Thursday, March 29, 2007

How to survive a Building Project

When I was at Seminary, one of my teachers spent a class period explaining how you set up a building project -- the committees, the forms, the selection process -- in fact, everything right up to the Business Meeting where your church actually votes to build.

"Once you've reached this point," he told us, "then your next step is to take the next call out of that district -- because you don't want to be there when they're actually building that church!"

I've thought a lot about that statement over the past ten years. That's how long it's taken our church to complete Phase One of our building project. And in the process, here is what I've learned:

1. Don’t build if you can avoid it – and never start a building project with the idea that “this will be a good way to bring the church together.” (It won’t.)

As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t build unless (at the very least) you’re doubling the size of your sanctuary and social hall. Anything less, and you’d be better off reading the book, When NOT to Build: an architect’s unconventional wisdom for the growing church, by Ray Bowman and Eddy Hall.

2. Keep the Conference informed.
Even if you’re just talking about building, send an e-mail to your Conference Treasurer – and keep him posted on developments as they happen. Sooner or later you’re going to need his help . . . and trust me, he doesn’t like surprises any more than you do.

3. Remember that "talk, talk, talk" is cheaper than "build, build, build."
You will reach the point in planning where you are tired of talking and just want to get this thing done. Patience. Talk is cheaper than paper, and paper is cheaper than wood, brick, or concrete. The more time you spend planning, in other words, the fewer changes you’ll make in the actual building process. (And since contractors don’t have to bid on change orders, any changes you make later on will be doubly expensive!)

4. Get the people involved who will be actually using the rooms.
Since this is a building project, the temptation will be to load up your building committee with contractors, i.e. men. But chances are good that three-fourths of the people who use your new building will be women; what’s more, they’ll have a better grasp of what’s needed viz. the kitchen, restrooms, and children’s Sabbath School rooms.

5. Use small groups to narrow down your options, then use big groups to make the final decision.
When it came time to choose paint and carpet, for instance, we asked our architect to come up with three color schemes. We then called an “open meeting” where anyone could show up and discuss those options with the architect; the results of that meeting were displayed in the church lobby for a couple of weeks before we made our final decision at a Business Meeting. And yes, it took time – but when we were done, we had a decision that everybody liked.

6. Pick one person to deal with the builder – and make sure it’s not you.
No, this person doesn’t have to make all the decisions, but they should be the only one who passes along those decisions to your builder. That’s because church members have a way of coming up with great new ideas for the building project – and to save time, they will often go directly to the contractor and tell him to make it happen. The results can be . . . interesting.

7. Expect delays.
If my experience is any guide, it will take you twice as long to complete this project as you'd planned -- and even if you figure that it will take you twice as long as you'd planned, it will still take you twice as long as you figured when you figured that it would take twice as long!

And remember: your job as the pastor is not to get this building project done. Your job is to take care of the people who are getting this building project done.
‘Nuff said.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Time for some blatant self-promotion

The Gleaner (i.e. our local union-conference monthly magazine) asked me to write an article about the sermon in worship. Toughest article I ever wrote -- even tougher than the one I did about how to survive the Battle of Armageddon on a budget.

But if you'd like to read it . . . aw shucks -- t'aint nothing, but you might as well just go ahead and click on the title of this post.

(By the way -- the pictures that go along with this article are not of me. Whoever it is, he looks a lot more distinguished; he also owns a suit.)

Circuit-riding preacher

Great article in the Los Angeles Times about the Reverend David Brown -- pastor of a seven-church district in Louisiana. No guaranteed salary. No health-insurance. So why does he do it?

Because he was called.

So what happens to all those little-bitty churches that can't afford a pastor when people like him are gone?

Nobody knows.

Click on the title of this post for the article -- and be sure to watch the video!

Why should the devil have all the ugly music?

