All posts from “March 2010”

« February 2010 | Home | April 2010 »

March 30, 2010

Does Strategic Planning Contradict the Holy Spirit?

What the Bible teaches about how churches plan.


I am neck deep in strategic thinking. The school where I teach is engaged in an aggressive strategic planning initiative. We are working with an excellent consulting team and are asking hard but important questions about the present and the future. But all this has got me wondering about the apostles.

The execution of the apostolic mission seems to have been driven as much by Spirit directed intuition (Paul’s ministry in Phrygia and Galatia) and the apparent vagaries of circumstance (the scattering of persecution) as by planning. It is true that Paul planted churches along trade routes and in major cities. But was this a pre-meditated apostolic “strategy?” Or was it simply a consequence of the natural constraints of travel in his day?

Continue reading Does Strategic Planning Contradict the Holy Spirit?...

March 25, 2010

What Will the New Health Care Bill Mean for Churches?

Churches count the cost of coverage.

(Editor's Note: Since this post publishes, we've since released "Health Care Reform: How the new laws will affect your church.")

Now that President Obama has signed the health care reform bill into law, many churches are wondering what the impact will be on staffing costs.

“Does the church have to pay 100 percent of the employee’s premiums?” “Will we be required to cover our entire church daycare staff, which currently does not receive medical insurance as a benefit?” “Will we have to pay large fees and/or provide heathcare for our employees? Health insurance is very expensive and being forced to pay could mean we no longer can afford our small staff.”

These are the kinds of questions and concerns that are surfacing on discussion boards and through readers’ questions to us.

I can appreciate the trepidation many churches are feeling. We are in a very dynamic period, with several state attorneys general having filed legal challenges to the new law in recent days, and Senate Republicans engaging in parliamentary maneuvering. No one can say what the results of these efforts will be.

And, note two additional considerations: First, if the Republican Party regains control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections later this year, it will have the authority to defund implementation of many, if not most, of the provisions in the new law. Second, even if none of these roadblocks stop this legislation, many of the provisions in the law do not take effect immediately. Some do not take effect for several years.

The bottom line is that it is premature to say what all of the ramifications of this bill will be.

I am currently reviewing the impact of each provision in this 2,500-page bill on churches, while at the same time monitoring the potential obstacles to full implementation. I will be sharing the results of my analysis in upcoming articles for Church Law & Tax Report and Church Finance Today.

In the meantime, if you have questions on this new legislation, please feel free to submit them to: CLTReditor(at)

March 23, 2010

Did the Grinch Steal December from Churches?

Why a once-strong budget month may be on the decline.


In the latest “State of the Plate,” survey, in which we worked with Maximum Generosity’s Brian Kluth to poll 1,000 church leaders on the health of their churches’ finances in 2009, an interesting pattern emerged—December didn’t save the day for many congregations the way it typically does.

Is it a new reality? Or yet another anomaly in a year wrought with economic firsts? That remains to be seen.

One down year alone doesn’t indicate a trend. But when I interviewed attorney Frank Sommerville, a veteran of nonprofits and churches, last November for the Spring 2010 Your Church cover story, he projected an “ugly” December, and said it very well may be a sign of the times: “Don’t bank on December. (Churches) need to know the reality is that it’s not going to be as easy for them to raise money in December as it has been in the past.”

We’ll have to watch closely in 2010, and for good reason. December brings increased attendance to many churches because of the holidays. And in the past, many who showed up often did so with a year-end bonus or other financial windfall in hand. That led to a surge in giving to churches, which then typically helped them meet their annual budgets just as the year came to a close.

That didn’t happen for many in 2009, though. And if the pattern continues in 2010, it may change the way churches view giving initiatives year-round, not to mention the ways they budget for expenses—and when.

The “State of the Plate” told us the following about December and the start of 2010:

Continue reading Did the Grinch Steal December from Churches?...

March 16, 2010

Is Preaching Against Homosexuality a Hate Crime?

Limitations of the new Hate Crimes Act.

