Friday, October 30, 2009

Building Update

God recently placed an opportunity in front of our congregation. The fire inspector and fire marshall informed us that the classrooms we use for the children are not considered part of the church, but rather part of the residence. Therefore, the classrooms are not zoned correctly and cannot be used. I call this an opportunity because it is a chance that we did not previously have to see how God will work.

The Building Committee met last night and we invited other people from the congregation to join us to consider this issue. While many ideas have been considered, we are looking at a classroom trailer as a very good option. We still have some questions that need to be answered, but we are going to try to get the answers very soon. Some of the other ideas are also being pursued. We would like to have a solution in place for our 15 year celebration on November 8.

Here is a list of things that have happened in the past month regarding the building project:

Conversations with the site engineer and attorney let us know that a gravel parking lot is a possibility, though it is not guaranteed (this is important in the short term because of cost).

We sent money to both the site engineer and the architect to retain their services.

The site engineer and architect are coordinating with each other.

The builder is in contact with the architect. Once the architect does a certain amount of the work he will send those plans to the builder so the builder can do the engineering plans for the interior and also so he can give us a final price.

A topographical survey of the property was completed.

The attorney is sending a proposal for a company to determine that we don't have wetlands- we need to make sure that the site engineer was not already doing this.

One other important development came about this month. Ironically, the bad news from the fire inspector lead us to some ideas that we had never previously considered. With some renovation work we might be able to rent out the chapel and part of the basement as residences. If we are able to rent out these spaces, the rent would probably cover the additional mortgage money that we will need each month to pay for the new building. Now you can see how the fire inspector closing down some classrooms is actually an opportunity from the Lord.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm Not Funny Enough

Ok, my wife didn't say it exactly, but after reading my past several posts she pointed out that the blog had not made her laugh and that there weren't any funny stories. Please keep in mind that I am not a comedian, I'm a pastor. And I don't write the blog simply to entertain, but also to inform. But a smart man listens to the advice of his wife. So please enjoy the rest of this entry as I try to provide you with some of the humor that I have selfishly kept from you (or perhaps protected you from).

So, what's funny to you? A lot of people find physical humor to be funny and easy. I was leaving the house today while pulling a large, empty box behind me. Why did I have this box? Because before it was empty it contained a new desk chair. Why did I need a new chair? Because the one that I have used for many years decided that it no longer wanted to hold me! The old chair tried magnificently to dump me to the ground. I got to the point where sitting on that chair required all of my focus, or else I would tumble to the ground. I caught myself several times, but it never succeeded in dumping me all the way to the floor (there were some very close calls). I now realize that I was devoting all of my attention to self-preservation, and therefore I had no creativity available for humor.

So I was dragging this large box out from the new chair out the door and down the front steps. In my other hand I was holding an open drink. I had just locked the door behind me, so my keys were in my other hand. And in my other hand I was carrying some papers. Since I am not a monster or an action figure, I really only have two hands. But as I attempted to carry too many items I fell victim to the clumsiness inherent in my heredity. It wasn't so much a lack of coordination- I think it had more to do with the fact that my ankle rolled right out from underneath me. Once again, my tremendous instinct for self-preservation kicked in and I managed to avoid falling to the ground. But the cost of staying upright was two-fold- first, I have continuing pain in my ankle which rolled; second, I seem to have lost some of my ability for humor as all of my attention was focused on my ankle.

Of course my children provide lots of material for comic relief. Again, physical humor gets the easy laughs. I'll avoid telling you which of the kids did these things in order to protect the guilty, but one of them recently had a booger on the top of their head- not absolutely certain about how that happened. At dinner tonight one child was not feeling well. Then came a long and pronounced experience with flatulence which brought a big smile to her face. All of her stomach problems farted away and she became a happy camper. Meanwhile, the rest of us were trying to eat. Okay, so the rest of us laughed as well and all was right with the world for that moment.

To my wife, I apologize for not being funny enough. To everyone else, watch out for office chairs and ground that attacks. And remember that being there when someone else passes gas can bring a smile to your face- or it might just choke you and finish off the job that the ground and the chair started.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Louisiana Judge

A judge in Louisiana has made news for his refusal to marry an inter-racial couple. He referred the black man and white woman to another judge. He said that he always refuses to marry inter-racial couples because of his concern for the possible children the marriage could produce.

I have conflicting thoughts regarding parts of this story. First, I consider the judge to be wrong to refuse to marry a couple based on race.

