Top 10 iPhone apps for organizing a priest's life

February 1, 2010

As priest-in-charge of a growing church, I am in good company with many of my colleagues when it comes to finding a happy balance between work, family and everything else that life throws at us.

The church is a sometimes-frenetic place that often doesn't fit well into our culture's 9 to 5, Monday through Friday paradigm. How do we find time to help out with grocery shopping, house cleaning, plan for vestry meetings and worship, manage staff, read and respond to 100+ e-mails a day, spend time with our children, plan a great adult education program, spend meaningful time with our spouse, and cultivate a rich spiritual life that feeds?

Certainly there must be some way to simplify everything while maintaining our sanity, enhancing our marriage, ensuring that all of our tasks and administrivia are not overcome by events, and most importantly, helping to strengthen our spiritual foundation so that everything else makes sense. And if that wasn't a tall enough order, it must be pocket-sized.

Bring in the iPhone. My iPhone is not just an amazingly beautiful piece of technology, it is also my professional brain, and lately, I've been discovering some amazing applications – commonly referred to as apps – for the iPhone that help sync my administrative, personal and spiritual lives.

My Top 10:

1. Facebook -- Yes, Facebook. If you're not using this tool for ministry yet, then we need to talk. My Facebook app allows me to keep up with the roughly 75 percent of my parishioners who also use Facebook. Even more, if you've got a Facebook page for your church, you can update your church's page through the app.

2. iBCP -- It's not free, but it's worth the $5 you'll pay never to be without a prayer book again.

3. NAB Bible Reader -- It's not cheap, either, but it's a great translation of the Bible, and it's searchable. Better still, you can highlight and make comments.

4. Things -- Things is a productivity manager, aka a To Do list, based on the GTD (Get Things Done) format. It will sync with "Things for Mac." Everything that I am supposed to do is organized and prioritized in Things.

5. WordPress -- I can edit my church's webpage from my iPhone. Can you? Seriously, if your church's website is based on Wordpress formats, you can use the WordPress app to control nearly everything on your website: create new pages, add news and information, upload pictures, etc.

6. MileBug -- Current IRS mileage rate is .50c/mile. MileBug will help you track your miles and then export a report for your taxes or expense reporting.

7. iXpenseIt -- Keeps track of budget line items, tracks spending, creates expense reports, etc. iXpenseIt also allows you to take pictures of receipts so that you never lose one again.

8. Maps -- The Google Maps function on the iPhone is good enough to get me to every parishioner's house because I've got all of my parishioners' names and addresses in my address book, which is No. 9.

9. Contacts -- Seriously. Download your parish directory into the iPhone and you'll never be without the name, address, or phone number of that pastoral contact that must be made today.

10. Pocket God -- Stay sane by laughing. It's probably bad form to name the pygmies after parishioners, though.

While the iPhone itself might be smart, it needs a bit of a foundation that will support all of your needs. When it comes to e-mail, for example, it is best to separate office accounts from personal accounts. If possible, use IMAP so that e-mail actions performed on the iPhone are duplicated on the server. This means that if you read, reply, delete, move or forward an e-mail on your iPhone, it replicates this action on your computer so that you don't have to do it twice (and vice versa, between computer and iPhone).

Organizing calendars is also advised. I find that setting up multiple calendars using Google Calendar works the best. You can set up as many as makes sense. I have four: a parish calendar that includes all of the regular parish events; a work calendar that includes all of my appointments and pastoral meetings; a personal calendar that includes only information that I need to remember; and lastly, a family calendar that my wife and I share to schedule dates, appointments and chores. The best part about Google Calendar is that you can publish (privately or publicly) your calendar through the CalDAV protocol, which enables you to read, write and synchronize information on each calendar from your iPhone or computer. Using CalDAV also enables you to use your calendars along with family members, administrative assistants, etc., to allow you to delegate and manage effectively.