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Friday
Jul252014

A Pastor’s Grief Observed

With shock and disbelief, I asked, “They’re all dead?” Did I really hear what I thought I heard? The caller confirmed the facts. Our senior pastor’s wife and three children had been killed in a car accident that morning. The only survivor was the driver of the other car that hit them head-on.

That is the opening paragraph from a Leadership Journal Article I wrote in 2006. You can read more here. The Sunday before the accident that senior pastor, Jerry, preached on James 4:13-17 including the reference to our lives being a vapor. In that message he said, “None of us know. You can get up on Friday morning, kiss your wife goodbye and say, ‘I’ll see you tonight,’ and we lose them in an accident.”

After the accident Jerry reflected, “But we just have to trust. We don’t know, and we wouldn’t want to know beforehand. We just have to come to that point in trust. I said this, not knowing that it would be my family that would be the ones I was speaking of.”

This year is the 25th anniversary of the accident and I’m preaching on this passage Sunday.

Thursday
Jun122014

Spring Newsletter-Church Maintenance Theme

Churches always need maintenance—or if we wait too long, then projects can back up and cost much more in the long run. This Spring, 2014 edition of Facility Stewardship Today surveys church maintenance issues.

Thank you to those who have already requested to be included in the newsletter email. If you’d like to be added to the newsletter list, please click here and write “newsletter” in the subject and message. Your email address will never be sold or dispersed to outside sources.

Thursday
May292014

The Next Great Adventure

What an Adventure! On May 25, we celebrated the building retirement for Zion Bible Church. It was an amazing service with God present in grand ways—how else can you explain a 3-hour service that everyone agreed was worth every minute and that the time flew by? Here are descriptions from the Sun Times and the Zion Benton Guide (ZB News article will run next week).

A year ago I described my new role as interim pastor of Zion Bible Church:

“At my first service as pastor I suggested that I honestly don’t know where the future will take us—we have use of this building for another year. But with great conviction, I also believe God is leading our steps. I’ve called this season for Zion Bible Church, ‘The Great Adventure.’”

This past Sunday we celebrated God’s work in the past, present, and future (see picture). Pastor Dave Denlinger, ZBC pastor for 36 years, paid tribute to the heritage of more than 80 years of world-wide impact. I described the present Great Adventure as God clearly led us to our future with NorthBridge Church. Pastor Mark Albrecht, NorthBridge lead pastor, cast the vision for the future as Zion Bible Church will merge with NorthBridge beginning June 1.

That June 1 service will be the culmination of more than six months of God’s clear leading for our future together. NorthBridge is based in Antioch, but is planning to build on 20 acres along Rt. 173; just 2.5 miles west of Rt. 41. This property is well within the radius that Zion Bible Church plotted out for a future ministry location. NorthBridge had been already targeting the Zion area as part of their ministry Jerusalem before our dialogue began. The series of events for both sides seemed providential! Each meeting, Bible study, and joint ministry/service continued to confirm this is the right fit for the DNA of Zion Bible Church!

And if there were still any questions, the amazing service of May 25 erased all doubt!

There are still some unknowns about the future. But my conviction of God’s leading a year ago is even greater today. And I would not miss this next Great Adventure for anything!

Tuesday
Apr292014

Reentering “The Zoning Zone”

Do, do, do, do;

Do, do, do, do;

Imagine Rod Serling’s clearly annunciating and staccato voice (he narrated “The Twilight Zone”). . . Nearly two years ago, this blog first considered. . . “The Zoning Zone.” Since that time this author has come across numerous new examples of churches facing perplexing problems, ironic twists, and unexpected conclusions. You see, they had entered, “The Zoning Zone.”

(Back to normal voice). . . I continue to appreciate the public service of municipal officials as God has ordained their work (Romans 13:1-7). However, in our post-Christian culture, churches no longer automatically receive favored attention. Municipal officials fear retribution—or even lawsuits—if they grant an easier path to a church. And in some cases, I believe the pendulum has swung the other direction.

One example is the responder to my article on this subject with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC. Clark described how their church sign was being “eliminated” after being hit by an out-of-control driver. He described it as “heavy handed.” I think it is another example of “The Zoning Zone.”

Kudos for Thom Rainer’s recent post, “The Aftermath of a Church Building Program: Six Keys to Success.” I might add a point to contact local officials early in the process. Note—I’ve also just added this point in my recent article with ERLC. Early contact can save time, energy, and potential frustration. And it might just make “The Zoning Zone” a more enjoyable dimension.

Thursday
Mar272014

May I Paint the Church Storage Room? Please!

“May I paint the church storage room? Please!”

In my last post we considered cleaning the church restroom. We continue the theme, now hoping to hear someone offer to paint the storage room. It is possible as a congregation embraces principles of Facility Stewardship.