Second, a married couple raising children in our society is a good thing. Children have a much better chance of growing into well-adjusted, functioning adults when they have the parental love and care and supervision that God provided through a two-parent family. It shouldn't make any difference if the parents are both white, both black, one each, or anything else. The commitment to each other, the children, and God are what will make that family succeed.

Third, the racial component of raising be-racial kids varies based on the location where the family chooses to live. My wife and I have five children. Four are mixed black and white. The other one has black, Spanish, and Asian in her heritage. When we lived in an all-white area we did not have issues of the children not being accepted. We did have issues with the children themselves feeling out of place because they looked different from everyone else. Now that we again live in a diverse area it doesn't seem to make any difference to anyone what the racial component is. My kids attend school with kids that are white, black, Spanish, Indian, and Asian. And the white kids and black kids are not all from America. The judge should realize that America has changed in the last forty years and that diversity is better accepted in many places now than it was then.

Fourth, as someone who performs marriages, I don't want to be forced to perform a marriage if that marriage violates my beliefs. If the judge could not in good conscience perform the marriage, then he should not be obligated to perform it. I appreciate that the judge at least recommended a different judge to the couple so that they could still get married. But if he doesn't want to perform the ceremony, then I am not sure that he should be required to do it. I see this as an issue in a couple of other situations. For example, as a pastor I have standards to be met by any couple that I will marry. One of those standards is that I want them to be in the same place spiritually. My requirement for them is that they should either both be professing Christians or they should both be up front about the fact that they are not professing Christians. Another of my requirements is that the couple be composed of a man and a woman. I would be greatly disturbed if I was required to perform marriages that violated my own conscience. While the situation with the judge is different in that he works for the government, I would like to think that our government would not force employees to violate their consciences either (in this situation it seems to me that the judge's conscience ought to be informed by something other than his limited observations, but those are still his convictions).

Finally, the fact that this story garnered so much attention is significant. The "newsworthiness" of this story makes me hopeful that as a nation there has been progress (slow though it may have been) in our race relations. The story shows us that there is still progress to be made, but the reaction of many people against the beliefs of the judge is encouraging.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2 or 3 percent

My mom picked up a bunch of books at a library sale and passed some on to me. One of them is titled, 44 Ways to Increase Church Attendance. Lyle Schaller wrote this little book, so I figured I'd glance through it. It is a bit surprising that only one of the 44 ways to increase church attendance seems to have much to do with God. That way is to, "place greater weight on intercessory prayer." Apart from prayer, the rest of the ways all seem to assume that (a) the Sunday morning attendance is all that matters, and (b) an active church is responsible to get more people into the building. It would have been nice to have seen more dependence on the power of God.

One piece of advice was particularly relevant for our congregation- Cottrell Corners Community Church in Old Bridge, NJ. Included in the section dealing with the physical property and building of the church was this piece of advice:

"Perhaps 2 to 3 percent of all American Protestant congregations have the mixed blessing of an obsolete building on a desirable parcel of land of adequate size at a prize location. For them the most effective path to increasing worship attendance may be to raze that obsolete structure and replace it with a more attractive and functional meeting place."

I don't know where the 2 or 3 percent figure comes from, and it appears to be more of a guess than based on a detailed study. But the description of the property describes our church property quite well. We have four acres of ground in a nice community. We have great road frontage, on a road that runs past all of the main community buildings (library, police, etc.). But our actual building sits too far off of the road to be seen. The building does not have plumbing or classrooms. It does not have a kitchen or a fellowship hall. The building is quite small, and even when visitors park right next to it they are still not sure if they have arrived at a church. The building is certainly functional. We use it each week when we gather to worship. I don't know if a new building will increase attendance (again, I see that as a work of God who works through people), but I know that a new building certainly would be appreciated by everyone who currently meets in the old one.

Here is one other quote from the "real estate" section of this book:

". . . while a new building may not attract people, an unattractive or functionally obsolete structure often does repel people."

I am not willing to call our building "unattractive," but "functionally obsolete" is probably a good description for any modern building that lacks bathrooms and plumbing.

Let's remember that it is Christ who builds His church. And on a local level, let's remember to rely on Him and to use the resources that He provides in the best way that we are able to do so.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who Stole My Church?

I recently finished reading the book by Gordon MacDonald titled, "Who Stole My Church?" MacDonald is a fairly well known writer and pastor who tends to comment on things that are current in ministry. This book is written as a story where MacDonald himself is the new pastor of an old church in New England. In the story the "old guard" have just shot down some proposed changes to the church that would have helped the church position itself better for ministry in a contemporary world.

