Sunday, October 27, 2013

Misgivings About The Building Part 3

This post has been the hardest for me to write. I considered not writing it at all. However, the scenarios I mention have been recurring themes in my experience over the last 25 years and the topic seems to be mostly off limits. Some church members stay so far removed from any church business that they are probably not even aware of what is happening. Some members have no other frame of reference having spent their entire lives in one church. It’s all “business as usual” and “why fix it if it isn’t broken?". Some members understand the “system”, and benefit from it. Some members are uneasy with the “system”, but are afraid to speak up for fear of the repercussions. Some members become disillusioned with church altogether when they begin to understand how church business works.

So, I’m going out on a limb here. Trying to address the elephant in the room. Knowing it will make some people angry. Knowing most will deny it. Knowing many will simply dismiss my thoughts as being spiritually immature or vindictive. But, hoping it will open a dialogue about how we are conducting business while trying to ensure the survival of our buildings.


Here’s the scenario (the elephant in the room, if you will):

We decide to build a new building. The price tag is in the millions. The church does not have a lump sum to pay for the building in full at the time of construction. The church leadership asks church members to pledge the amount of money they are willing to give over the next X amount of years to pay for the building. Based on the pledges and the money on hand, the church moves forward with the building process. Because the church cannot pay for the building upfront, the building is financed which adds to the total cost of the new facility. The utility bills are in the thousands every month. The cost of maintaining the facility is also in the thousands each month. The payments are easily met as long as there are tithers being faithful with their giving. If, at any point, a significant portion of the tithers or any large sum tithers stop giving, the church will be in danger of not meeting its financial obligations with its creditors.

How do we then, as a congregation, ensure that the money continues coming in to meet our financial obligations? Is it as simple as trusting God to meet the obligations?


Another scenario:

A church member places his tithe check or cash in the offering plate. If he pays with cash, it’s sealed in an envelope with his name on it. If he pays with a check, his name is printed on the check. This is important because the church needs to keep a record of his gifts to ensure that he gets a tax deduction for his contribution. At the end of each quarter, he receives a statement showing the total amount that he has given.

Because each offering is counted and recorded, certain members of church leadership/staff know which members give…and how much each is giving. When making decisions or addressing conflict in the congregation, who might leadership tend to hear? The member who gives thousands of dollars each quarter? Or the member who gives hundreds? What about the member who has grown uneasy with this system and chosen to place his offering in the plate as unmarked cash…making it look to the record keepers in leadership as though he is giving nothing?

If a “top tither” voices a concern, do we take action for fear that he might withhold his tithe? Or do we search scripture with him and agree on the Biblical basis for his concern before deciding whether or not to take action? Are we willing to upset the tither and risk losing his contribution to the church?


Another scenario:

A committee member stands behind the pulpit in a church business meeting and makes a plea to the membership to give more money. He reminds the congregation of their responsibility to give regardless of their feelings about how business is being conducted in the church.

If we are trusting God to provide the income we need to maintain our facilities, why must we make a plea for money? Why are we falling short on our budget? Should we address the disease rather than the symptoms? If tithing is an act of obedience and worship between the giver and God as we’ve been taught, why are we getting involved and asking for more? If we didn’t have a large debt to pay, would we feel the need to make the same plea?


Another scenario:

I meet with a “senior” minister to address the rumors circulating around the church about several other staff ministers. One minister has already been forced to resign in secrecy. I take a list of rumors that I have heard and ask the “senior” minister to respond to each one. I am looking for the truth. He responds to each rumor. Some he says are partial truths. Some he says are false. Some he has no knowledge of and cannot give a response. At the end of the meeting, I ask him if he would be willing to stand before the congregation, as the highest ranking staff member, and tell them what he has just told me in private. I am concerned that the rumors he knows to be false or misleading will result in more ministers being forced to resign if they are not quickly addressed with the congregation. His response: “It’s crossed my mind (addressing the rumors with the congregation), but I don’t feel it’s in my job description. My job is to keep the lights on in the building and keep the church programs running.” Shortly thereafter, another minister is forced to resign amidst the rumors.

