Remember everything. Wouldn’t that be nice? It is Evernote’s slogan, however, and while Evernote won’t remember everything, it does help me store, log, and retrieve information that I find useful.
I use Evernote in a lot of ways for personal and professional use. I’m a husband, a dad, and a pastor of a small church in rural Indiana. I have been using Evernote for five and a half years, most of that time on their premium subscription (it is literally the only web type service I have ever shelled out money for).
Evernote is completely simply and yet inexplicably complicated, all at the same time. It is so open ended, that often times it is a struggle to use for many just starting out (myself included). So, before I list out how I use Evernote as a pastor, I want to point out a few things:
- I use Evernote because I wanted everything in one ecosystem and value having things extremely mobile and on the go. As you will see, I put a lot in there, and I definitely enjoy having all my information in one place that I can access in iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, or any web browser. Evernote is on every platform, which is a huge plus for me.
- You could use other systems. OneNote by Microsoft is comparable, though I have never used it. In theory, what I’m about to explain you could do with a USB drive and Microsoft Office, or file folders- but I find that Evernote is the best for me. I hope that by sharing what I do, you will be able to adapt to your current organizational apps/structure.
- I found early on in ministry, though I was good at being organized and administration, I couldn’t remember every detail from last year’s mission trip as I planned this year’s. When did I preach on John’s Gospel last? Had I already used this funny story as as sermon starter at this church? Or was that the last church? I have a great memory and rarely forget things- but these are the questions I struggled with that Evernote helps me to remember.
- I am not an Evernote ambassador in any way. Just a pastor that loves an app and wants to share it.
- I am assuming some basic understanding of the app- but everything is available at the free level (unless otherwise noted). You do not need to pay money to do all of this or any of this.
Evernote is a great word processor. It is simple, not bloated with features that I don’t need to type a sermon, and (a reoccuring theme here) I can save it all in Evernote and access on any device, anytime.
But let’s get a little more technical. Evernote is my giant filing cabinet that I can carry in my pocket. For example, I read a book by Chuck Swindoll (among others) that have suggested keeping file folders of sermon introduction ideas, sermon series ideas/sermon ideas, and scripture study work. Let’s unpack this a little. Each of these categories I have as a separate notebook and a separate note for each idea.
I was reading a book with my sons the other day about Abraham Lincoln as a boy. He almost drowned in a river and was saved by a childhood friend we in mainstream America don’t know. The boy’s name was Austin Gollaher. It is a great story because who knew Austin would be so important to our nation’s history- yet we don’t know him. If Lincoln had died, how different would our country be right now?
It speaks to the power of we don’t always know the long term impacts we have. It will be a great story to grab attention someday- when I preach that sermon. Therefore, in Evernote, I have a Notebook called “Sermon Introduction Ideas” and it in I have this Abraham Lincoln story. I have a hyperlink to actual historical data and research I did on it with my kids, and I tag a few key words: power of action, small things/big result, etc.
I often refer to this Notebook when I get stuck opening or closing a sermon, or just looking for a new story or idea. If I am on the go and I hear a good idea, I can quickly create a note with my smartphone Evernote app. I can easily add things as I hear/see them. I am constantly adding (then using) items from this Notebook.
We could go through the same process for sermon ideas/series ideas, and in the picture I have a Sermon Ideas Notebook. Inspiration doesn’t hit 9-5 while I am in my office. It happens in the shower, before bed, as I hear something on a podcast. With Evernote, I can store all these ideas in one place and quickly, easily, and have access anywhere.
For each note in this notebook, I’ll title the note the general idea of the sermon itself or the sermon series. In the note, I’ll list out all the ideas running in my head: why it would be good; what scripture comes to mind; any artwork or media. I update this file as I go, so while it could start out with just a few words, by the end of the sermon series itself, it is full of ideas, images, quotes, graphics, etc. It is a dumping ground for the whole sermon series for my brain.
