Organizing Ministry in DevonThink Pro

[This is a tutorial on software I use for writing and organization.] When I started pastoring I created a DEVONthink database for all things ministry oriented ((See my other posts on DTP here and here). I personally use a handful of databases regularly to help me keep things organized: academics, publishing, home, blogging, and dissertation (for an alternative approach to this see Tony Stewards’ helpful video). Well, after 6 months my ministry database is growing quickly enough that I’ve had to rethink some of how I organize it. Currently, this is my system (though I’m open for more suggestions):DTP

And here are some of the folders expanded:


My admin folder contains things like elder’s minutes, expenses, membership, my minister’s manual I am compiling, a journal, etc. The missional folder is essentially my projects folder, everything that relates to life in and outside the meeting but that doesn’t pertain to sermons, worship services, etc. I also have a sermons folder, a services folder, and a workshop/retreat folder. (I have to admit I am tempted to change my structure to admin, ethics, doctrine, and witness following James McClendon’s three strands. Ethics would include peace and social concerns type stuff. Doctrine would include membership, manuals, and sermons. And community would include services, retreats, and other things like that. Witness would be all the cultural and missional projects the meeting is involved in.)

What I am most interested in at the moment is organizing my sermons folder. I had been doing everything by month, but realized that it would make it difficult to maintain that kind of folder structure the longer I preach. So I asked my twitter friends what they have found helpful. I didn’t get a lot of responses but I found these helpful:


@cwdaniels, I organized all mine by books. And then usually under topics in that book


@cwdaniels Re: organizing sermons – Folders named with main scripture passage. You can always sort by date using Finder.


@cwdaniels I use a Pulse smartpen and Evernote. Upload notes from the smartpen and copy to evernote according to series. How bout you?


RT @tonysteward @cwdaniels how do U organize UR sermons? // “2009-11-23 Dying to Self”; Apple Spotlight lets me search content if needed

Using DEVONthink to organize your Sermons

The beauty of DEVONthink is that it’s really easy to manage a lot of information and a variety of files types. I use the universal inbox and bookmarklet to pull in images, quotes, documents, pdfs and other information I find on the web (or type of myself in a word processor). These ideas go into either the inbox to be filed later or my folder “Bag o’ tricks.” This folder is for inspiration, examples, parables, and other things that may (or may) not get tied into a sermon or put to use somewhere else.

I’ve got a sermon ideas folder to help with series and other possible messages I am putting together in the future (my goal is to have a basic framework of themes for a years work of sermons together), all that future oriented planning goes into this folder. Finally, I decided to scrap the date model I was previously using due to @ego093 recommendation and just use the “date modified” button if I need to sort dates (you can do this in search mode as well). So the way I am organizing my sermons goes first and foremost by book of the Bible, unless it is in a series then I organize it there first. I can then drop it in by topic if it fits nicely into a potential broad-based biblical theme. The strength of DTP is that it can “replicate” files, so you can select the files from one folder and add them to another without actually duplicating that file (i.e. making your database file size larger). Once your folders are somewhat populated DTP’s artificial intelligence will also help to auto-classify your files suggesting what folders they should go to. I spent about 20 min. today and cleared out my inbox with 70+ files using this feature and it made it much easier to move through and organize everything I had recently collected in there.

Another strength of DTP is that it has a very useful search, can scan in documents and make the text searchable, and the data in your databases are searchable via spotlight as well. Thus, this system has worked very well for me and has enabled me to not pile up too much unnecessary paperwork in my filing cabinet.

If you’re a pastor, a student, a writer, etc. what’s worked for you in keeping all your ideas, examples, stories, and other notes easily manageable (whether you have DTP or not)?

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5 responses to “Organizing Ministry in DevonThink Pro”

  1. Love this post – LOVE it. Digital organization is so different than physical organization, but most of our systems come from physical frameworks. Wes thanks for the time you spent writing this out and sharing. I wonder how tagging, when released into Devonthink could change things up a bit. For instance instead of organizing by book of the Bible you could organize by series (since that is the grouping that best matches what you need at hand as you work on it) and then could tag the series and messages by book, biblical characters, theological elements, and topics. Then tag searches, especially once you have a few years of content, could provide entire new series or perspectives on content for writing and reference.

    Does that make sense?

    • I didn't know they were going to be doing tags in a new update, I think that will be a great use for them. I am always kind of hit or miss with tags, not always sure how to use them.

    • I didn't know they were going to be doing tags in a new update, I think that will be a great use for them. I am always kind of hit or miss with tags, not always sure how to use them.

  2. This is so useful – I'm trying to sort out a particular challenge – searching by Bible verse …so:
    – I'm looking for functionality like i.e.

    (1) I want to find a talk or some notes on John 5:45-6:8, but I don't want to find all the docs with just the word 'John' in it, and docs on John 6 might be useful, as might docs on John 5-8
    (2) I want all documents relevant to John 5:45 – 6:8 [i.e. this goes over a chapter into the verses in the next chapter]?
    (3) More simply, I might want all documents relevant to John 5:35 – 45

    – It would also be useful if a search for revealed all Devonthink documents with e.g. John 5:45 -6:8 anywhere in the text, but particularly highlighting those where it is a primary focus: i.e it may be referenced in many documents but is a particular focus of only some such documents…

    What route would be best? I'm wondering about the new tagging functionality which has just come out