What have we, as a congregation, allowed to happen in our church that would cause a minister of the Gospel to choose keeping the lights on in the building over speaking the truth he knows about rumors that might severely wound the families of his colleagues? Would telling the congregation what he told me in private put his own family at risk of being forced to resign? Would saying the truth jeopardize his ability to “keep the lights on”? If so, how?


After I wrote Part One of this post, I received the following comment from a member of a church:

“Believe it or not, like it or not, we are held hostage to the debt obligations on our buildings. How can we not count heads? How can we not focus on the financial spreadsheets? How can we not maintain a reputation that appears more appealing than others'? How can we not have program upon program to entice people to come to our group when we have to meet the terms of a multimillion dollar mortgage?”


One final scenario. I’ve never actually witnessed this one. It’s completely hypothetical. But it seems to be our “worst case scenario”:

We begin conducting our church business in transparency rather than secrecy. We refuse, as a congregation, to engage in coffee shop, parking lot or small group meetings meant to craft an agenda pertaining to church business. We begin directing one another to address concerns and problems one-on-one with other members rather than gathering a group of concerned individuals before speaking. We hold each other accountable and are open to being held personally accountable. When the dialogue becomes painful, we press on rather than excusing ourselves and refusing to talk. We are honest with one another rather than deceiving one another when we experience fear. The honesty becomes too emotionally raw and some cannot handle the fallout. Many members become angry. Many members leave the church. The remaining members are unable to meet the budget required to maintain the building. The remaining members are forced to forfeit the building.

How would we feel? Ashamed? Embarrassed? Free? Would we worry mostly about how it looked to the community that we lost our building? Would we be honest with the community about the events leading up to the end result? Where would we meet? How many members would stick around without meeting in that particular building?


Many are blessed through the use of our buildings. Some are hurt by the importance we place on our buildings. All of us are responsible for the choices we are collectively making regarding our buildings. Are we making choices that please our Lord?

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Misgivings About The Building Part 2

As I continued struggling with the uneasiness I was feeling, several situations unfolded that deepened the ache in my heart. The first one…

I was asked to design centerpieces for a local charity dinner. I was not familiar with the name of the organization. When I arrived at the venue the day of the event, I was met by the kind people who headed up the organization. As they helped me unload and then watched me set up, we talked. I asked about their organization, Family Promise, and was amazed at their story. I listened as they talked about the way they help homeless families (with children) in our community by meeting their immediate needs of shelter, food and clothing through the local church congregations. They, along with the congregations, help get the children to school and provide tutoring after school, provide GED assistance and job training and résumé writing for the parents, provide a private room in the church building for each family to sleep and provide meals prepared by congregation volunteers.

I was impressed by the organization's attention to detail and “big picture” goals. The families in the program are families that have a strong desire to gain independence that will last. They agree to cooperate with the guidelines of the program which require them to gain independence within a specified amount of time (meaning this isn’t an open-ended arrangement) and use their days working to secure the education they need to find a job. They learn how to handle financial commitments and budget their money. As I listened, I couldn’t believe I had never heard of this program. I couldn’t believe that my church wasn’t involved as we had one of the largest facilities and memberships in town. I figured my church simply had not heard about the program and I was excited to tell them. So, I mentioned my congregation to the organization officers. They told me they were familiar with the church and had been talking with one of our ministers who was trying to get the program approved. Perfect.

As I left the venue, I was excited for the opportunity to participate in this ministry. I thought of 1 John 3:17-18. And I thought of all  the resources my congregation had at its disposal …a large, beautiful and comfortable building with plenty of room…a commercial kitchen and large area for dining…multiple vans for transporting people to school and job interviews…a beautiful playground for the children…and a congregation full of people with skill sets that would bless each family.

In the coming months, the congregation was surveyed regarding interest in the program and many members responded positively to the survey. Family Promise was placed on the agenda for discussion at a church meeting. I attended. I have to be honest here. I knew, from being a member of this congregation for over 20 years, that there were some members of the congregation that would probably oppose participation in Family Promise. However, I was not prepared for what seemed, at times, to be a blatant disregard for scripture.

