the iphone app that improved my ability to concentrate

One of the most precious commodities a pastor has is time. Ministry always beckons us to do more than time permits. I once heard a researcher state that most people have 35 hours of unfinished work ahead of them. However, if we use the time we have most effectively, we’ll become more fruitful for the Kingdom.


Preparing sermons, at least for senior pastors, is one of the most time consuming Kingdom commitments. Although I don’t preach every week, I still must prepare over 35 original messages each year. Each week I study 15-20 hours to prepare one sermon. That’s a good chunk of my week which requires concentration.

A year or so ago I purchased a $2.99 iPhone app that has proved invaluable to help me concentrate when I study. When I fully concentrate, I make much more progress than when my mind gets distracted.

That app, Ambiance, is a simple collection of natural (and man-made) sounds that I play on my iPhone through my headphones. In case you are wondering, I don’t make money on the sale of this app and I’m not connected in any way to the company.

The standard iPhone headphones work ok, but I purchased a pair of noise canceling headphones (Philips SBC HN060) that block out most ambient noise. You can purchase more expensive ones, but this set works great for me.

So when I study at Panera or MacDonalds ($1 cokes there) I plug in, play a repetitive waterfall or beach sound, and become totally oblivious to the people and sounds around me. My ability to concentrate skyrockets.

As Paul the Apostle wrote in Ephesians 5.16, … make every minute count. (CEV) This simple $2.99 purchase has helped me put that command into practice.

Related posts:  How an iPad benefits pastors

For more Resources for Pastors, visit Pastor Stone’s main site.

360 Degree Assessment-an invaluable tool for leadership growth

Leaders need healthy feedback to lead well. An excellent process, a 360 assessment, has helped me grow in several areas.

Simply put, as the diagram pictures, a 360 assessment seeks input from your peers, your supervisor, your subordinates, and a few others.

I’ve had two 360’s done on me, one very extensive, and one very simple that I recommend to other pastors and spiritual leaders.

Recently, the simple assessment gave each of our staff pastors 1 to 3 growth areas on which to focus. One of mine was to make sure that when I talked to other leaders, I would put myself in their shoes and ask, “Would I feel loved at this moment.” I’m a task guy, and this simple learning has helped me focus more on building relationships.

Here’s the process we used in the simple 360 assessment.

  1. I asked each pastor to give me the names of a few of their leaders who they’d want to receive constructive input.
  2. I compiled this list and added a few more.
  3. We sent three questions to each of these people and asked them to honesty answer the questions.
  4. We kept them anonymous by sending the responses to one leader not on staff who compiled the responses.
  5. I and one of our elders (a psychologist) compiled themes out of the responses. We also culled any hurtful comments or those that had no true bearing on leadership growth.
  6. I met with each pastor and shared the themes we discovered (usually 1-3 areas on which to focus).
  7. Each pastor then selected 2 people in his ministry orbit with whom he would share his growth areas and ask for regular accountability.
  8. The end result? A way to address growth areas in a positive and proactive way.

    The Four Steps to Moral Failure for a Spiritual Leader

    I’m listening to a fascinating interview on Focus on the Family’s Pastor-to-Pastor series between HB London and Archibald Hart.

    They’re discussing how depression from pastoral burnout can lead to loss of vision, loss of ideals, an “I don’t care attitude,” and potentially result in moral compromise.

    Dr. Hart describes the progression of steps to moral failure using what he calls the four A’s.

      • Arrogance: I can do no wrong, I can handle life myself, I don’t need anyone
      • Adventurous addiction: I get taken with excitement and become energized with what I am doing
      • Aloneness: I become more at risk as I cut myself off from others
      • Adultery: I turn to sex as the only thing that gives me a kick that can make up for what I feel I have lost

      Listening to these four A’s caused me to pause to make sure I don’t go down that path. Often pastors and other spiritual leaders slowly move down the path of moral compromise without realizing it. That’s why I wrote the book 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them. The small, sub-surface issues we don’t see can lead to devastation in our lives and ministry unless we pay attention to them. The book shows how to become aware of these ministry killers and what to do to kill them before they kill us.

