Degradation of Civility

I heard this term recently. It’s a good description of what we’ve all seen on social media: someone gives their opinion on a topic and others attack the person for his/her point of view. When we hide behind a computer screen, we feel we can be impersonal and even uncivil if not outright vicious.

  1. Attack the problem, not the person. Attacking a person is not healthy on your part – in fact, it speaks very loudly about who you are, not the other person. Besides, if you are that passionate about an opposing point of view, then surely you should have sound rebuttals.
  2. For Christians only: you must always value the person more than either your point of view or theirs. God loves people, not opinions. Christians don’t get a pass on this – non-Christians may get a pass (depending on their faith-teachings).

Do all you can to respect people even it means you will just barely tolerate their opinions. People can change their point of view but hearing uncivil words and/or even being attacked is downright wrong.


Lead On!



Simple, Transparent, Expectant, Accountable

Financial statements should have these characteristics and here’s why:

  • Simple

o   Any accountant can make financial statements hard to read and interpret but that undermines their goal of being a tool which is used to help the church make better decisions (not just better financial decisions).

o   Keep things as simple as possible because most people can’t read financial statements. If the statements are too hard to read, many people will conclude that things are being hidden from them and the trust level degrades.

  • Transparent

o   All financial statements should have all church financial figures. Hiding or consolidating numbers is not good for the church. It decreases the confidence level members have in the church’s financial leaders. Besides, all the money was given by church members so they should be able to see where all the money is.

o   All financial statements should be published every month. If corporate America can put out monthly statements, then every church should be able to do that, too. I think complete financial statements should be made available to everyone who wants them every month, not just to the Finance Committee.

  • Expectant

o   By this I mean the church should have high expectations of how its money is handled.

o   It should have highly qualified, fiscally impeccable, and well-trained staff in the Finance Office.

o   Its lay leaders should give their time to know the figures and help the church understand the figures.

o   The pastor and other ministers should understand their role in teaching generosity and personal financial priorities.

  • Accountable

o   There is accountability to the church: if the leadership expectations are not being met, then the church should ask them to fulfill their responsibilities or seek others for these roles. There is also legal accountability: if anyone involved in the church’s finances has any hint of fiscal irresponsibility, then the church is obligated to remove him/her from that role.

o   All churches should have a financial audit at least every four years and in the off years, the church should have an “agreed upon procedures” audit. The AUP ensures the finance office is following best practices for a church.

These are non-negotiable items for me in a church finance office, its financial statements, and the people who work there (paid and volunteer). What are your standards?


Lead On!



The “Dying Season”

Jane Wilson was the Senior Adult Minister at South Highland Presbyterian Church. In the late 1990s she told me that January through April, just four months, are “The Dying Season.” More senior adults die in those 17 weeks than the rest of the year combined.

  • The weather in the northern hemisphere can be cold and harsh
  • Christmas and Thanksgiving have passed so there is no major social event “to live for”

Church staffs should prepare themselves the rest of the year to handle the emotions of the Dying Season and they should educate the church members, too, about this time of year. There is little that can be done to stop this except perhaps provide social events in the springtime that will make people look forward to what is coming.

Jane’s comment so many years ago has made me accept better that I lose too many of my friends during a very short and harsh season. Thank you, Jane.

Lead On!


Asbestos and Lead Paint

In the 1970s the US Congress outlawed the use of asbestos and paint containing lead. However, they let construction companies use up the available stockpiles but no further manufacturing was permitted. This means that any building built since about 1980 is free of asbestos and lead paint. Buildings built before then are almost guaranteed to have both.

Asbestos is an excellent fire retardant. You’ll find it as insulation around pipes, in ceilings (but typically not ceiling tiles), and in floor tiles (all 9X9 tiles have asbestos; 12X12 were invented to replace the asbestos tiles). Lead was put in paint because it helps paint adhere better and it was used everywhere until it was banned.

Asbestos content usually is 2%-5% of the insulation, tile, and ceiling. Asbestos is only harmful if inhaled regularly over a period of several years. The fibers stick together in the lungs and eventually shorten a person’s life. Leaded paint is harmful if ingested because lead causes brain damage. The law does not require either asbestos or lead paint to be removed. They can be left in place and/or covered over.