Sprinkled throughout the discussion about the program were these viewpoints:

-Some of us know every inch of this building. We helped plan, design and build the building and we need to take care of it.

-Having these people in our building might be out of compliance with city regulations and/or fire codes.

-We’re not equipped because we don’t have showers in the building. (the program offers alternative places for showering if your building doesn’t have showers)

-What if the couples aren’t married, but living together?

-Let’s just buy a fourplex in town and put them in there.

-[If they are at a separate location], we could drop the groceries off on their doorstep and they could cook their own meals. They aren’t going to learn responsibility if we’re doing everything for them.

-We don’t need to use our vans to transport these families around town. Let them take public transportation.

-If we allow these people to use our facilities, we need to require them to attend our Sunday and Wednesday church programs.


I was shocked. It seemed as though we were desperately trying to find a loophole…a way out. These verses were rolling around in my head:

17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18


41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matt. 25:41-46


That meeting ended with a minister standing and saying he would take on the responsibility of finding a director and getting the program started. Nevertheless, I left the meeting in disbelief. I wondered how we, as a congregation, could have such vastly different views of what scripture says about caring for those in need. I wondered how a congregation willing to spend thousands of dollars on mission trips to Estonia, Germany, Czech Republic and Zimbabwe could justify potentially turning away homeless families with children in our own town. How could we elevate the wellbeing of our building over the wellbeing of people? In the grand scheme of life, what did it matter if the families broke something or spilled something in the building? What did it matter if the couples weren’t married? What did it matter if the families were not interested in attending our church programs? These families were in obvious need. Didn’t Jesus show compassion and care for the poor, the prostitute, the leper and the rich man? Did he give us the right to claim exemptions?

I realize it’s natural to have differing opinions and viewpoints in a congregation. I even cherish and welcome the diversity. I know we are human and sometimes misjudge what we are supposed to be about in this journey we’re on. So, I considered these other viewpoints over the next few months and wondered if I was the one overreacting to concerns that had been voiced (there’s that word again). I wondered if it was acceptable to God for us to give our money to remedy a need, but deny the people in need access to our facilities. It just didn’t seem right to me. But, if the need was being met, did it really matter? In the end, I only felt a deepening sense of unrest about the importance we, as a congregation, were placing on the building when making decisions.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Misgivings About the Building Part 1

Several years ago, I began to have an uneasiness about how some of us, as congregations, are choosing to spend our money on large and lavish facilities. I had an internal debate about it for months and months.

On the one hand, I have been a member of two large churches over the last 46 years…one as a child and one as an adult. I know the rationale…

The skating rink, football fields, and cheerleading program serve as an “outreach” to the community. We’ll draw in people from the community with our facilities and programs and then share Christ with them. We need a large well-appointed foyer to accommodate congregational, as well as, community gatherings. We will serve our community by allowing them to use our facilities. We need to build a larger sanctuary so we can all worship together in one service.  We’re a family and we need to be able to worship together as a whole rather than divided into multiple services because the sanctuary isn’t large enough to accommodate everyone.

I can understand the rationale behind these points. And, over the years, I’ve seen kids from the community join a church football team or attend a lock-in and roller skating party…and eventually develop a relationship with God because of the relationships they made there or the devotional they heard. I’ve seen whole families get involved in church after attending one of these activities…and the facilities played a part in making the activity possible. I’ve seen our building used for school concerts and large funerals.We’ve used the building to house assembly lines of church members preparing care packages for those in need. We’ve hosted both workers and victims during storm relief efforts.

So what could be wrong with having a facility that accommodates such positive work in the community? I wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t shake the uneasiness each time I entered the building.

My mind just kept saying…yes, but on the other hand…

We’re sitting in a 15+ million dollar building. We must not only pay for the building itself, we must also pay thousands of dollars every month for utilities. We pay custodians to keep it pristine. We pay for landscaping and an automatic sprinkler system…and the maintenance that comes with those…to keep the acres of grounds pristine.

And then I saw this video…

World on Fire

…and I was completely convicted by a recording artist’s “secular” video because it so accurately portrays what the Bible has to say about our responsibility to those in need. If $150,000 could make such a huge impact on the world, what would happen if my church resided in a 2 million dollar building and gave 13 million dollars to make an impact on the world? And how many other churches do we know that have as much or more than we have?

