Comfort Zones

For more than a century, St. Matthew’s has been like nearly every other traditionally Lutheran Church: in a comfort zone.

All of us like what we like and we are comfortable liking it.

Nearly every Lutheran Church is the same. This doesn’t make any congregation that is in the comfort zone bad or out of touch – it makes them comfortable, relaxed, and happy that their church is open on Sunday mornings.

I believe it is time for a change, where we are not in a comfort zone, but are excited at possibilities of what bringing the Gospel to people means to our Christians lives. Excitement for the Gospel means we’re being led by the cross in all aspects of our church and outside-of-church lives. Hope in the Gospel is experiencing the true meaning of God’s love and forgiveness with others. 

Comfort zone church is history.

It is the time of living hope.

Office Productivity.

Time for me to vent:

Microsoft Office is expensive.

Even with a monthly subscription, the cost of using Microsoft’s suite of office productivity tools isn’t cheap.

Google’s G-Suite offering provides churches with a less-costly option of office productivity software. Only major issue is that booklet production (read: weekly bulletins) is basically impossible, unless you want the worship bulletin producer to sit for a longtime trying to figure out how to make it work each week.

Apple is similar to Google, but much cheaper.

Apple’s office productivity software is free.

And like G-Suite, Apple’s productivity software has its advantages and disadvantages. And it is the disadvantages that get people to stop using it.

Continue reading “Office Productivity.”

Digital Trail in a Church Office

At times in my ministry the challenges of actually running a church office can be confounding. On the one hand, the actual “running the operations of the church office” is usually left up to the church council with the input from the pastor. The pastor does provide structure; the operations are left to others. I find myself now and then trying to put myself in between the church office secretary (the person who is hired by the church council, or in our case, the Voters’ Body) and the managers of the operations of the congregations.

There are times when the old school ways slam right into the modern way of how a church office is operated. Church secretaries communicate more via text and email than by phone. The reasons are numerous, but one that is often overlooked by those wanting the old days back: A digital trail. When texts and emails are sent, the digital trail proving communication is easy. If someone wants flowers on the altar for a particular weekend, the forms are sometimes lost on the myraid of paper found on a church office desk. But when an email is received ordering flowers, a church secretary can’t say they didn’t receive it. Paper can’t get lost if the form is in the church secretary’s email.

Mass texts are also a fast way to communicate to groups of individuals. For example, a text notification about an upcoming meeting is instantaneous. You get the text, look at it, and know immediately the information the church secretary has sent. No need for a phone call when a text is sent.

We are in the age when actual church office work doesn’t have to be done in a church office. Whether it is electronic newsletters or digital bulletins or PowerPoint slides or returning telephone calls, all of it doesn’t have to be done in a church office. With texts and FaceTime and apps like Snapchat, communication is different today than it was ten years ago.

In 2017 and beyond, church secretaries and congregations will need to be more fluent in new forms of communication and digital production than they were in year’s past when secretaries worked in church offices for hours on end. The same work today can be completed at a church secretary’s home.

Around lunchtime today at Best Buy in the Garden State Plaza, I spoke with a church secretary from another local church who was herself confounded about how generational differences impact her work. When she arrived at the office this morning, she had a note taped to her computer screen letting her know that a meeting at church scheduled for the end of the week was canceled. After settling in for her morning, she then spent 45 minutes calling the people on this particular committee letting them know that their meeting was canceled.

“I could have sent a text or email to everyone, but the people in church don’t want emails or texts. They want phone calls.”

Every church faces similar challenges.

Supreme Court Religious Bonus

Good news: Mon­day’s Supreme Court rul­ing on re­li­gious lib­erty was even bet­ter than we thought. The Jus­tices ruled 7-2 that a church could not be banned from a pub­lic ben­e­fit pro­gram merely be­cause it is a church. On Tues­day the Jus­tices ex­tended that prin­ci­ple by over­turn­ing a rul­ing that struck down Col-orado’s school voucher pro­gram on re­li­gious grounds.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Trinity Lutheran and Fairness

In 2012, Trinity Lutheran Preschool ranked fifth out of 44 applicants to a Missouri program that recycles old tires for new playground surfaces. Yet Missouri refused to let the school compete for the grant, pointing to the state’s Blaine Amendment—a provision that bans tax money from funding a church in any way—as the reason.

The U.S. Supreme Court resolved the issue today in a decision that could hold important implications for future religious liberty decisions. The court held that Missouri engaged in religious discrimination and that its Blaine Amendment was not a valid reason to deny a religious school a neutral benefit.

More at The Federalist

They Should Have Called It, “Divine Service for Dummies”

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has seen enough of the worship wars. One side believes there is only one way to “do church,” and that is orderly and formal. The other side believes that there is a freedom to do worship. There will never be a uniting of these two camps.

In my pastorate, I’ve become one that sits somewhere in the middle of both sides, where orderliness is necessary while allowing freedom to sing and “do church” a little less formally. In fact, most pastors and churches fall into this camp.

Below is an excellent video from Gottesdient Online explaining a more orderly and formal Divine Service. My favorite line is how they describe the celebrant as he turns to face the congregation before the corporate confession and absolution:

“His words are measured and clear. He does not rush.”

I’m just saying that we here on the coast don’t rush. It just seems like we’re rushing because we usually just talk very fast.

Church Meetings

I believe if you ask a pastor what is the most important part of their ministry, the word “meetings” will not make the list.

Meetings are those things pastors and laity put up with because church constitutions mandate them to be held. Whether they are strictly or loosely formal, meetings can get bogged down in minutia. It is the minutia that gives meetings a bad name.

Today, my congregation held their monthly Voters’ Meeting – think church council meeting. It went well as no major divisions came up. But as I’ve written before, sometimes we worry and focus on issues that have very little to do with the ministry of the church. And it is not just St. Matthew’s, but every church has these moments.

But I am coming to believe that is what these Voters’ meetings are supposed to be about. They are purposefully the arena in which everything slows down. They focus on the money and the budget. They ponder the actions of the committees. They plan future capital spending.

In effect, they are like the US Senate, a body that slows every point of legislation down to make sure things are done properly.

While Voters’ Meetings slow things down, our Vision Team is spending time working on the ministry of the church. Their attitude is simple: “It’s Jesus first.”

  • We wanted to upgrade our worship experience, adding visual and audio – they did it.
  • We want to raise money for our Veteran’s ministry – they’re in the middle of planning our first beefsteak dinner.
  • We want to make a splash at our borough’s National Night Out to tell the story of the Gospel – they’ve outlined a good plan for that night.
  • We want to make our Prayer Team more effective – they’re doing it.
  • We wanted to make the back of the church more inviting by installing better lighting – they made sure it got done.
  • We wanted to make our doors nicer by painting them – they got it done.
  • We wanted to upgrade our website and mobile experience – they got it done.

In the fall, our Voters’ meetings are going to go through a little bit of a reformation. We’re going to focus on specific church issues each month. This will minimize the time we spend talking about some issues but will maximize the effectiveness of our time together and focus our work on building St. Matthew’s for the future. Combining with the work of the Vision Team, St. Matthew’s is set on a good foundation for the future.