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Celebrating all God’s Christmas Gifts—Even Ones we Don’t Expect

Christmas is a great time of reflection—both positive and negative. We can see God’s goodness and provision in so many areas. But we can also ponder the times we fall short. Yet, in my shortcomings, I have a friend in Zechariah as described in Luke 1. And as much as I love the Christmas narratives of Luke 2 and Matthew 1-2, I have special place in my heart for Luke 1. This is the birth of the herald for the Messiah. It is also the account of a godly, older couple who would mentor a godly, younger couple to be parents of the Perfect Child.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were godly people, serving the Lord with all faithfulness. Yet, because they had no children, they carried a stigma of being under God’s judgment. Not only was that not true, but their lack of children was just part of God’s perfect gifts, plans, and timing.

They’d probably accepted their place in life and that God would not bless them with children and perhaps focused on their service for the Lord. Twice a year priests served for a week in the temple. The priest who burned the incense would be chosen by lot and was a rare privilege—each priest could only burn the incense one time in his life. Zechariah was chosen for this honor—and in his moment, he is visited by an angel who told him two things: 1—Do not be afraid; 2—Your prayer has been heard. I suspect much time had passed since Zechariah’s last prayer for a child. But God’s answer was not “no,” it was “wait.” Now was the time!

However, a moment of uncertainty led to Zechariah’s inability to talk. Wow! The stigma of barrenness would be lifted, but now a new stigma of judgment because he couldn’t speak. But Zechariah did not fall short again. When it came time to name the child, it was no doubt. The child’s name is John!

Thank you God, for Zechariah's faith. And for the times he fell short. This Christmas may we each be encouraged by God’s gifts and timing—even for gifts we don’t expect.

Picture from Bible Encyclopedia at


Best Seats at Church

God leads us along in ministry—and He helps us with some smiles along the way. When my Leadership Journal comes, I admit to first checking out the legendary cartoons. The Create-a-Caption contest popularity suggests I’m not alone. The recent contest involved a facility issue. So even though I consider myself comedically challenged, I had to submit an entry.

By the way, the rest of the current issue is top quality reading, with a theme of “Ministry’s Core: the five most important things you do.” Great reading and encouragement in ministry!


Prayer: Essential for a Successful Project—Even for “Superman”

This spot drew me again like a magnet just as it did five months ago. This is the view outside the senior pastor’s office at Springbrook Community Church’s new building. We’ve made great progress since my blog about it in March! Now, real walls and windows have completed structural framing and open spaces.

This poster is another addition on an adjacent wall. As our team at Church Building Consultants has worked alongside the church’s team, we’ve valued the gifts and leadership skills of Pastor Matt and his team—so much so, that a “Superman” poster seemed very appropriate to hang on this wall.

The construction project is making great progress, for which we praise God. Even with the gifts, skills, and talents of the church leadership, prayer continues to drive the project—just as it did back in March when I first blogged about this spot in the building.

Specific prayer requests include:

  • God to be glorified through the process and continued unity for the church
  • Safety for the construction workers
  • The love of Christ showered upon the construction workers—may they feel appreciated
  • Continued successful management of the construction process and the budget
  • Many people to become Christ followers through this new facility

God has directed this process so far. We wait in anticipation of His continued direction toward completion of the building and the new energy for the ministry of Springbrook Community Church.


Church Nursery Challenges: When Facility Issues become Ministry Issues

Tomorrow is our younger daughter’s sixteenth birthday. Sweet sixteen for our “baby”. . . sigh. . . This morning I took her out for our traditional “Birthday Coffee Date.” I treasure these times with both our girls—our older daughter’s day is coming later in July. During today’s date, my mind drifted back to her days of infancy—which in turn reminded me of the following true story, printed in an article I wrote for Leadership Journal in the Fall, 2009 issue:

My daughter was reaching out to Daddy. What a joy to see our nine-month-old longing for me from the arms of the nursery worker following our mid-week service. Hannah was being gently rocked by the wife of one of our elders, but it was clear she wanted down. I thanked the woman for watching our daughter while I led a prayer group and my wife taught some of the older children. She assured me that she held Hannah the entire time, except when Hannah was sleeping in one of the stacked cribs. While I appreciated her diligence, I let her know that Hannah enjoyed crawling.