Follow Richard on

Richard offered thorough coverage of this topic in the March/April issue of Church Law & Tax Report. Subscribe to the bimonthly newsletter to get thorough law and tax coverage throughout the year.

March 11, 2010

How Finance, Sexual Wrongdoings Challenged One Church

A pastor's worst nightmare leads to a new beginning.


My lawyer said, "Just follow my lead and answer the questions he asks, and everything will be okay." I clung to his advice as I entered the smartly decorated boardroom lined with towering bookshelves. The first thing I noticed was the videographer and stenographer setting up their equipment. Then the opposing counsel, who to me represented evil incarnate, walked into the room.

"Please state your full name for the record." His tone and mannerisms suggested this was strictly routine. For the others in the room, this was just another work day. They pushed buttons on the camera, they typed on the stenograph machine, they served coffee, they represented their clients—this was a 9-5 job for everyone in the room. Everyone, that is, except me.

I cleared my throat and said, "Ralph Webster Neighbour III."

"I am sure your lawyer has explained to you the deposition process, but let me explain it again for the record …"

There was that phrase again—"for the record." I thought: This is high stakes. The church's reputation and my future are on the line here! I also knew this deposition was just the beginning; we would walk at least another year through this legal maze.

I couldn't believe this was happening to me—a seventh generation pastor. But here I was, giving a deposition in a sexual misconduct lawsuit. This was not what I signed up for!

This article first appeared in Leadership journal. The full version is available at For additional resources on embezzlement and sexual misconduct issues for churches, please visit:

- Secure Your Church Finances
- The Essential Guide to Church Finances
- Sexual Harassment in Your Church
- Boundaries for Healthy Church Relationships
- Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan
- Safe Mentoring Relationships
- Reducing the Risk, a child abuse prevention training program for church leaders.

March 9, 2010

Leading a Holistic Church Staff

Focusing on individual gifts may yield better results.


Charlie couldn’t lead the church staff. The harder he tried, the more he failed. With 3,000 people in worship each week, the church seemed healthy. The staff, however, seemed emotionally sick and suffered from high turnover. When people left the church staff, they invariably stepped out of full-time ministry. Former staff members expressed bitterness and unhappiness with how they were treated. Charlie knew his ministry was failing. He couldn’t lead and mentor the staff. Charlie couldn’t release the staff to each person’s potential, fully using their gifts for ministry in the church.

Stories like Charlie’s always get our attention, but they don’t provide much positive traction for growth.

I spent some time recently talking with some executive pastors of significant churches around the country to discover their best practices for leading staff. What I found surprised me—not the best practices themselves, but the fact that my independent interviews, without any prodding by me, all connected to one common thread: holistic staffs.

Let’s look at how these leaders develop and oversee holistic staffs, and the lessons we can learn from them for our own ministries:

Continue reading Leading a Holistic Church Staff ...

March 4, 2010

Is God Calling You To Move?

Determining God’s will for your next job.


A man 3,000 miles away whom I had never met, the chairman of a pulpit search committee, came to the point quickly on the phone: Would I consider meeting with his group to discuss becoming senior pastor of their church?

This unexpected phone call propelled me into a deep, soul-searching phase. Without any prior experience, I was suddenly faced with one of the most difficult decisions of my ministry career: Should I stay or should I go?

Continue reading Is God Calling You To Move?...

March 2, 2010

10 Tips for Last-minute Tax Filers


Here are the Internal Revenue Service's top 10 tips that will help your tax filing process “run smoother than ever this year.”

1. Start gathering your records. Round up any documents or forms you'll need when filing your taxes: receipts, canceled checks and other documents that support an item of income or a deduction you're taking on your return.

2. Be on the lookout. Gather any W-2s and 1099s that were mailed to you by your employer. You'll need these to file your tax return.

3. Try e-file. When you file electronically, the software will handle the math calculations for you. If you use direct deposit, you will get your refund in about half the time it takes when you file a paper return. E-file is now the way the majority of returns are filed. Last year, 2 out of 3 taxpayers used e-file.

Continue reading 10 Tips for Last-minute Tax Filers...