True story: a couple of years back, the auditorium where Young Adults met for campmeeting was the same place the "other adults" would meet afterwards for prayer and testimonies. No problem -- until the word came down from headquarters that we needed to move (or at least cover-up) our Praise Team's drum-set after every meeting; it seems that the television evangelist who was leading the "other adults" in worship had a well-known animus against drums. So . . . after every meeting, we hid the drums, just to make sure none of the saints were offended.

I was thinking about that as I read an article in the Dallas Morning News about a church that reaches out to "gutter punks" with the kind of music they enjoy.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

And no, despite what you read in the Wittenburg Door, "eschatology" is not the study of edible French snails.

Looking for a quick guide to religious beliefs about the end of time? Check The Washington Post for statements by 14 religious leaders, ranging from Moslem to Catholic and from LDS to liberal Protestant. (Unfortunately, none of them seem to have quoted REM.)

Click on the title of this post for the article.

I am still mulling over the irony of this taking place at a school named "Southern Methodist University."

Calling it "religious propaganda" and "akin to denying the Holocaust," science faculty at Southern Methodist University (SMU) are protesting an upcoming seminar at that school on Intelligent Design.

"These are conferences of and for believers and their sympathetic recruits," said a letter sent to SMU administrators by that school's Department of Anthropology. "They have no place on an academic campus with their polemics hidden behind a deceptive mask."

Click on the title of this post for the article in the Dallas Morning News.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Evaluating Calls

Chances are good that, sometime in the next three months, you'll get a call to pastor another church.

And no, I don't know if you should take it or not. I can only offer four pieces of advice.

1. Don't fight the inevitable: If your Conference wants to move you to another church, then you probably don't have much choice but to move. Yes, you can fight it -- and I have done so -- but you will pay a significant price for this later on. (And whatever you do, don't ask your own church members to help you fight this call!)

Then too, if the call is from another Conference, BUT the people in your own Conference say something to the effect of "we really think you should strongly consider taking this call," then you probably don't have much of a choice, i.e. you probably need to take the call.

2. Give yourself time: As a rule of thumb, I figure that every call looks good on the first day it comes through . . . and every call looks bad the day after.

That's why it's nice if you can give yourself a week to make this decision. That will give your emotions time to settle. It will also give you the time you need to talk this over with the significant people in your life (i.e. parents, spouse, close friends, and God). And yes, this will give you the time you need in order to follow my third piece of advice:

3. Find out all you can: Every call comes with a push and a pull -- the "push" is whatever makes you want to leave, the "pull" is whatever draws you to that particular pastorate. Both deserve some thought.
  • For some good advice on "push-factors," click here for Gordon MacDonald's article on When It's Time to Leave.
  • And to help you evaluate "pull-factors," click here for basic statistics on the area you're considering (i.e. population make-up, crime rates, cost of housing) , and click here for a quick, cost-of-living comparison.

4. Watch for red flags:
Myself, I would be extremely reluctant to accept a call if:
  • my spouse opposes it.
  • I have been in my current district for less than three years.
  • I am in the middle of a major building project.
  • I am in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out fight with church members that has not yet been resolved.
  • the search committee refuses to answer my questions, or is evasive in the answers it gives.
One last thing: some pastors like to let their churches know about all the calls they're getting; it's their way of making sure their church knows what a great pastor they have. Try not to do this yourself; it's like boasting to your spouse about all the women who've been flirting with you, i.e. you may think it's harmless, but your spouse may not be so sure.

Postscript: if you'd like to read my post on why the calls to big churches always seem to go to people outside the conference, then click here. And if you'd like to read a questionnaire I've used to evaluate churches that issued a call, then click here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Thank you for your call.

Ah, spring – that time of year when the phone begins to ring with calls to pastor other churches.

But how many times have you taken a call, only to find (as one of my friends put it) that “it may be a different can, but it’s the same old worms”?

That’s why I’m re-running this questionnaire -- one that I put together several years ago when a church and I were looking over each other. I then went on to post it on this blog . . . and the rest is history! Feel free to use it, adapt it, or . . .