Church facilities need maintenance in countless ways, but let’s highlight three more basic areas of assessment: painting, major maintenance, and emergency planning.

Painting. As a rule of thumb, some part of the church facilities should be painted every year. Budget and work day schedules should include annual painting projects. Why? Primarily, because something almost always needs painting. However, during gaps when paint surfaces may not need attention, there are still additional values to painting. First, it brings people together for projects who might not otherwise meet. This is especially valuable for men. In a day when we need books like, “Why Men Hate Going to Church” (by David Murrow), paint projects allow men of all ages to rub shoulders and create a context for greater connection. In addition, the smell of new paint perks up all attenders—both visitors and regulars. The aroma of paint (temporary and manageable odor), announces new and fresh happenings.

Major Maintenance. Church facilities regularly need major maintenance projects like a new roof, parking lot resurfacing, mechanical units replacement, and exterior surface cleaning or repair. Sometimes churches wait to address these areas with special project giving. However, the time it takes to raise funds may cause project back-up to occur and too many projects need to be addressed at the same time. It will be much easier and healthier to include major maintenance as a regular budget item. If funds are not needed in a current year then add to it the next year’s allowance—do not just leave it the same unspent dollars. Like houses, church buildings will always need something. Some people may challenge, “Let’s support real ministry with the money and not just the building.” However, I’m suggesting that in the full context of Facility Stewardship, monies budgeted for Facility Maintenance are a part of real ministry monies.

Emergency Planning. Natural disaster and terrorist safety plans can fall under the responsibility of Facility Maintenance. One of my former churches experienced a tornado that devastated the town on a Sunday morning during typical church service time (many people were spared because they were in church rather than in their homes when it hit). Another former church burned to the ground from a lightning strike. Praise God no one was killed in these examples, but it demonstrates the value of planning for such disasters. In addition we are in an age when people sometimes take out their desperation at a local place of worship. And it occurs at all sizes of churches. Certainly, every contingency cannot be covered completely. However, some general planning allows churches to serve communities during disasters and perhaps save lives.

Facility Stewardship will not occur overnight. However, some attention to Facility Maintenance elements from these last two posts will focus a church in the right direction.

Tuesday
Feb252014

May I Clean the Church Restroom? Please!

“May I clean the church restroom? Please!”

If a church attender ever asked that question, church leaders might faint on the spot. Like the cartoon, pastors often feel the pressure of the need to do everything. However, principles of restroom cleaning should really belong to the whole congregation as a small part of Facility Stewardship.

Church facilities need maintenance in countless ways, but let’s highlight three basic areas of assessment: signage, restrooms, and nursery.

Signage. One’s first encounter with a church building (beyond website orientation) is the exterior signage. Next, is the interior signage as our visitors look for orientation. Signs should be clear and visible. Lettering needs to be large enough to be seen from a distance. In today’s world, the website address is the most critical element on primary exterior signs. While services times or staff names were helpful in the past, today, most people will be checking out your website for that information before visiting. Depending on the size of your facilities, you may need additional signage to direct traffic and identify primary access points.

When possible, include manicured landscaping as part of exterior signage. That functions as a finishing touch and sends a signal of quality. If you don’t have a facility manager to oversee the sign landscaping maintenance, you probably have some people in your church that would be glad to oversee this first impression element—and they may donate plants as needed. Blooming annual flowers let passersby know that the church is alive.

Once inside the building make sure that tasteful signage leads visitors clearly to likely destinations—worship center, nursery, children’s ministries, youth ministries, administration, and most importantly, restrooms. This leads us to our second area of facility maintenance.

Restrooms. While there is value to maintaining all restrooms in good order, the priority begins with the women’s restroom—the rationale should be self-evident. Most importantly, make sure they are clean and stocked with toilet paper and paper towels. Wastebaskets need to be emptied regularly. Because pastors are at the church more than others, they may be the only one who will notice an unclean condition before the public arrives. With this thought in mind, I’ve cleaned plenty of toilets over the years. No, pastors did not go to seminary to learn to clean toilets. But if a visitor uses a dirty restroom, they may not ever learn about why one did attend seminary. Automatic light sensors can save utility costs if the last one out of the building forgets to turn off the restroom lights.

Nursery. Nurseries are right beside restrooms in terms of maintenance vigilance. They are listed second only because more total people will utilize restrooms than the nurseries. Again, cleanliness cannot be overemphasized. In addition to cleaning the nursery spaces, give attention to toys and teaching tools that will be in children’s hands (and subsequently their mouths). Nurseries should sparkle—not just the surfaces, but the organization. Security check-in and out processes should be developed and refined to clockwork levels. Regular follow-up must include washing nursery linens and wastebasket emptying. One missed diaper may be enough to drive away a visiting family.