From that day on, the battle raged constantly in my heart.

The last 20 months have further honed my perspective.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Putting Another Fear To Rest

My “unchurched” journey started just 7 months ago and I’ve been pretty open about my struggles. The months have been ridden with guilt and fears.

One of my immediate fears was a surprise to me. After years of hearing that we are meant to be in a church body and no one will take care of you in your time of need the way the church body will, I believed that statement. I began to have thoughts like: “What if I get sick? Who will care for my family if I’m not involved in a church body? It will be my fault if their needs aren’t met because we’re not involved in a church right now.” It’s always the guilt and the fear that come and weigh on me.

I had to face my fear last week. I had surgery and have been unable to care for my family in the days since. I worried that we would “get what we deserved” and have to go it mostly alone with the exception of a few close friends and family members. As I was taken to the operating room, I felt completely at peace with what would occur as it related to my body. I wasn’t concerned about complications or death. I might be doubting a lot of things concerning religion and faith right now, but I realized I am not doubting my love for my Maker.

As it turned out He was caring for me even in the midst of my fear. He’s patient with me when I doubt Him. When I awoke in my room after surgery, still groggy from the anesthesia, I knew He was putting another one of my fears to rest by showing me that what I’ve been told simply isn’t the only truth. Yes, church bodies are important. Yes, some believers find the comfort of a church body unlike any they have found outside the church walls. But, there is another story I hadn’t been told…

Around my bed last Friday were family, co-workers and friends. All ages. Churched and unchurched. Then the emails and texts started coming. Friends that I’ve never met in person from the floral design world, college students, patients, a young couple, a neighbor… from Oregon to Texas to Virginia to Russia. It’s continued every day since the surgery. Visits from friends. Offers to do laundry, scrub toilets, pull weeds. Home cooked meals from my teenaged son’s high school teachers. I’ve never felt so loved. These are the people in my world day to day. They know me. The real me. They know my good and my ugly. We move along life together. And, so, despite the fact that I didn’t receive the customary visit and prayer from a Baptist minister or a single Sunday School Class casserole, I feel completely loved and cared for by God. He answered my fear and put it to rest. I don’t believe He’s put off or threatened by my doubts and fears. He seems to meet each one head on at just the right time…and in such a way that I know He’s paying attention to where I am. He’s slowly beginning to heal me in my brokenness.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013


“Wounds caused by our own people aren’t the same as the wounds of an enemy. We can’t chalk them up to random acts of unkindness. They’re personal.They are inflicted by people who know us, by people we believed have loved us or at least thought kindly of us. When it is not just our people but God’s people, the wound can gape wide open into a maelstrom of confusion.




                                                       -Beth Moore

  (in the Forward to Wounded by God’s People by Anne Graham Lotz)


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why I Continue To Go There (revisit the situation)

For all of those who ask, “Why do you continue to go there? It’s in the past. We can’t change the past.”…

The answer: The pain. I can’t get away from the pain. The pain of knowing that untruths have been told and they have severely wounded many people. The pain of knowing that some people “at the top” in this church know the truth and no one is willing to address it with the congregation. I hear church members repeating the explanations they’ve been told regarding the actions of the individuals responsible for the forced resignations of our ministers. Many of the explanations are not accurate. In some cases, they are simply untrue…a rewriting of history to cover the real story and appease those asking. Maybe I will eventually move on and not “continue to go there”, but, at this point, almost every day someone approaches me in town and tells me that they still have no idea what happened inside the church. I run into them at the grocery store, the hospital, the school and the drug store. They ask if I’m still attending the church. When I say I’m not, they proceed to tell me that they still have no idea what actually happened. They say they have asked church members they respect and not been given a straight answer. They say things like, “Well, I asked, but I didn’t get an answer…and I don’t want to be nosey.” How have we made educated adults feel so unsure of themselves in the church that they feel they are being nosey if they ask questions about what is happening in the church in which they hold a membership?  It’s handy when we can make the church members feel that difficult church business is really none of their business. That way no one will ask questions and no one will be held accountable for anything. Brilliant. But not Biblical.