The other huge key here that is important for me, is I take all my scripture study notes in Evernote. I keep all of these notes in a Notebook called E-Prayer Journal. It is Notebook with hundreds of notes. I believe I got this idea from Swindoll- but maybe others: why re-study a passage over and over again? Every year I preach on Christmas; every year the cross and passion of Jesus. Do I really need to re-read every commentary I have? If I do the work well the first time, I add it to Evernote and then keep it forever.
Next year, when I preach on Luke’s Christmas narrative, I have down a lot of the research already written down. Even though I may preach on a passage multiple times, it doesn’t mean each sermon is the same: maybe the first time I read Luke I focus on Jesus’ birth while the second time through I focus on all the characters around Jesus and their reactions to Him.
I will go back to the same resource, but I don’t have to get bogged down by doing the same research again because my notes refresh my mind on the major points. Now, I can drill down into smaller points or fine tune them with additional resources. Since I use Bible software for most of my commentaries now, I can also copy/paste information from the software into a note about a particular passage or book of the Bible.
I also drop in links from other helpful websites I have visited or any pdfs that I have can also be inserted, all into one note on a particular passage I’m studying for.
I also like to study books as a whole. I can look at the whole book of John today, but in 3 months when I preach on it again, I don’t want to have to look over the structure of John or any other information that would be helpful for me to ground myself in John. The first time I go through John, I’ll take good notes, store them in Evernote, and then just brush up on them the second go round.
It sounds like I am an all digital worker, but I am not. I often write things down in a notebook because it helps my retention of the material, but I can take a picture of that written material and put it in Evernote all the same. I find writing things out by hand helps me. But I can never remember which notebook those “really good Leviticus notes” were in exactly. With Evernote, a quick search and I can find it without searching for hours.
Another trick that I often use is the tagging feature. In these notes, any time I study a passage, for example let’s say the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10), I add a series of tags to it. The first tag I created as a Matthew tag. Anytime an article, notes, or sermon has anything to do with Matthew, I tag it. Then, I nest each chapter under it. For example, notes on the Beatitudes would be tagged with Matthew, Matthew 05. In the future, despite having 1000s of notes, I can quickly access any study work I have ever done on Matthew or Matthew 05 in 2 quick clicks.
If you are thinking wow- big deal. Here’s the big deal. I live in a fairly digital world and a fairly mobile one. Between my bible software with my main commentaries and works, my laptop and/or an iPad, I can literally write a sermon anywhere.
Without taking tons of paper and files, heavy books, and always forgetting that one resource, I can take my device and Evernote and write a sermon literally anywhere. I can work in a hospital, or stuck at home in a snowstorm, at a retreat center, a library, or a coffee shop. I can also work in my office- it is the same experience, same process, same ease in writing sermons.
The sermon gets the same tags and the same tagging system that my scripture notes would get too, but I add a “Sermons” tag to it as well so I can quickly find any sermon I have written. It helps me to keep more organized because if I simply searched tags with Matthew 05, I find articles, study notes, and sermons. Sometimes, I just want the sermon.
I can type out my outline, my sermon manuscript, and have it all easily in one place, one note. It is then this note that I will preach from on Sunday, using my iPad. Because of Evernote’s ease of word processing, I can add pictures, change text color, etc. I like to put my Scripture references and passages in red to help them stand out some and can be used to help me not lose my place.
Once the Sunday sermon is over, it will sit in my giant folder of sermons. I will add notes about that Sunday (such as any events, the date, the title, what did or didn’t work, did a joke flop, was a story bad, any information that would be helpful when revisiting this sermon), drop in an audio recording that will go over our church’s podcast, and will be able to easily find it in the future for reference or to preach again if needed.
I set out to write down all the ways I use Evernote in ministry, and I found that just in sermon prep alone, I use it for a lot of uses. It helps me stay organized, record ideas, study notes and materials for Evernote, and even write my sermons.
I am always looking for new ways to improve, ways that work with my workflow, that can improve the sermon writing process. It is hard enough to write a sermon every week- I don’t want to compound that by having to find lost study notes or spending time looking for that post-it with all my ideas. I may not do it perfect, but it works for me. How do you stay organized in your sermon prep?