"I'm not comfortable with her crawling on this floor," the worker replied.

The floor was carpeted and vacuumed regularly, so I asked why. With a look that conveyed a terrible secret, she confessed, "The carpet may look clean, but it's laid on a wood floor that was built on top of the original tile floor because we have a water problem. I'm sure you smell the mustiness."

I acknowledged the damp smell. She continued, "I don't want to get anyone in trouble, but look at the wallpaper." She pointed out some dark spots that crept up from below the carpet level. "I don't let any babies crawl on this floor."

About that time my wife joined us in the nursery. When I showed her the marks on the wallpaper, she said she knew about them and also tried to keep little ones off the floor. The elder's wife explained that they had moved the nursery downstairs to create a church office upstairs. Since water often leaked in that corner of the basement, they built the wood floor to allow for carpet on the floor of the new nursery.

On the way home, I asked my wife why she didn't tell me about her concerns sooner. With the look of a supportive spouse, she gently responded: "We've been here less than a year, and I know you have several other areas of ministry that need changing first. Since Hannah is the most consistent baby in the nursery, it will look self-serving if you try to change something they just built the year before we arrived."

Ouch. Talk about feeling convicted.

I realized changing the nursery was not just a facility issue, but really a ministry issue. I'd heard the clichéd facility priority list—take care of the nursery and the women's restroom above everything else. But in this case, I felt the issue personally. Though I overcame my guilt—thanks to a supportive wife—I intensified my zeal to address the nursery issue.

With a nursery that smelled musty and had mold marks on the walls, we were sending a terrible message to visitors: "Your babies may not be safe here, and we aren't doing anything about it."

Why did I miss this clear message? I love my children. I look out for their best interests. I had a child in the nursery. So why did I miss something that should have been so clear?

--Read the rest of the article here to learn more about discerning when facility issues become ministry issues.

And “Happy Birthday” to our girls.


Enhancing Worship: Unlocking the Key of Facility Stewardship

It’s a biblical principle that can enhance the worship experience. . .but it’s been safely locked away behind the door of Church Business or Building Operations. I’m talking about the practice of Facility Stewardship; and when it’s pursued it can open new opportunities for inspiring worship.

Occasionally, I’ll hear someone refer to facility stewardship. But their use of the term usually refers to good financial utilization of the church building—such as low utility bills, no unused square footage, and general upkeep of the building.

However, my specific definition of Facility Stewardship focuses on facility issues as related to church health issues. Facility Stewardship is: Driven by a biblical motivation, identifying facility issues that impact ministry and implementing corrections with leadership skills that improve overall church health.

That first part, “Driven by a biblical motivation” is critical as it is derived from the book of Haggai. The prophet challenged the people with the principle of Facility Stewardship as related to their ministry facility—the temple. I explored this subject in a paper I presented at the Evangelical Homiletics Society, The Heart of Worship and Facility Stewardship: Haggai’s Preaching Theme.” As I presented this paper—and have continued to share this information—I’ve been affirmed in the subject matter both hermeneutically and homiletically.

It does not mean that our church buildings have to be the most ornate and elaborate—that can actually become the problem I call “Temple Trauma.” Rather, Haggai challenges: “Is it time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin” (Haggai 1:4). This point of impact presents the principle of comparable quality. Namely, the quality of the construction and finishes of the place of worship should be comparable to the quality of the homes of the average person in the church.

Because the people of Haggai’s day had been neglecting the temple, it negatively impacted their heart relationship with the Lord. How could the people show such disregard for the place of worship while their own homes reflected the highest quality care and completion? This would be similar to offering defective animals for sacrifice—it showed a heart that just wanted to do the minimum. Rather, God wants our hearts to offer our best from a genuine heart of praise. Similarly, as developed through the book of Haggai, God wants our hearts to present the place of worship in an honoring way and with comparable quality.

Facility Stewardship as a means of enhancing worship is gaining recognition. I was honored to teach a Doctor of Ministry course at Grace Theological Seminary on “Developing Facilities for Ministry Effectiveness.” Recently, I was invited back to Grace Theological Seminary to teach as part of another course, “Theology of Worship.” I eagerly look forward to participating in this course in April, 2014 as it’s another recognition of the connection between worship and Facility Stewardship. And as we recognize this connection, we have the opportunity to enhance our worship experiences for the glory of God.


