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Tuesday
Jun262012

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.

Friday
May182012

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.

Tuesday
Apr172012

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

Wednesday
Mar072012

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.

Friday
Feb172012

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).

Tuesday
Jan312012

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

Wednesday
Jan112012

The Perfekt Church Construction Sign

A construction sign announces a new church building project for all passersby. Typically these signs include information about the church and the design & construction team along with a graphic showing the completed facility. It’s a great way to build excitement and local interest in God’s blessings.

However, Springbrook Church adopted a less typical construction sign, but one that really is perfect for this church (or should I say “perfekt”).

Church facilities send clear messages about the kind of church it is. Therefore, it’s essential that the message of the facility matches the core values, vision, mission, purpose, and DNA of the church. Springbrook offers “Real Hope for Real People” and targets people who may feel far from God. While working with their leadership team, we identified their architectural style as “culturally neutral” and the building design fit their DNA. Thus, a construction sign for “No Perfekt People” really matches who they are and the kind of people they’re impacting for Christ’s Kingdom.

We started construction for this project on November 4 and anticipated that we would soon run into weather related delays. Now, it’s almost mid-January and God has provided fantastic weather to make good progress! It sure seems like God is smiling on the church for less than perfekt people.

Friday
Dec162011

Reflections from “The Christmas Shoes”

Christmas is just around the corner and two events this past week heightened my appreciation of this special holiday. Obviously, as a pastor, I still highly esteem the purpose of our celebration—the birth of Christ. But I also value the culturally recognized importance of gathering as family. Yes, it can be a busy, draining, and stressful time, but it also continues to serve as a catalyst for family connections. 

The first event this week was hearing the song, “The Christmas Shoes” by Newsong. It’s quickly become a Christmas classic and was so uplifting that it even inspired a full length movie. This week was the first time I’ve heard it this season, and as it does each year, it brought me to tears, reflecting on “What Christmas is all about.”

 

The second event was connecting with Pastor Wayne Presnell from Nashville, TN. We became acquainted as Pastor Wayne quoted from an article I wrote for Leadership in Fall, 2006 on his blog entry for 8/28/2011. My Leadership article was, “Observing a Pastor’s Grief” as I described events at my first church as a youth pastor from March 10, 1989. I’d been at the church for just four months when the senior pastor’s wife and three children were killed in a car accident. That was my first funeral as a pastor. Melissa drove safely on a country road as two cars of high schoolers chased each other at estimated speeds of 75-90 mph. Attempting to pass the other, one car hit Melissa head on, also killing two passengers in the high schooler’s car. It became more dramatic for my wife and me as she worked in intensive care at the local hospital and helped nurse back to health the only survivor—and the one who caused the accident.

 

Now, we’re parents with two young drivers and a third who will soon join them. We’ve learned to try and value each day, as none of us knows the future. And I’m especially thankful for Christmas—the meaningful holiday that causes our culture to slow down, reconnect with family, and reflect on what’s really important.

Friday
Dec022011

Welcome or Warning? Which message is your church facility is sending?

The following is part of an article I wrote for Your Church magazine in the December, 2008 issue:

The church in the cartoon (Christianity Today Cartoons) may really be the “Friendliest Church in the Valley,” but what message is it sending by the posted signs?

Imagine a church sign that says: “Welcome to our church! We are a cold, confused club, and you probably won’t like it here! Worship service at 10:30.” 

No one would be dumb enough to put that message on a church sign, but some churches are sending that message by the appearances of their buildings.

It may sound unspiritual, but it’s a fact: we’re all affected by the spaces we occupy—even church spaces. The curb appeal of your church provides the first impression to your visitors. Then as newcomers move throughout your buildings, each space announces new messages as effectively as a flashing marquee. If they “see” or “hear” a negative message, they might not come back—or might not even enter in the first place.

So, what message is your church facility announcing?

Tuesday
Nov152011

A Church Building that is Changing Lives

Springbrook Community Church baptized seven people on October 30, 2011 (6 adults & 1 teen). That’s exciting—it’s always exciting when lives are changing! But, at the surface level it may not seem unusually dramatic. However, it adds a dramatic flare when you understand that they were baptized:

On October 30; Outside; By immersion; In typical weather for Chicagoland!

What prompted the church to schedule the “baptism for hearty Christians?” It was the groundbreaking event for the new church building for Springbrook Community Church. Several hundred people gathered on 20 rolling acres for Scripture reading and singing. A piece of steel, that will be part of the building, was available for signing with a verse & prayer.

And there was a baptism.

Why a baptism? Because it represents the initiatory experience for a Christ follower. And the primary purpose of the new church building is to create the right environment for people to become a Christian. Pastor Matt shared, “we’re not really ‘golden shovel’ shovel people. But we are about changed lives.”

Suddenly, a baptism service at the “groundbreaking” seems very appropriate. So with windy conditions and temperatures holding around 50 degrees (no doubt in answer to many prayers), 7 people made a public proclamation of faith. Rising out of the water they were hugged with blankets and dashed off to a nearby church family’s home to change.

And their lives were changed. Along with the lives of those who witnessed the event!