Asbestos recommendation: I suggest churches have a survey to learn where they have asbestos. The testing is fast and fairly inexpensive. Then I suggest a multi-year plan to eventually remove all asbestos from the building. This means the guys in “spacesuits” will come in for a few days and that part of the building is off-limits.

  • Replace pipe insulation first so that pipes can be replaced as needed
  • Second replace all ceilings with asbestos because gravity makes ceilings fall and so you can access the areas above the ceilings to place wires or HVAC equipment
  • Next remove all floor tiles. Many places cover over the tile but I suggest completely removing the tiles.
  • Finally, remove any remaining asbestos.

Removing all asbestos means you no longer have that headache to deal with in your buildings. It will help all future building renovation and maintenance and make them cheaper and faster. Asbestos abatement isn’t cheap but if done piecemeal over several years, a church can get rid of this problem.

Lead Paint recommendation: lead paint is most commonly found in two places – walls and windows.

  • It is impossible to remove paint from walls without removing the walls themselves and that is cost-prohibitive. The only solution there is to paint the walls every 3-10 years with fresh paint. That not only covers over the lead paint but it gives your building a continually fresh look.
  • For windows I suggest replacing them completely. Getting new energy-efficient windows to replace your old windows will help your utility expenses. The new windows will eventually pay for themselves and eliminate flaking paint chips which could be ingested by children.

Be proactive about your building maintenance. Take steps now so that you will have more options in future years.


Lead On!


Sabbaticals and Jubilee Years for Churches?

In Leviticus 25, Moses receives farming instructions from God:

‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord.”

A few verses later, “Count off seven Sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven Sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.”

For years 49 and 50, Israelites were not allowed to sow or reap – the land was to lie fallow. The 50th year was celebratory year: all debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, etc. It was a year to remember and it usually happened once in a person’s life.

What if churches had Sabbath Years and Jubilee Years?

What if every seventh year a church:

  • Seriously evaluated every current program and completely overhauled it to set it up for the next six years. A church probably can’t totally stop every program for a year, but they can embark on a year-long study and serious assessment to determine if the program should continue or not.
  • Discerned what are the goals for the next six years and created new programs to meet those goals.
  • Visited other churches and non-profits to learn from what they are doing successfully and unsuccessfully to see if and how those ideas can be implemented in their own church.
  • Determined if its missions activities were successful and if it its missions funds (even the funds given to the denomination) were used for their maximum good.

What if every 25th year (a half-jubilee) a church:

  • Did an analysis of its staffing needs and current staff in order to implement a strategic blueprint to guide the church for the next generation (every 25 years) – that is a “half-jubilee” timeframe

What if every 50th year a church:

  • Studied its current facilities to determine

o   Whether the church needs to be in its current location or move to a new location

o   Whether the church needs to update or even gut and redo the current buildings

o   Whether the church needs to tear down its existing structures and/or build new facilities

This concept means the church intentionally designs and redesigns its resources (programming, staffing, and buildings) to meet the needs of the current and next generation(s). It follows a (biblical) model of intentionally evaluating why it is doing what it is doing and then decide what it needs for the next few years. Instead of just “keeping on keeping on” this makes the church really pray and study about what it wants to do going forward.

As to what date you start with, why not use the church’s year of origin as the basis?


Lead On!



Stop doing things “because we’ve always done it that way.” Instead, be intentional – about everything. Have a good, solid reason as to why a church does everything. I’ve worked with too many churches who are just repeating what they’ve done in previous years and are getting the same results but they are fearful of changing the status quo lest they upset members. Frankly, staff members aren’t worried about upsetting a member, they’re worried about losing their jobs.

Even Jesus had serious problems with what had become tradition instead of faith and he got in trouble when he questioned why the Jewish leaders kept up practices that were outdated. Their answer was the same that churches use today, “because we’ve always done it that way.”