Be Careful When Entering “The Zoning Zone”

Do, do, do, do;

Do, do, do, do;

The well know musical tones from the old show, “The Twilight Zone” alerted the viewers that they were about to encounter perplexing problems, ironic twists, and unexpected conclusions.

Those musical tones may also work well when a church begins dealing with local zoning officials and zoning codes—as they enter… “The Zoning Zone.”

With all due respect to local officials, churches are often unaware of the challenges that can arise if they want to make changes to their building. But after all, churches are tax-exempt and many times receive streamlined processes as a non-profit organization. However, churches are also buildings where the public is openly welcomed and therefore must comply to safety, accessibility, and planning standards of all public buildings.

Certainly, I value the public service of municipal officials and recognize that they are part of governing bodies that God has ordained (Romans 13:1-7). But the down economy has created new challenges in acquiring municipal approvals. In the past, public hearing schedules were full and led to churches having to wait for the next available opening. However, today, schedules are much clearer—so the process should be streamlined, right? Do, do, do, do; remember you’re in “The Zoning Zone.” Schedules are clearer, but now zoning officials have more time to more thoroughly review projects—and they have time to add more comments and guidelines than ever before. All this may be legal and justified as, “protecting the public interests.” But it also creates more time and expense for church projects.So what do you do when your church is entering “The Zoning Zone?” A full answer would require a book, but here are four principles to consider.

1. Get professional help (insert joke here). Seriously, it takes experience to navigate the twists in “The Zoning Zone.” Feel free to contact me with questions and for brainstorming ideas. I provide this for pastors all over the country—and as an architectural pastor, I provide much of this for free.

2. Push back sometimes. Yield sometimes. Develop a critical path schedule for your project—discern between crucial elements for your success vs. brief sidetracks. While push back may be appropriate at times, always be respectful and remember that those officials hold the ultimate trump card—they can reject your project. I've seen multiple churches purchase property and proceed through the zoning process, only to have their project rejected.

3. Acquire zoning approval before closing on your property. I can't emphasize this enough! Include zoning approval as a condition for your offer on a property—you can do this! Yes, it may take longer before closing, but in this real estate market, the buyer is in the driver's seat and you don't want to be stuck with a property that you can't develop for your church facility. I've seen churches "stuck" and they talk to me after they've made the purchase when their options are limited.

4. Pray. Maybe this is assumed, but may we never take prayer for granted—and in light of the first 3 principles, we can all see the guidance we need through prayer. Don't "Sample the provisions without inquiring of the Lord" (Joshua 9:14).  

There may be numerous twists and turns as you enter “The Zoning Zone,” but God remains sovereign. And if you follow these basic principles, you can emerge stronger in your faith and better equipped for the next stages of the church construction process.


Hey, You're Sittin' in my Pew! Part 1

Hymns or Choruses?

Coffee or no coffee in the sanctuary?

Contemporary or Traditional worship?

All great subjects to stir the pot for an energetic discussion. But my favorite is: 

Pews or Chairs?

Some future blogs will provide fodder for stirring the pot of this subject, but to start with, I believe there’s value in honestly exploring why this subject can be so emotional. We can point to finances, practicality, and appearance but there’s probably a much simpler root cause for the emotionalism.

It’s what we’re accustomed to.

In the cartoon, this man knows he should be welcoming to the visitors, but is overcome by concern to protect his family’s turf. And while we might smile, thinking that this kind of event would really never happen, I’m aware of numerous true stories of visitors being gently ushered to other locations. One pastor even shared of an embarrassingly emotional exchange he noticed at the beginning of a service. Needless to say, in most of these examples the visitors never return—that is if they can even be identified.

When dealing with church facilities, there is an emotional progression: 

  1. What we become accustomed to, we become attached to
  2. What we become attached to, we resist changing--even if it means running off visitors.

I’m looking forward to unpacking this issue of Chairs or Pews in future blogs. But before engaging in emotional discussions, may we remember that we are all really “visitors” to Christ’s Church and only welcomed by grace through faith.

--Cartoon from Building Church Leaders


Prayer: the Essential Foundation of a Successful Project

This spot drew me like a magnet. However, before snapping this picture, I paused for prayer, choosing this spot as representative of the staff and leadership team that had given so much to make this building vision become a reality. And most of all, they prayed so much.