Thank you for your interest in calling me to be your next pastor. In order to help us both make the right decision, please fill out this questionnaire and send it back to me ASAP.Thanks!

1. The last pastor of your church [circle all that apply]:
a. was a saint, no matter what the Grand Jury might have said.
b. retired, and now chairs the Church Board.
c. was doing fine, right up to the day he showed up at a Business Meeting wearing high heels and pearls.
d. disappeared – and while we don’t really miss him, we do wish he’d write and tell us how to run the church copier.

2. If your church was a TV show, which of the following would it be?
a. American Idol
b. Lost
c. Desperate Housewives
d. Gilligan's Island

3. Which statement best describes the way your church makes decisions?
a. We have a small group of key people who make all the decisions . . . whether the rest of us like it or not.
b. We like to wait until things reach a crisis, then panic.
c. We’ve formed a committee to answer this question – you should be hearing from it sometime in the next month or so.
d. We favor an open and inclusive style of decision-making that doesn’t really accomplish anything, but it does make everyone feel included.

4. Based on the way your church spends money, what are its real priorities?

a. We’re a historical preservation society that’s dedicated to the maintenance of our church building.
b. We’ll get back to you on that just as soon as we finish this month’s fundraiser for our school.
c. Actually, we’re still trying to figure out where all the money went.
d. One of our previous pastors helped us develop a “mission and goals statement” that we used to set our financial priorities. Now if we could only remember where we put it . . .

5. The Youth of your church are:
a. Mainly attending another church.
b. The future of our church – but meanwhile, they need to learn the meaning of “reverence.”
c. The concern of an elderly couple who’ve been working in the Youth Department for 47-years, and have some real issues with co-dependency.
d. Let’s talk about this later. In private.

6. When you hear the word “evangelism,” your first reaction is to:
a. Send money to 3ABN.
b. Take note of which evening they’ll talk about “the mark of the beast” so you can be sure to invite all of your Catholic relatives.
c. Suspect this is yet another attempt by the pastor to start a praise service.
d. Schedule a four-week vacation.

7. We hope that our new pastor:
a. Solves all of our problems.
b. Straightens out the following people [supply names here]:
c. Does not use phrases such as “paradigm shift,” “emergent,” “purpose-driven,” or “post-modern.”
d. Doesn’t change a thing – in fact, we have a list of recent changes that we want him to un-do!

When was the last time someone got food poisoning at one of your potlucks?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ummm . . . I hate to say it, but I'm still trying to implement the Seeker-Sensitive Church.

From Angie Ward's editorial in Leadership comes this advice:
  • And yes, many of us will rush out, buy Geiger's book, and start following his advice . . .
  • Just as we jumped on the bandwagon of the Purpose-Driven Church (and the Seeker-Sensitive Church before that).
  • But before we do that, we need to take a deep breath, chill out, and ask ourselves these questions:
  • Do we really have the patience, humility, wisdom, and time that it takes to implement Geiger's book?
  • Or do our ministries too often fall victim to the temptation of rushing from one Next Big Thing to another?
Click on the title of this post for the article.

Has anyone figured out how to tithe on frequent flier miles?

From The Cleveland Plain Dealer comes news on one side-effect of the new IRS rules on loose offerings -- since they're no longer deductible, churches will probably start looking for other ways their members can give, i.e. credit cards, debit cards, and automatic payroll deductions.

The downside? Processing fees that run up to 4%.

The upside? People give more when it's on plastic.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wednesday night prayer meeting was never like this!

The Journey is an "emergent church" in St. Louis that has grown from 30 members to 1,200 in just five years. Most of its members are in their 20s; many of them are men. It has a six-piece praise band, a pastor who's not afraid to deal with "real-life" issues . . .

Oh yes, and it sponsors a Wednesday-night discussion group in a brewpub.

