Resentment and hatred have imprisoned more people than all the jails in the world combined.
In the early 1980’s church life around Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, offered a selection of great churches. Dr. Joel Gregory preached at Gambrell Street Baptist, where professors fawned over his oratorical powers that mouthed “cherubim and seraphim” like he was sampling delicacies at Trader Joe’s. The flagship Travis Avenue Baptist Church, surrounded with aging housing the church was inclined to bulldoze for more parking, heralded its footprint with a steeple seen for miles and an unmatched musical program. We gravitated toward a smaller, more “Spirit filled” Southern Baptist church that prided itself on uplifting worship.
Sunday School for young adults was held in a room that could easily accommodate 30 people, with smaller classrooms surrounding the meeting area. The sliding curtains of these rooms were always shut. Sunday after Sunday we met in the darkened main room, which had no windows. The bright Ft. Worth sunshine could not penetrate our class, which had the same lighting as a funeral visitation. I began to ask myself, “Why is it so dark in here? Where are the windows?” One Sunday I peeked behind the closed curtains and saw classroom furniture jumbled between which windows filtered that Ft. Worth morning sun. I resolved to clean up the mess.
What Goes on Behind Closed Doors
One weekday I volunteered to cleanup the seminarian classroom and wondered, “How did we bright minded seminarians fail to see the condition of our own classroom?” As I rolled back the doors of the classes, I saw every room had large windows, with furniture tossed in like a preschool party after which spoiled toddlers scattered plastic LEGOs across the floor.
A little exploration revealed basement stairs that descended into what would be an insurance adjuster’s purgatory. Two inches of water flooded the entire basement floor. Across from the doorway stood a high voltage breaker panel for the building. As a safety feature, rather than address the flooded basement, someone laid wooden pallets from the door to the breaker panel as a way to reach the panel without standing in ankle deep water.
“What would a firefighter do trying to reach an energized panel in the dark, on across a flooded floor, walking on pallet boards spaced wide enough to capture a foot?” Meanwhile, week after week, the heavenly minded seminarians studied biblical principles that lifted them above the cares of this world.
Cleansing the Temple
Realizing the flooded basement was well beyond my scope as a volunteer, I shut the door somewhat in shock to this day how the leadership could be detached from the condition. So I began work on what I could and pushed back the sliding curtains, cleaned and organized the surrounding unused classrooms. Once the curtains were retracted with furniture arranged less like a tsunami victim and more like a place of education, I marveled at the beauty of the light that beamed into our dank meeting hall. It was transformed as though angels were ascending and descending on these shafts of light.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Come Sunday I entered excited to see the reaction of the class to the newly cleaned classroom building. Bright and cheery replaced the mausoleum we once called our class. To my shock people reacted the opposite of what I expected.
“What happened to our classroom?” “Who opened these curtains?” “Why is it so bright in here?” ” We liked it the way it was!” “Who gave permission to change our room?” And so the lament continued as seminarians mourned the passing of their dark space into the light.
My initial shame morphed into an understanding of human nature as it came to church work. Below a few insights will hopefully help those who find a bucket placed over their newly lit candle.
Carving the Underside of Pews
The monks in the medieval church carved the underside of pews in the belief that God was aware of not only that which was presented and prominent but also the underside, hidden area of our lives. Considering the monks’ example, I put in to practice a strategy that I’ve used pastoring churches and volunteering in the same.
Open Closed Doors
When I served as a Chaplain Extern at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, I became familiar with the “Ministry of Wandering Around,” which is different from “Wandering Aimlessly.” Clergy become creatures of habit, entering their office the same way, week after week, asking no questions, head down in “holy autopilot” and off to the next meeting.
In my first church, I found a church library that was used as dead storage locker for Sunday School quarterlies decades old. At another church a church janitor’s mop sink sat filthy and filled with unused dirty mop buckets and soiled mops. Another hidden closet revealed the chair carefully placed under the hole torn in the duct board where the custodian would take his air conditioned afternoon siesta hidden from the Arizona sun and from the church staff for that matter. No one knew where he went for those hours.
