have found that it is the best option for me. Following are some of the ways I use Logos in weekly sermon preparation, but much of what I write here is also transferrable to other programs.
Delimiting the Text
Once I have spent some time working on delimiting my text, I usually check it using the Logos Compare Pericope tool, which lets me compare how different Bible versions have decided where the paragraph begins or ends. That can either help me confirm my decision or else challenge me to think further.
Comparing the Text
Before beginning to look at the text in Greek or Hebrew, I usually use the Logos Text Comparison tool to study five or six different English versions of the passage, looking for how several versions use different vocabulary, tenses, order, omitted words, added words, etc. I do this to make my original language study more efficient by focusing my study on the words and phrases where there is some significant disagreement. It’s not that I don’t spend any time studying the words and phrases that are uniformly translated; rather, use of this tool helps me know where I have to spend most of my time in analyzing and selecting disputed options.
Logos allows me to hover over a word, discover its lemma, and then do a number of kinds of word studies of varying complexity using different tools. Each word study probably takes about five or ten minutes, compared to perhaps an hour of similar study using books and concordances, and it produces far more accurate, independent, and comprehensive results.
Grammar and Syntax
Depending on which version of Logos you use, and which additional books you have bought, you may be able to access Greek and Hebrew grammars that reference the specific text you are studying. If we look up these links each time a sermon is prepared, our Greek and Hebrew knowledge will gradually expand, in addition to the help we will gain in the immediate context of sermon preparation.
I use the Visual Filters tool on Logos to automatically color code Greek and Hebrew verbs, pronouns, and conjunctions according to my presets. If I choose to see the verbs, Logos puts colored highlights, boxes, and underlinings on each word so that I can immediately see their stems, tenses, voices, etc., as well as any significant patterns and sequences. I can also add notes to the text as I go on. I will sometimes print out this color-coded annotated version of the text and carry it around with me so that I can familiarize myself with it at various points in the week.
Logos offers a number of outlining tools, from simple block diagramming, to sentence diagramming, to much more complex line diagramming. Although, of course, this can also be done on paper, using technology allows much greater trial and error in trying to decide how words relate to one another. As a check on your work in Greek, you can buy the Lexham Clausal Outlines add-on for Logos.
It’s very easy and quick to bring up a range of cross references relevant to the passage, and also any parallel passages to compare two accounts of the one event.
Most Logos packages come with a number of commentaries. Although the quality of them varies, they can be supplemented with a good range of excellent modern commentaries. And, of course, you can access many commentaries and sermons online (see below). The only thing to emphasize here is to delay this step until as late as possible in the sermon preparation process so that you have struggled with the text yourself before reading commentaries and sermons and do not just copy what others have said. Wrestling with the text yourself will make your sermons more original, more personal, and more authoritative.
To conclude, here’s a list of Bible Software programs and Internet resources that I hope will prove useful as you decide how best to use technology in your ministry.
Free Bible Software:
The Word theword.gr/
Net Bible net.bible.org/home.php
Free books for Logos stilltruth.com/2015/pbooks/
Ages Software: ageslibrary.com/categories_download.html
Christian Classics Ethereal Library: ccel.org/
John Macarthur’s Sermons: gty.org/Resources/Sermons/scripture
John Piper’s Sermons: desiringgod.org/resource-library/scripture-index
Sermon Audio: http://www.sermonaudio.com/main.asp
David P. Murray is professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He was a pastor and lecturer in his home country of Scotland. He regularly blogs at Head Heart Hand.