Not surprisingly, this has raised some eyebrows in the Missouri Baptist Convention -- the group that helped bankroll The Journey's building program. Some attack The Journey for compromising Baptist principles on alcohol; others praise it for "breaking free" of cultural constraints on the gospel.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

The first rule of immigrant culture: The grandchildren try to remember what the children tried to forget.

Great article in the Los Angeles Times on the crisis of leadership in Asian-American churches. Simply put, the church's that helped first-generation immigrants survive aren't the churches that their children want to attend -- and if a second-generation pastor tries to bridge the gap, then he or she is going to run into problems with first-generation attitudes about:
  • language,
  • respect for elders,
  • and the kind of "upwardly mobile" mindset that brought those first-generation people into this country in the first place.
The result? A dearth of Asian-American clergy -- and a big problem with burnout for those who do make the effort.

Two subjects with which the article did not deal that might be worth some discussion:
  • If the second-generation of Asian-Americans is not joining the clergy in anywhere near the numbers you'd expect, then how much of that is due to the expectations of their first-generation parents? (I've had one Korean-American pastor tell me that his peers are expected to be doctors, dentists, and lawyers . . . but not pastors; his parent's generation would consider that to be a bad career move for their children.)
  • Is the Hispanic church facing the same problem? And yes, I know that we're baptizing thousands of first-generation Hispanic immigrants, but what's happening with their children? Do we have pastors who can reach the second-generation?
Click on the title of this post for the article.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The miracle in Korea

Interesting profile in The Christian Science Monitor of Sam Moffett -- pioneer Presbyterian missionary to Korea.

A hundred years ago, there were just a few hundred believers in Korea. Today, one-third of that country is Christian -- and Koreans send out more foreign missionaries than any other country except the United States.

Why such growth? Aside from the Holy Spirit, experts point to these factors:
  • the Christian church became a center of nationalist feeling during the Japanese occupation.
  • foreign missionaries followed a "Three Self" strategy that encouraged Korean churches to be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating.
Click on the title of this post for the article.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Then again, you could always use VISA

Loose offerings may become a thing of the past.

Here's the word according to the Master Tax Guide -- the book used by the person who prepares your taxes to determine just how much you owe the U.S. Government:
In tax years beginning after August 17, 2006, no deduction will be allowed for contributions of cash, checks or other monetary gifts, regardless of the amount, unless the donor maintains either: (1) a bank records or (2) a receipt, letter, or other written communication from the donee, indicating the donee's name and the contribution date and amount.
Now I'm not an expert on these things . . . but I'm pretty sure that, if you don't put your offering in an envelope, then you don't get a receipt from the church. And as of 17 August 2006, it looks as though no receipt means no deduction.

In short, you are no longer able to drop a couple of bills into the offering plate and then claim it as a donation to charity -- at least I don't think you can.

And if I'm right, then I suspect this will have a devastating effect on loose offerings (not to mention Sabbath School offerings, 13th-Sabbath offerings, offerings at Campmeeting, and all the rest).

Black t-shirts, check. CD of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Greatest Hits, check. Meaningful and productive work that actually makes a difference, uh . . .

Yet another article -- this one in the Chicago Tribune -- on grass-roots movements for Christian men. And no, don't think Promise Keepers; think men getting together to fix cars, drink coffee, and maybe even find a way to pray together.

Question: the one group of men that our church has been able to hang onto is physicians. Why is that -- and how has it affected our ability to reach out to other groups of men?

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The death of thousands is a statistic. The death of one is a tragedy.

Take a moment to read the Washington Post article on Jonathan D. Cadavero -- a recent graduate cum laude of Columbia Union College. Following college, he joined the Army as a medic, and served in a platoon that was tasked with looking for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

On Tueday, 6 May 2007, he and two other soldiers were killed by an IED.

He is survived by his parents, David and Nadia Cadavero, as well as his sister, Krista.