MacDonald gathers a group of people together who are opposed to change in the church and listens to what they have to say. They then agree to meet regularly and continue to discuss church life, specifically change in the church. Over the course of the meetings they talk about the name of the church, music in the church, and outreach and evangelism among other things. Over a period of time the "crusty old-timers" experience renewal as they see that the church really does need to change in order for it to accomplish what they had always dreamed it would accomplish. One of the highlights for the older group is when a group of teenagers came and met with them and they both got to ask questions of the other group.

I was a bit hesitant at first when I began reading this book. In the early chapters I heard a lot of "anti-change" rhetoric that reminded me of things that I've heard in other churches and I would not want to become accepted anywhere. But this turned out to be MacDonald setting up the story. As someone who loves the church, this book was encouraging as "they all lived happily ever after." Since the book is a story rather than a non-fiction work, MacDonald was able to impact his audience without the need to prove a specific point. But along the way he ended up sharing many points.

I drew a couple of specific lessons for my own church situation from this book. First, I should always remember not to marginalize the opinions of the older generation. Our congregation is only fifteen years old and so we don't have generations of tradition influencing us. But we have some elderly people who have been part of other churches most of their lives and they sometimes like to see some things continue. I should remember to hear what they have to say and also to appreciate their heart attitude. For example, some of our older people wish that we had a mid-week prayer meeting. I'm all for having prayer meeting, but it would be impractical for me to be away from my family one more night each week. A while ago one of the retirees in the congregation called me and asked if it would be okay if they had a prayer meeting in the home of an older lady whose health prevents her from getting out as frequently as she would like. The person who called is a retired pastor and he volunteered to lead the weekly prayer gathering. Obviously I was thrilled. They meet faithfully. And I attend when I am able- which is about once a month. When I am there I am impressed to see their love for the Lord and their desire for the church to grow. I don't always like all of the suggestions that they give me, but many of them have been productive.

A second area in which the book challenged me was regarding the impact of a church's name. The name of our church is "Cottrell Corners Community Church." I like many things about the name- it is alliterated, it should appeal to a lot of people since it is a "community church," it is early in the alphabet so people who look for churches in the phone book should get to us before they give up looking. It is a satisfactory name to me- except for the fact that we live in Old Bridge, NJ and very few people here know where Cottrell Corners is. There was supposed to be a development of Cottrell Corners, but it never happened. The book reminded me of the power of a name. I don't really look forward to the work associated with coming up with a better name and then advertising that name, but I learn from this book that I should not get so attached to the name that we have that I would allow it to keep people from hearing about the church.

This book is an illustration of the power of a story to educate an audience. And the education that this book provides relates to changes in churches. I found the book to be entertaining and engaging. The book would probably be most helpful for people who are a part of a long-established church and are either trying to change it or resistant to the changes that are being made.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where are the Churches?

David Dockery stated, "Most churches are found in rural areas while most people live in urban and suburban areas" (see session 12 of the "Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and teh future of Denominationalism" conference). I have obvserved this statement to be true quite often, though there are exceptions.

The national average in America is that there is one house of worship (church, synogogue, mosque, cult, etc.) for every 1,000 people. But for some reason, churches tend to be more densly clustered in places where the population is quite sparce. For example, I have two friends who pastor churches in northern Minnisota in a town of about 800 people. There are 6 churches in that community- or one church for every 133 people. On the other hand, I live in Old Bridge, NJ. Our township website lists 21 houses of worship (and I could only recommend about 1/3 of them as Christian). But there are over 60,000 people in the township of Old Bridge. That means that we have one church for every 3,000 people. Stated differently, there are 20 times more churches per person in a rural community in MN than there are in a suburban community of NJ.

Before coming home to NJ, I lived in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Chambersburg is the county seat of Franklin county. Franklin county is a rural area. It has over 400 churches serving about 129,000 people. This means that there is one church in Franklin county for every 325 people in that county. This county has approximately three times more churches per person than the national average.

You may be wondering why we should care where the churches in America are as long as we have plenty of good ones. But the sad fact is that there are heavily populated sections of our country that do not have as significant of a gospel witness as they should have. Many people recognize the need for more churches to be started. I would encourage us to be strategic in seeking to start more churches in areas that are "under-churched." I trust that more God will raise up more churches in central NJ and other parts of this country so that He will be glorified as He draws more people in these communitites to Himself.