These basic principles of maintenance can become part of the fabric of normal operations at a church. And if they do, then pastors may never hear a response from the church board like in the cartoon.

Cartoon by: Dennis Fletcher at: BuildingChurchLeaders.com.

Friday
Jan312014

Why a Pastor Quit Attending Sporting Events

12 Reasons why a pastor quit attending sporting events.

  1.  The coach never came to visit me.

  2.  Every time I went, they asked for money.

  3.  The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.

  4.  The seats were very hard.

  5.  The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.

  6.  I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing!

  7.  Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.

  8.  The band played some songs I had never heard before.

  9.  The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.

  10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.

  11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.

  12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Hopefully you won’t hear too many of these connected with attending church. . . but. . . hmmm. . .

Special thanks to Keith Todd for this list (via Patrick Malone). Keith started emailing out illustrations and Christian/church related humor back in 1995 before the internet had really taken off. I often remember Keith provided the right illustration for a message, right when I needed it. Today, the internet offers many options for this kind of content, but you might enjoy connecting with Keith and joining one of his email lists. Thanks Keith!

Thursday
Oct312013

Fall Newsletter: Facility Stewardship Today

While it may not qualify as a “Fall Classic,” it’s time for the autumn edition of the Facility Stewardship Today newsletter. Elements will include:

  1. Blog highlights from Church Facility Ministry.

  2. Verse for Today (vft).

  3. Ministry Encouragement: and uplifting or challenging quote.

  4. Link Highlight.

Thank you to those who have already requested to be included in the newsletter email. If you’d like to be added to the newsletter list, please click here and write “newsletter” in the subject and message. You’re email address will never be sold or dispersed to outside sources.

Friday
Sep272013

How to Experience Spirit-Led Preaching

As a pastor and preacher, I want to continually improve in my service for Christ—and I hope that improvement continues throughout my life until Jesus comes back or calls me home. I imagine most preachers would support that ambition. But how does that occur?

In a few weeks, I’ll implement one practice in my goal for constant improvement as I attend the annual conference of the Evangelical Homiletics Society (EHS). Professors, pastors, editors, and homiliticians of all forms will meet for a time of challenge and encouragement in the skills, art, and gifts of preaching.

EHS commenced the inaugural meeting in October, 1997 at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in a northern suburb of Boston, MA. The organization is the brainchild of Drs. Scott Gibson (Gordon-Conwell) and Keith Willhite (Dallas Theological Seminary). They were pursuing an academic society for the exchange of ideas related to the instruction of biblical preaching.

On October 17-19, this year’s conference is hosted by Talbot School of Theology and is focused on the theme of “Spirit-Led Preaching.” In addition to plenary sessions there will also be 12 paper presentations by Society members for challenge, peer review, and, when necessary, some collegial “course correction.” Mingling within this group makes a pastor feel like he’s at the Super Bowl of Preaching—or maybe more appropriately the Pro Bowl, with the best of the best available under one roof. While I do not claim to be one of the “perennial all-pros” it’s been my honor to attend 9 pervious conferences and I always pick up something new. I even had the privilege of presenting a paper at the conference in 2010 (a great experience and no “course corrections”).

The preaching information you’ll find in articles and books over the next few years often has its inception at an EHS Conference. If you’d like more information about EHS or have questions, feel free to contact me. I’m looking forward to my 10th conference in a couple weeks!

Friday
Aug302013

The Blessing of Baptism

Baptism is the initiatory rite for Christians to be welcomed into the Body of Christ. . .the ceremonial act in obedience to Jesus’ command. It’s pretty special for participants! But it’s also a blessed experience for the local church where the baptism takes place.

For Springbrook Community Church, their baptismal service this past weekend was a double blessing as Pastor Matt Woodford led the first baptism in the outdoor tank at their new building. They started their building project with a Groundbreaking and Baptism on October 30, 2011 in 50 degree temperatures (and it felt much colder than that). The baptism with the groundbreaking was to highlight the purpose of the building—it’s about changed lives. Now, in the finished building, Springbrook is even more effective with reaching people with the gospel. And continuing to baptize.

An additional special element was two people being baptized by their fathers! John Patton baptized daughter Keighty and Jason Scott baptized son Christian.

Reflecting on this service took me back to two of the most special days in my ministry, when I baptized my children. On October 27, 2002 I baptized Sarah and on June 4, 2006 I baptized Timothy and Hannah. Now, two are off to college and our third is a junior in high school. Sigh.

Thank you God for this special initiatory rite of the Christian faith. And thank you Lord for how you weave those special days through the fabric of churches and individual families.