Ask questions of people—lots of questions—about why things are done. I’ve gotten dirty looks from people when I dared question why a church would spend over $100,000 on a library without ever asking if this library was in the church’s strategic plan. I didn’t get fired. “Attack the problem, not the person” is one of my favorite sayings.

Be intentional with the right motives: to make the church the most effective it can be. Analyze everything a church does. Ask about mission trips and their results. Determine if committees need to be dissolved or reconstituted. Don’t try to tweak and re-tweak programs – shut them down, assess their goals, and start new – that will get better results than continuing the same thing. Don’t be hamstrung by policies and bylaws which were created by previous generations but which aren’t relevant today. Ask why some positions and people rotate leadership roles and why new blood isn’t brought in. Ask why we use the same vendor instead of putting it out to bid. Ask what the financial numbers mean without any financial obfuscation.

The only thing sacred in a church is the text we all use – all the trappings of churches today are human creations and can thus be changed. That includes how we worship, study the Bible, establish church governance, etc. Don’t just let things happen – be intentional about everything in the church. Change may involve killing some of these sacred cows and that must be done carefully and intentionally. But ultimately the church will know there is a very good reason behind everything it does – to be the church God wants it to be.


Lead On!


Overtime Law

The US Department of Labor says that employees are classified as exempt from overtime (cannot get OT) or non-exempt (are eligible for OT). Exempt employees are classified as such because they earn over a certain amount AND have decision-making authority for the organization. Non-exempt employees “must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek.”

What if a person uses sick and/or vacation time that pushes the total weekly hours to over 40, does OT come into play? For instance:

  • A custodian is Monday and Tuesday for a total of 16 hours
  • To catch up, the custodian works Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 10 hours each day for a total of 30 hours
  • The employee has a total of 46 hours to be paid: 16 sick + 30 on the clock
  • Does the organization pay the custodian for

o   40 hours at regular time plus 6 at overtime? Or

o   46 hours at regular (because he didn’t “work” 16 hours)?

The Fair Labor Standards Act says the custodian would be paid 46 regular hours because he’s only owed overtime for hours worked. Some companies will even allow an employee to get 40 hours pay and keep the remaining 6 hours in a Paid Time Office (PTO) bank. That may or may not appeal to the employee or employer. Some people value time off more than an extra big paycheck one week.

I asked this question of Suzanne Lucas who runs which is a very helpful and informative website. Suzanne was extremely prompt with an answer. When you have personnel or human resource (HR) questions, do some research on this website and even ask Suzanne for help. She’s good!
Lead On!



Your Debris Field

In June 2011 I went with a church group to Oneonta, Alabama. In April, just two months before, a massive tornado system decimated homes and lives throughout north central Alabama. Our goal was to frame up a house in one week and we did, even though it was the hottest June they’d had in years. One afternoon I walked downwind from the house into the debris field. Pine trees were snapped or bent over and hardwoods were uprooted. And all over the place was the debris of a family’s lives: pictures, shoes, a baby blanket, papers, parts of a trailer, a dish rack, sofa cushions, and thousands of bits of a home and house. It was terrifying to see what the wind could do in a matter of minutes and I can’t imagine what it was like to live through it.

I’ve lived long enough to be able to look back and see what I have done in my life. I have hundreds of friends literally around the world; I’ve traveled to dozens of countries; learned millions of facts (too many of which I share without invitation); and have a beautiful family. In essence, I can see the good and bad of what I’ve left in my own personal debris field. I know I’ve left some hurt along the way; I want to believe that whenever I’ve plowed through someone, that I’ve taken the time to return and seek forgiveness. I’ve probably not been as successful in that as I think I have. I do know that I’ve hope I’ve left some joy back there, too. I prefer to reflect on that part of my debris field – where I’ve helped and not hurt.

As you go through life, pause long enough to look at your own debris field. What is littered in your wake? Are there torn up lives and people who are hurting more because you passed by? Do you see people who remember you fondly and joyfully? We can’t have a positive impact with every person every day, but there should be an abundance of positive results after you’ve passed by so that people will say you enriched their lives. Aim for good things to be the legacy seen in your debris field.

Lead On!