I asked the facilities manager from my wife’s school to survey our church campus and opine on upgrades and whether the work was too much for one person to do in a week. He laughed about the “too much work” and went on to suggest mop sink soap dispensing stations. His insights created a new day for our church.
No closet was safe from our scrutiny. We found electric panels in which copper pipes had been inserted for fuses and non GFCI receptacles that were used with extension cords on wet grass.
As a result of the above, an unused library junk room was transformed (after a pickup bed was loaded with faded quarterlies) into a youth meeting room, with walls opened between. Handicapped bathrooms and bridal dressing area were built. Sound systems were upgraded and installed.
We formed a DIY team at the church empowered the lay members to “Open Doors” and carve the underside of pews. This really happened in that once project involved removing all the old pews and reinforcing the underside then reinstalling them.
A Road Less Traveled
Along with opening doors, take a road less traveled to church. At one church I parked on the street where church members walked. The path was so dark, I could not see to put my foot on the curb. I worked with our brilliant new Facilities Manager, Alberto Hernandez (who is now retired and serving as a pastor of his own church) to recandle parking lot lighting and to add additional path lighting.
With Facebook streaming the rage since the pandemic, walk the virtual paths. Yesterday, I watched the Facebook service for our church only to find that the sound level for the pastor’s sermon was so low I could not hear him without switching from my phone to my computer with speakers turned up 100 percent.
Pickleball and Other Grouse Hunts
Virtual paths can be just as jumbled as the classrooms in Ft. Worth. Our present church publishes every week “Monday – Pickleball 5:00 p.m.” So, I showed up with my paddle, only to find the hall empty. “Maybe an off week. I’ll try it again.” The next week, the same empty hall. The bulletin continued to announce the event.
One week as I accompanied my wife to her handbell choir she directs, a ringer said, “I hear you are wanting to play pickleball. They have been meeting off campus but should be here next week. They don’t like to have too many players. So they don’t advertise too much.”
She introduced me to the handful of players present that night. The next week I showed up interested; no one was present in the hall. Perhaps the risk of having a new player threatened their closed group pickleball party as the church bulletin continued on “autopilot.”
Your homework this Sunday – open a new door and follow a new path.
“See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut …” – Revelation 3:8.
Taking my own medicine for looking behind doors, I checked the “Contact Us” link for this blog and discovered the email notifications were no longer received. I called Go Daddy who said that for a simple programming fee of $450 they would fix the issue. Short version – I was able to create a free Brevo account and installed a free SMTP form to resolve the issue after some gnashing of teeth.
“Amen!” … or “Oh, Me! I could write a book about church fights I mediated (or instigated) Chapter 1 – Change of worship time … Chapter 2- Install a PowerPoint projector in the sanctuary … 3- Launch any building project … 4-Clean out and toss all the junk in an unused classroom and destroy the sacred table decorations stored for the annual Ladies Mission Society … 5. Give the choir “constructive criticism” on the length of their Christmas Cantata …
Methodist scholars rebrand “old and cranky” as spiritual gifts.
As Walmart steaks run $30 for a package of two, folks turn stares of disbelief to beef liver as the affordable cut of meat. The $300 grocery tab reinforces a gut punch that politicians delivered a message, "Let them eat liver!"
Applying the liver & onions test to the church, what one ministry stands as critical nourishment for today’s church? There is one clear winner – Bible study.
“Let them eat liver!”
King David reflected on the nourishment received from studying the Word of God, saying, ” The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.” Like a food desert, where nourishing food is priced out of a neighborhood due to location, so some churches fail to thrive due to missing a balanced Bible study.
They are more precious than gold,Psalm 19:10
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
You Are What You Eat
Jesus knew the importance of this concept in his temptation when he responded to the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” ( Matthew 4:4), a quote from Deuteronomy that beyond physical bread we need the bread of life that comes from heaven.
