Before the Rev. Roderick Belin gets ready to preach, he grabs his Bible and his iPhone.
He uses the mobile device to look up Bible verses and theology texts and to alert him if his sermon runs too long. If he forgets the words to a hymn, his phone can save the day. That’s what happened on a recent Sunday.
“I was singing ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow,’ and I had the first verse but wasn’t too sure about the second,” said Belin, pastor of Kairos Community AME Church. A few taps later on the iPhone, and Belin kept singing without a hitch.
Mobile devices have become a boon to local believers as they’ve used apps — shorthand for applications, or programs that do specific tasks — to deepen their faith and spread their beliefs. From the Bible to Buddhism, there are dozens of spiritual and theological apps. Fans say apps help with spiritual development, but others say a digital device can’t substitute for face-to-face spiritual teaching.
There are apps for a variety of faith groups, including iPrayPro, which offers daily Muslim prayer times for more than 23,000 cities around the world; Shabbat Shalom, which lists Jewish holidays and Shabbat candle lighting times around the world; and the RC Calendar, which lists Catholic saint days and other events in the church year. There’s even a Buddha Box app that recreates chants from Buddhist monasteries.
Bob Jarrell, a practice leader at the Nashville Zen Center, uses a Soto Zen timer app during his daily meditation. He spends about 30 minutes a day meditating, alternating sitting silently with short periods of walking meditation. The app keeps time for each segment. That keeps him from being distracted by peeking at his watch every few minutes.
“It keeps you from staring at the clock, which defeats the purpose of meditating,” he said.
Lisa Ernst, who teaches meditation for One Dharma Nashville, a Buddhist group that meets at the 12South Dharma Center, said iPhone apps can be a good introduction to spiritual practices. Beginners can at least get a taste of meditating, she said.
“If it gets someone to sit still and silent for a few minutes, that’s a good thing,” she said.
But a mobile device app goes only so far. Ernst recently had a new student who had started meditating using her iPhone and was looking to go deeper by getting personal instruction.
“It’s a great place to start, but if an app is all someone is relying on, it would be pretty limited,” he said.
The Rev. Stephen Mans field, a Nashville author who speaks around the country, uses two Bible-based apps. One is You Version, a mobile Bible reader that has been downloaded more than 6 million times. It was developed by Life Church.tv, an Oklahoma-based mega church with a satellite campus in Hendersonville, and offers 41 Bible versions in 22 languages.
Mansfield likes the program because he can carry several Bible versions with him and because the program shows only a few verses at a time.
“It slows me down because I am seeing less on the screen than I would on the page of a Bible,” he said. “Because I am only seeing four or five verses at a time, it allows me to focus on those verses.”
Mansfield also is one of about 190,000 people who use Logos Bible Software, an electronic library of Bible reference books and dictionaries along with copies of the biblical texts in Hebrew and Greek. He can do sermon research by tapping on his iPhone.
He also can watch sermons from his favorite preachers on the device.
Uses outside church
Ministers have begun using the devices outside the church.
The Rev. Beth Causey, a chaplain for Alive Hospice, uses her iPhone for Bible readings. She uses Bible Reader 4 from Olive Tree Bible Software, one of the more popular Bible apps, with about a half-million users.
The program allows her to search for a specific verse — which she says helps her bring comfort to dying patients. She can easily find their favorite Bible readings or prayers.
Because Causey ministers to people of all faiths, she says, her phone can help her find diverse spiritual resources.
“I’ve found Jewish prayers and readings from the Quran several times,” she said. “I don’t push what I want to read. I want to help people to use their own faith to find strength and hope.”
Causey stresses that her phone is a tool and can’t replace one-on-one relationships.
“The day I am more interested in my iPhone than my patients, is the day I have to quit,” she said.