Using Editorial on iOS to Build The Ultimate Sermon Notes Tool

One of the things I love about our new pastor at church is that he sends out an outline of his sermon on Fridays to all the small group leaders along with discussion questions. This is great because it’s allowed me to take much better notes on Sundays and to be focused on the content of what our pastor is saying, not just taking detailed notes.[1] My main workflow for doing this has been to take the email or PDF of the sermon outline, copy it into Drafts, take my notes there, and then send it to Evernote with a custom action that puts it in my “Jesus” notebook, tags it with “Sermon Notes”, and adds the date stamp to the note title in my preferred format.

A Few Issues with Drafts

Taking my sermon notes in Drafts has been fine, but I’ve found myself fairly limited by the way Drafts is setup to work. Drafts was designed for, well, drafts. Type a quick note, send it to Evernote. Type a quick text and send it out. You get the picture. Longer-form writing isn’t in the app’s purview, and that’s what sermon notes have become for me.

The main issue I was having was getting text from the Bible apps into Drafts. I wanted it done with a URL scheme, but there aren’t any Bible apps that I’ve been able to find using the X-Callback-URL scheme. So I was

  1. opening Drafts,
  2. then opening a Bible app,
  3. copying the text to the clipboard,
  4. switching back to Drafts,
  5. pasting the text as a new draft,
  6. sending the text to TextTool for cleanup using a Drafts action, and
  7. switching back to the sermon notes draft.

This workflow was eventually simplified somewhat by incorporating a Launch Center Pro action, but it was still way too cumbersome. So I was searching for a way to keep my mind more focused on the sermon than the technology for note-taking.

My Issues With The Bible Apps Available On iOS.

Before moving on to how I solved my problem, let’s just discuss the state of Bible apps on iOS. On my Macs I use Logos Bible Software for all my bible study needs. I have primarily used their great iOS app as well for my mobile study, daily devotions, and for reference during sermons. However, the Logos app has this odd formatting issue. If you copy text and paste it into another app, it includes all sorts of weird formatting, specifically related to footnotes.

In the screenshots below you can see the footnotes in Logos for iOS are in superscript. Well, when those get copied in plain text and pasted, they get converted to regular text, sometimes with zero-character spaces between them as shown in the second screenshot.

Logos for iOS
Logos for iOS
Text Pasted from Logos for iOS into Drafts
Text Pasted from Logos for iOS into Drafts

So I was looking around for other iOS Bible apps and came across the ESV Bible app for iOS. Ironically, it was my wife (not a techie), who I noticed using the app, so I gave it a try. When it was formatted into plain text, the results were much nicer (screenshots below), and thus I was able to clean them up in TextTool with a simple wrap function.

The ESV App for iOS
The ESV App for iOS
The Raw Paste from the ESV app
The Raw “Paste” from the ESV app
The Final Product of TextTools Wrap Function
The Final Product of TextTool’s Wrap Function

This was fine, but it was still way too cumbersome for quickly getting Bible verses into my sermon notes, especially when the pastor was on a roll. I needed a tool that could help me when the pastor just starts listing off verses that support his point.

How Editorial Helped Me With Sermon Notes

I’ll be honest, I loved Editorial when it came out for about a month. Then iOS 7 happened. The app looked dated quickly and since iOS 7 broke TextExpander support, I essentially stopped using the app. But with the recent 1.1 update, I started using Editorial again quite a bit. So much so, that I started using it for my weekly sermon notes. It came to mind one Sunday, that if I could find a Bible app that supported the X-Callback-URL I could have my ultimate powerhouse for sermon note taking. So I pinged a few random people that I knew were into tech and Jesus on Twitter.

I want to thank everyone who responded. Ben Whiting, Jordan Shirkman, Phillip Gruneich, and Eric Pramono, you guys were great. Eric has an interesting post on how he uses Launch Center Pro and Pythonista to share verses. But eventually I discovered that the app I was looking for didn’t exist. As I was thinking through the problem that Sunday, I remembered something. The ESV bible[2] had an online version and just maybe, they’d have an API for non-commercial use.

BINGO!

The ESV site even had some sample script in Python, which is great because I don’t know how to script or program, I’m just able to reverse-engineer code occasionally. So, I built two simple workflows to make Editorial harness the ESV Bible’s API, and help me stay focused on the sermons and not technology on Sundays.

The Workflows for Editorial

As I mentioned above, I don’t know how to code, I simple reverse engineered some workflows and the sample code from the ESV API. There’s a lot of work that could be done on these scripts, but for now, they do what I need them to do. If you’re handy with either Editorial or Python and want to give me some suggestions, I’m all ears.


  1. My brain doesn’t do well with doing two things at once. If I’m taking good notes, I’m not generally actively engaged in thinking about the content.  ↩
  2. my translation of choice  ↩
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