Take a busy pastor as an example, what more could he or she do considering an already jammed Sunday schedule? How could the church move from a spiritual food desert to a Michelin Star?
No Michelin Pot Luck’s
No Michelin Star is awarded to a church pot luck rather to a restaurant where every aspect of the meal was planned. A busy pastor could begin by asking volunteers to form a Christian Education Council assigned to create a unified system of Christian education that will help church members continue their Bible study “from the basket to the casket” (As our Baptist friends teach).
ABT – Always Be Teaching
Applying the ABT method, the Christian Education Council could begin with a sheet of butcher paper by mapping what classes are taught and what is being taught from the nursery to senior adults. What curriculum is used for children, youth, and adult classes?
You may say, “Pastor Jim, I’m too busy to teach. I lead multiple services on Sunday. The people get what they need from my sermons.” Believing that concept, a pastor is on the path to “congregation drift” to be blown along whatever favorite study they stumble into. Years of congregational drift in Bible study could unravel those inspiring Sunday sermonettes.
The ABT method does not mean the pastor does all the teaching but that the pastor is engaged with what is being taught.
Seasons of Learning
Overheard – “People don’t want to be committed to leading a class every Sunday. They want to go fishing, to the lake, or to their timeshare in Aruba.” Rather than resist natural patterns of ebb and flow, use your butcher paper to draw an education stream that flows with the bends and eddies.
The pastor, staff, and a few key leaders can survey what material is presently being taught and ask, 1. Does the material support our church and denomination? 2. Does the material give the leaders what they need to proving a compelling class experience that builds the spiritual life of the participants? 3. Can others use the material and duplicate the experience?
Back to the butcher paper and magic markers, write Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. While worship services are best designed around the Liturgical Calendar, Christian Education is best designed around the school year, which provides natural breaks and pauses –
Fall, Winter: Advent – Christmas, Spring: Lent- Easter, Summer.
Take a moment and outline what classes are taught for all ages during these season. Next, use the denominational resource that fits your church, select classes and materials to balance out the year, giving times of rest and refreshment as in a school year.
For United Methodists, Cokesbury is their publishing house. Southern Baptists look to Lifeway for resources. Considering Advent, a church could use this interactive Cokesbury’s Advent Studies guide to schedule class resources.
No Artificial Ingredients
Some adult classes have met for years using the curriculum they like, and they have no plans to change. You may say, “Pastor Jim, one leader in our Methodist church is teaching Nazarene material.” Rather than foment an insurrection over a teacher’s use of nonapproved curriculum, the solution lies in forming new groups based on vibrant Bible based material. New groups always grow faster than older groups. Rather than battling to change a group, add a new one in line with your direction. Or, as overheard in the work-a-day world, “People hate to be sold … but they love to buy!” If I had to do my ministry over, I would have taken the above high road of a gentle, patient path toward change. I would have worked a lot more on consensus and valuing the opinion of the negative vote versus running roughshod over those holding a contrary position. Looking back, I could have spent more time actively listening to church members than talking at them.
Now that your church year class schedule is mapped, consider where the classes will meet, review the budget, and ask adult participants to share in the expense of materials. How does your Christian Education budget reflect the priority of Bible Study as a spiritual discipline?
The important work of the Christian Education Council means nominating teachers and leaders who best fit the group and material taught. When calling those persons to ask them to consider the opportunity, it is a comfort knowing they have the resources to be successful and along with a set start and end date, improves successful recruiting for teachers and leaders. The Christian Education Council meetings, rather than all business, should involve sharing the journey over food and drink and sharing of the journey.
When I served as Executive Pastor in my last position, the Kitchen Director would bring leftovers on a cart from the Wednesday night meal so that we might break bread together in our staff meetings the next day. Some of the best days of church staff planning revolved around those meals together. While we didn’t solve all the world’s problems, we left satisfied and excited about the new plans in ministry.
“17Jesus said to Peter the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?' and he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep'” (John 21:17, ESV).
How can the church, while sitting on prime real estate, recover its prophetic voice on affordable housing?