Friday, October 9, 2009

31 Reasons to Study, Preach, and Teach the Old Testament

I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday at Pinebrook Bible Conference in the Poconos. I was there with many other pastors in the Bible Fellowship Church. The main speaker was Philip Ryken. In the first session Dr. Ryken provided 31 reasons why it is important to read and study and learn and teach and preach the Old Testament. Here are the 31 reasons that he gave.

1. It is the word of God.
2. The Old Testament is necessary background to understanding the New Testament.
3. The Old Testament gives us a fuller understanding of Christ.
4. The Old Testament gives us a fresher understanding of Christ.
5. The Old Testament helps us understand our world today.
6. The Old Testament gives us more of the promises of God.
7. The Old Testament shows us a fuller range of human experience.
8. The Old Testament teaches us more of the law of God.
9. The Old Testament exposes us to more Biblical poetry.
10. The Old Testament is our Lord's own method for dealing with temptation.
11. The Old Testament is the apostolic method of preaching.
12. Careful use of the Old Testament opens up more than half of the Bible for life and ministry.
13. Studying and teaching the Old Testament honors the Holy Spirit who breathed out these words.
14. The old Testament gives us a clearer picture of our sin.
15. The Old Testament gives us more stories to tell.
16. The Old Testament tells us the story of our people- the people of God.
17. The Old Testament gives us greater confidence in the truth of the gospel because it is rooted in history.
18. The Old Testament presents a fuller revelation of the character of God.
19. The Old Testament gives us something new to learn and new to teach.
20. The Old Testament is useful for equipping.
21. The Old Testament will stretch you to grow.
22. Reading, teaching, and preaching the Old Testament is a task vindicated by the history of the church.
23. The Old Testament will give you a richer appreciation for the grace of God.
24. The Old Testament enables us to follow Paul's example in preaching the whole counsel of God.
25. The Old Testament helps us see the gospel.
26. The Old Testament shows God's one plan of redemption unfolded throughout all of history.
27. The Old Testament will give you a broader perspective on the work of missions.
28. The Old Testament will give you a deeper understanding of the many great doctrines of the Christian faith.
29. The Old Testament will bring people to faith in Christ.
30. The Old Testament introduces us to many great heroes and heroines of the Christian faith.
31. Dwelling on the Old Testament will deepen our understanding of prayer from all the prayers in the Old Testament.

While the Old Teatament might be more difficult for people in the world today, it should still be used. Great benefits are available. So use the whole Bible, not just the New Testament.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Church Building Update

One of the primary reasons that I started a blog and am on Facebook is because it was recommended by the Building Committe of our church. The idea is that I will be able to update the congregation and anyone else who is interested regarding the progress of our new building.

On Thursday night the Building Committee met. Since our last meeting we have discovered that the bank believes that our current property probably does have quite a bit of equity based on location and size- that is good for us. We also discovered that the bank will only loan us what they believe that we can afford. The extra income which has been given to the building fund this year should help the bank believe that we can afford a reasonable sized loan. We also discovered that the bank doesn't think that we need to worry about the loan until we are deep into the permit process.

We have intended to help the congregation track the progress of the money that has been given to the building fund through a "thermometer" type chart. The chart has already been designed. It just needs to be filled in and posted in the church and on the internet. We hope to have that chart posted this month. We also intend to add a page to the church web site. That page will include the plans for the building and current progress, etc.

We received an update on the money given to the building fund. Those numbers will be included in the bulletin soon. I was encouraged that about $21,000 has been given since we began to raise money earlier this year (around March or April). I was also encouraged that we already have $47,000 in the building fund and that we have pledges for more.

Probably the greatest challenge we faced this month was the estimate for the site work. The costs for the parking lot and drainage are considerably more than we had hoped that they would be. The solution that we have proposed is to design the project with two phases. The first phase would include the building itself, but only a gravel driveway. The second phase of the project would include the paving and draining, as well as possibly including some of the other things that we would like (solar panels for example).

The next steps are to investigate the possibility of doing the project in the two proposed phases. While we will not be able to get a definite answer, we should be able to learn how acceptable it is generally in our township. Next, we need to send some money to the architect and site engineer. They will work together to make a proposal that we will take to the township for our permits. Since the permit process might take a while, it is important that we begin the process as soon as possible.

Please pray with us that we would follow God's plans and that our proposals would be favorably received by our township officials.