I will “continue to go there” until someone is brave enough to stand up and tell the truth to the congregation…or until God takes the pain and conviction from me. I’m sure the church leadership is hoping for the latter.


“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.”  Ephesians 4:25 (The Message)




Sunday, October 6, 2013

People Are Concerned

Several phrases have become “red flags” to me over the last 20 years as I’ve heard them repeatedly spoken at church. “People are concerned…” is one of them.


This phrase usually signals the presence of a group of people who are upset. The “people” are never identified, but they manage to find a spokesman to voice their concerns. It usually sounds something like this:


“I’ve had dozens of calls this week from people who are concerned about what you said in business meeting last week.”

“There are many people who are concerned about what you posted on your blog this week.”

“I’ve had lots of emails from people who are concerned about what your wife said.”

“We’re receiving calls from people who are concerned that you are not dressing appropriately to be in front of the congregation on Sunday mornings.”


When I hear this phrase, I wonder:

1. Who are these “people” with concerns? How many of them are there? Do they really exist? Why do they wish to remain anonymous?

2. Why didn’t they approach the person they are “concerned” about…one-on-one?

3. Is the concern really a concern…or is it more of a complaint?


In my experience, “People are concerned…” actually means:

1. Person A doesn’t like what Person B has done or said.

2. Person A has not gone to Person B and talked to him about the concern.

3. Person A talks to Persons C,D & E about his dislike of what Person B has done or said.

4. When Person A finds a couple of other people who share his viewpoint about Person B, he contacts someone in authority and voices “the concerns of many”.

5. The person of authority (perhaps a minister, deacon, teacher or committee member) contacts Person B and tells him that “there are many people who are concerned about what you said (or what you did).”


The actions taken by church leadership, while using this phrase as a basis or excuse, becomes the worrisome part of the scenario. We’ve seen it play out this way in recent years:

1.The authority figure approaches Person B with the concerns and Person B subsequently removes the blog post or makes sure his wife watches what she says in the future or changes his Sunday morning attire…as a result of pressure by church leadership, not personal conviction.

2. Person A skips talking to Person B and, instead, takes his “concerns” straight to a committee who subsequently investigates the concerns and forces Person B to resign without the offer of forgiveness/reconciliation…and without ever naming the people who brought the concerns or stating exactly what the concerns were.

3. Person B finds that his voice in the church is subtly limited or snuffed out by those who disapprove of him.


So, when I hear “people are concerned”, I think about Matthew 18:15-17.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they

refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”


Then I consider:

1. Is this “concern” a sin? Or is it a complaint, dislike or difference of opinion?

2. If you are concerned over a sin, are you willing to go to the person…”just between the two of you”?

3. If you take your concern over the sin to the person and they listen, are you willing to let it go? Or will you still feel the need to talk about it to others?

4. What is your goal in voicing the “concern”? Loving restoration of the relationship? Helping the person move forward in unity with the “church body”? Or is the goal to punish, shame or force the person out of the “body”?


Unfortunately, it seems we ignore this verse much of the time and rely, instead, on man-written church by-laws when dealing with our “concerns”. I wonder how our church business would change if we operated according to this verse.


In the future, I plan to handle hearing “people are concerned” like this:

“Thank you for calling. I appreciate you letting me know that people are concerned about what I said (or what I did). If you would have them call me personally, I would be happy to hear their concerns and consider what action I need to take.”


“I’m sorry that people are concerned about what Person B did. Could you please have those people call Person B and speak to him personally about the concern?”

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Rest for the Soul

A friend reminded me of this song this week. I’m grateful.

“Come all you weary with your heavy loads
Lay down your burdens find rest for your souls
Cause my yoke is easy and my burden is kind
I’ll take yours upon me and you can take mine

Come all you weary, move through the earth,
You've been spurned at fine restaurants and kicked out of church;
I’ve got a couple of loaves, so sit down at my feet,
lend me your ears and we'll break bread and eat

Come all you weary
Come gather round near me
Find rest for your souls”

Thanks J!