RV parks raise rates over $100 per night as cities forbid public camping
As the U.S. faces a double crisis of affordable housing and mass border crossings, a solution may be to create RV Nation, stretching entirely across the southern border. Rather than fence the border, the U.S. could develop it with tiny homes and RV parks with monthly site rent waived in exchange for “Southern Border Settlement Security.” RV Nation Security could monitor its perimeter and attempting crossings. The development of RV Nation would include unbroken security fencing of RV Nation parks. Instead of fencing the border, fence the RV parks.
A side benefit of RV Nation would be the employment of veterans, seniors, the unemployed, and others who wish to build the infrastructure and services needed across RV Nation including, roads, bridges, wells, solar, schools, police, fire, businesses, and churches. Across the border, Mexico would be encouraged to build a sister settlement of like kind, creating a 1 mile plus security development corridor based on friendship rather than enmity. The RV Nation creates a reverse migration strategy by fighting mass illegal crossing with healthy development.
The US Forest Service is restricting camping on its land. States like Tennessee are debating making it a felony to camp on public land. The northeast rations diesel as gasoline follows behind it in price pushing toward $10 per gallon. For such a time as this, the U.S. could recruit settlers to pioneer RV Nation, which would foster a secure sister community on the Mexico border.Pastor Jim
Time to visit my financial planner to maximize my $600 windfall. Thankfully he reduced his fee to $700.
The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, unless the bad guy gets the drop on the good guy. Then choose Plan B. What? No Plan B?
To enter a sports arena, security frisks fans for bottled water.
To enter a school, a maniac strolls in with an AR-15.
Security equity now.In memory of the Robb Elementary School (Ulvalde, Texas) mass shooting victims
Keep Every Door Locked At All Times … and other half truths
The other half of the truth, and key security element, is the conversation with the teachers and staff regarding what is working and what is not. This is opposed to superimposing slogans, such as “Keep every door locked at all times.” While slogans feel right and just, the reality emerges only through dialogue with stakeholders.
While Smith Elementary School’s [pseudonym] 250 page security manual touts deadbolted windows and doors, no one mentions the moldy air conditioning system that should have been replaced six years ago. Staff and teachers have complained about aggravated allergies and sweltering conditions, but the district has not been responsive to the teachers’ complaints. So, the teachers open doors and windows to relieve allergic or asthmatic conditions and create a condition where learning is possible.
The district office prides itself in the quarterly lockdown drills at Smith Elementary, as teachers shout, “Hide under your desk!” and the principal rattles locked doors. But the antiquated locks require a key and the teacher to find the key in the bottom of a purse, stand exposed to an intruder in the hallway, lock the door, then reenter the classroom. One misplaced key means that door remains unlocked.
If the door is unlocked and a school lockdown occurs,From “Door Locking Options in Schools”
however, the teacher must open the door, step into the
hallway, lock the door, step back inside the classroom,
and close the door ― a time-consuming process with
a potentially dangerous exposure. One way around
this dilemma is to keep the door latch “locked” at all
times, whether the door is open or closed. But this
allows students in unsupervised classrooms to lock
others out, simply by shutting the door.
School security in dialogue with staff is like pouring sidewalks at a college. Don’t pour the sidewalks first. Plant the grass and watch where the students have worn the grass in paths of natural travel. Then pour the sidewalks over the paths.
The Paths to Security,
Considering churches facing shortfalls of people and and resources, the church needs more leaders with the calling to Impervise. Impervise is a newly discovered spiritual gift that emerged by necessity in 2021, ranking right behind pastor, prophet, and teacher.
A special thanks to Austin Ross and his welding Youtube channel for reminding me of expressions I heard while in seminary in Texas.
Manage to have a breakthrough this week rather than a breakdown.
Change, our ever present companion
Six months ago I started a new job as an insurance adjuster for the U.S.’s largest claim administrator. Sometimes I wonder if I had not followed the calling to serve as pastor of three churches, and executive pastor of a fourth, I would have advanced the halls in the ranks of insurance. Yet, I would not have traded all the promotions in insurance for the joys and memories of church work in the kingdom of God, reminding me that my insurance work is but tent making, like that of the Apostle Paul. I am on retainer for God.