This view looks out from the Senior Pastor’s office at the new building for Springbrook Church. It may not be very impressive to highlight the concrete foundation wall, gravel subsurface, and steel framing. All these structural elements will be covered by windows, flooring, and finished surfaces—but these foundational elements will still be present within the building. Even though they won’t be visible in the finished project, they are absolutely essential for the building to be built—and to exist.

The foundational structure is essential for a building, just as prayer is the essential foundation for any successful building project. Before relocating, this church prayed long and hard for wisdom about their facility needs. They took a step of faith and put their old building on the market, expecting as much as two years to chart their next steps—certainly reasonable in this depressed real estate market. God answered their prayers with an offer within 24 hours!

Following a challenging zoning process—which was navigated by prayer and wisdom—they closed on their new property. To celebrate, the Senior Pastor requested we stake out the building location for a prayer and praise gathering—prayer focused on the lives God can change through this facility. Last October I was blessed to attend my first baptism/ground breaking—by immersion and on October 30! God granted more blessing with a mild winter so construction could continue. And now, this church facility for “less than perfekt people,” is taking shape as the foundational infrastructure is being erected. And the essential element of prayer continues to saturate each step.


What Makes My Kids Cringe. . . 

Since I coined the title, “Architectural Pastor,” I’m not surprised that people pause, or even raise an eyebrow, when I tell them that’s my occupation. I readily smile at the puzzled looks. So I appreciated the invitation by pastor & author, Dan Darling, to be interviewed for his blog’s “Friday Five” feature and acknowledged that explaining it to others causes my kids to cringe. Soon after the posting I received a hearty “amen” from our older daughter and my mom quickly added her name to the list of “smiling cringers.”

However, while it’s not easy to explain what I do, I share with full conviction that I’m being led by the Holy Spirit for this ministry. As I work with pastors and church leaders they quickly affirm the value of the insights God has granted me. While I did not have a long range plan to become an architectural pastor, I can trace the steps through my ministry and professional development and see God’s fingerprints of preparation everywhere. My mission is to “Improve church health through facility stewardship.” And facility stewardship can be defined as: “driven by a biblical foundation, identifying facility issues that impact ministry and implementing corrections with leadership skills that improve overall church health.”

I have some ideas about the possible future directions of this ministry service. But all of those ideas and initiatives filter through the grid of God’s will and enabling. This is His ministry. And while it’s not easy charting the course for a unique ministry, I’m enjoying every moment of the ride with anticipation of completing the works that God has planned in advance (Ephesians 2:10; Jeremiah 29:11).


Pastoral Endurance and Time Off

“When was your last vacation,” I exclaimed in amazement!

I was meeting with the senior pastor of a congregation of 650 regular attenders who had just told me that he was the only paid staff member! I was stunned. Most churches tend to add ministry staff for every 125-200 people, along with additional support staff. Yet, here was a faithful servant who was shepherding 650! Not surprisingly, he gave credit to God and the great volunteer passion of his flock. He also assured me that he takes vacations and that God has sustained him.

However, many churches are not so supportive. Maybe you pastor one of those non-supportive congregations—maybe even like the one in this cartoon. Or perhaps you’re just exhausted and hanging on until the next time you can get a break. I’ve had times like that.

I’m convinced that evil forces are at work to drain pastoral energy, then to hinder any attempts to “recharge one’s batteries.” If Satan can discourage and weaken pastoral reserves, then those churches become candidates for stagnation and decline.

I’m reminded of the classic account of missionary Henry Morrison who returned to the United States after serving Christ in Africa for over 40 years. On the same ship was President Teddy Roosevelt returning from an African hunting trip. When the ship pulled into New York, great fanfare welcomed Roosevelt as he returned home. However, not one person welcomed Dr. & Mrs. Morrison, let alone offer the kind of recognition appropriate for a faithful worker. While all our service is for the Lord, Dr. Morrison did lament not receiving some kind of welcome home. To which his wise and supportive wife reminded him, “We’re not home yet.”

May God grant you the breaks you need. And when the next break seems too far away may you press on, remembering “We’re not home yet.”

                                                 * Cartoon from Building Church Leaders