      You can download a free chapter here if you’d like to check it out first.

      Retro preaching for hi-tech pastors: why and how I used a flannelgraph

      I’m a techno geek … I stood in line for 5 hours to get the latest iPhone, I use a MacBookPro, I use an iPad on stage when I preach, I twitter, and I write a blog. Yet, sometimes technology gets in the way. I once tried a retro version of communication. It worked.

      Back Camera

      Our church is techno … we use video extensively, power point, YouVersion which allows people to follow the sermon on their mobile phone, and we’ve done texting feedback during services.

      Yet, sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in too much technology.

      Recently during our programming meeting, our creative director suggested that we use a different medium to help the sermon delivery…the old flannelgraph.

      In case you’ve never heard of a flannelgraph, it was a Bible teaching technique extensively used many years ago. Sunday school teachers would prop up the flannelgraph on an easle (a large piece of cardboard with flannel on the outside) and as she taught us the Bible lesson that day, she’d stick cardboard images of people and Bible objects on the flannelgraph. The flannel on the back of the images would stick to the flannel on the board. Thus, the flannelgraph. Today the flannelgraph is being used quite extensively in areas around the world with illiterate populations.

      This past Sunday we tried it. I taught from Ephesians 2 and 3 where Paul uses several word pictures. These metaphors made it easy to find and cut out images.

      Here’s how it added to my teaching.

      It was drastically different from how I usually teach. Its novelty helped the message stick.

      It helped those familiar with the flannel graph feel a bit of nostalgia, which endeared them to the medium which enhanced the message.

      It helped me easily remember the next point. I simply picked up the picture and stuck it on the board.

      As I walked back to the board, it was easy to keep reviewing the main points when I referred back to the images.

      It built interest as the people wondered what was next.

      It helped visual learners stay more focused.

      So, if you’d like mix things up a bit, give it a try. All it takes is a board (wood or foam core), some felt, and some pictures (I used velcro on the back to make them more sticky) and … PRESTO, you have a flannelgraph.

      Although we still used powerpoint images on the screens so people could see the images in detail, I now have a new tool in my preaching toolbox.

      What retro technique has worked for you?

      Related posts:

      4 Ways Pastors can Maximize Before and After Service Times

      I’ve been in full-time vocational ministry nearly 30 years and used to think that the most important use of my time was preaching the message. I still believe that, especially for the masses, but perhaps the second most important time is what I do right before the service and right after the service.

      I call it the “ministry of presence.” My high visibility as I chat with people, shake their hands, and give them a listening ear provides a tiny “one-on-one” window into their hearts. I believe those brief interactions often affect them more than the sermon itself.

      Here are four simple choices to maximize that time.

        • Look for the “deer-in-the-headlights” look. This look often telegraphs new people. I look at peoples’ eyes and I can usually catch their “I’m new here and have no idea what to do or where to go.” I will introduce myself and try to make them feel that I really care. A touch like that from a pastor can make a profound impact on a new person.
        • Seek out those in wheelchairs, those with canes, or those with other physical or mental challenges. One guy, Robin, comes to our service in a motorized wheelchair. A mobile ventilator attached to his wheelchair keeps him alive. Another boy, Nicholas, is confined to his wheelchair. He is twelve. One older teen walks with a bent body and slurs her words when she talks. I don’t let a service go by without talking, touching, and affirming them.
        • Give your full attention to people when you do talk to them. Avoid the, “talking to one person while you are getting ready to talk to the next person” persona. People quickly sense half-hearted listeners.
        • Finally, steer clear of the monopolizers. This may sound harsh, but some people will take your entire time before and after a service as they talk about themselves or some problem. I will often walk up a different aisle so as to avoid getting cornered by a monopolizer.

        These simple practices have made many powerful spiritual deposits in others as I offer them my “ministry of presence.”

        Try out these ideas this month and see if you, too, feel God’s pleasure.

        Related posts:

          For more Help and Resources for Pastors, visit Pastor Stone’s main site.