My skills as an aging insurance examiner, makes me like an old “Gunny Sergeant,” climbing the corporate ladder would only interfere with my ability to serve at a world class level. Experiencing an insurance loss, be it injury or property damage, is pretty much a miserable experience. I enter that world of misery and make it as tolerable for them as I can. And for my peers and associates, … even an enjoyable misery.
Wasted days and wasted nights
As I started the new remote insurance job, my routine revolved around the use of four monitors, three keyboards, three computers, three mice, two video cameras, and speech recognition. The learning curve was so steep with 70 learning modules, I awakened in the night with a dream that left something undone. This was the adult version of the college student’s dream that he realized he enrolled in a class that he never attended … or he missed the final exam.
As the weeks wore on, I considered resigning as I felt like I had moved to Japan and was tasked with a new language and strange, new traditions. Then I considered what I learned from foreign missionaries and how they adapted to culture shock –
Through my travels, I have experienced things completely foreign to my definition of normal.
I have bathed and washed my hair in a bucket, slept in a treehouse, eaten with monkeys, been roommates with scorpions, used two boards as a toilet, traveled through the mountains in the back of a pickup truck and eaten foods I can’t pronounce.
All of these experiences, while exciting, triggered culture stress in me, which can affect your mind, body and emotions.From a missionary blog on culture shock – https://team.org/blog/how-to-handle-culture-stress
Last month, I won our team’s VIP award as claim examiner. What my team doesn’t know is how many times I considered pulling out. I stooped to ask my former employer for my old job back. But looking back, I experienced the culture adaptation stages taught by the missionaries:
Culture shock generally moves through four different phases:
- Honeymoon (“Wow, this is great!”)
- Frustration (“What have I done?”)
- Recovery (“I think I can, I think I can…”)
- Acceptance (“I love these people. I don’t want to go home!”)
One day during the last six month process, I announced to my wife that, “I managed to have a breakthrough this week rather than a breakdown.” And, like the old missionary, I discovered, “I love these people. I don’t want to go home.”
Out of the Trench and into the Light
You may say, “Pastor Jim, easy for you to say. But you don’t know the stress I face leading a post-pandemic church. Half the church hates me for wearing a mask; the other half won’t come to church for fear of getting sick. Where do I apply to work as an insurance adjuster?”
First, you are not alone, Barna Group reported that pastoral burnout has worsened during the pandemic and found that 38 percent of pastors are seriously considering leaving full-time ministry. Seek out a support group to find strength and community in your distress. The rate of burn out not only applies to pastors but also to pandemic teachers, medical personnel, and first responders.
Second, grab the best tools from your library shelf. Three books helped me. One key insight was to create a mini-oasis each day, courtesy of Josh Davis’s book, “Two Awesome Hours.” I deceived myself jumping into every email I received, like Pavlov’s Pit Bull, rather than pausing to capture the picture of what is important. The second book, “Rapid Relief from Emotional Distress” I’ve dogeared over the years since I served as a pastor. The third book is, “A Little Book of Celtic Prayer,” with prayers for each day of the week.
Dreams can tell you something is out of balance in your life. To stay in tune with yourself and God, start a prayer and thought journal. A blank lined book from a dollar store will do. Draw, doodle, confess, prayer … get it into your journal. Be ready for flash insights to capture in your journal, even in the middle of the night. From A Little Book of Celtic Prayer, Friday evening prayer for bedtime, “Michael of the Angels” (p. 110), for night anxiety.
Third, put some feet in your faith in action by taking a prayer walk. Anglican prayer beads are an excellent resource to use on your daily pilgrimage. Unspoken Elements provides both prayer beads and prayer guides. You can even use prayer beads on a treadmill or elliptical at the gym, just hang on to the machine or you may find you’ve cut your earthly journey short.