The job of a pastor is extensive and includes everything from researching and planning sermons, writing, teaching, encouraging people by prayer and visitation, spiritual counseling and being with people in the best and worst places of their lives.  We have the privilege of performing both baby dedications and funerals, performing weddings and picking up the pieces after a divorce.  We pray at hospital bedsides with people as they go into surgery and when they are passing from this life to the next.  We are trained to do all of this and more.  One thing we are NOT trained to do is assess and implement security in a church.  I have yet to see an educational program in pastoral theology or similar subject include a course in this. If we are lucky we have had a small part of a church administration course that covers some safety and security.  Most of us could do the basics…make sure we have fire extinguishers, lock doors, make sure that there are fire alarms and the batteries have been changed.  Active shooters?  Site hardening?  No.  So what do we do?

The answer to that question is quite simple, actually.  Find an expert.  If we need help with our bookkeeping, we find an accountant.  If we need someone for serious counseling we refer to a competent Christian counselor.  If we need electrical work done we find an electrician.  So, where do we find someone who knows about security?

The first suggestion would be to call the business line of your local police department.  Ask for the Community Relations Officer (your titles may vary!) and explain what your are looking for). In the last month the pastors on our area of the District have met with a local county Sheriff and then with the Police Chief of my municipality.  They were both happy to meet with us and offer their experience and opinions, and did so without any cost to us.  Their suggestions were very simple, many of them easy to implement and would increase our security greatly.  To make matters even more appealing, our Police Chief is the head of Public Safety, and so is also head of the Fire Department and EMT service, so the advice he gave covered multiple aspects of our situations.

Second, contact your insurance company.  Most commercial insurance companies offer materials dealing with safety and security, some even often webinars and print materials they can send to you.  You are already paying for these resources, why not use them?

Third, contact other churches who may be further ahead in the process than you are.  Most churches and pastors are willing to share their process with you.  Check with your denominational Headquarters, District or Association. Check with other local pastors or your ministerium.

If you are in a church that has not started this kind of process as yet, and you don’t know where to look for help, start with these three basic contacts.  At least you will have started, and the conversation can continue.  Like many things once you start asking the right people the right questions, you will be on the path to forming a coherent plan.  And that can make all the difference.


“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”

Proverbs 11:14 (KJV)


Of all the issues regarding safety and security at a church the most contentious is likely to be the issue of whether or not to have armed guards.  Many churches call this a ‘Sheep Dog Ministry’, evoking the image of a dog protecting a flock of sheep from a ravening wolf.  The ethical and practical concerns of establishing this kind of ministry are potentially very divisive.  I am not going to tell you I have the answer for this set of questions, but give you some things to work through your own process of making a decision.

As Sheriff Marcoux stated during our meeting a few weeks ago the entire question is a ‘no-win’ scenario.  In the best of circumstances a trained person with a firearm will still be heavily influenced by adrenaline and may miss hitting an assailant.  Even worse, in the confusion of an active shooter scenario there is a high likelihood of collateral damage.  In other words, the person protecting others may end up shooting an innocent person either as a missed shot or through the body of the perpetrator (a so-called through-and-through shot).  In a recent incident in Vermont two trained officers fatally shot a man, but out of the 12 shots fired only 3 hit their target.  This was from a fairly close distance, a relatively static target and in a situation with no one else close.  This is no reflection on the officers, just a fact that is well-known.  Under stress, and especially when being fired upon, accuracy is diminished.  Now, imagine the reaction an untrained person might have if they are carrying a firearm in your church.  This is why most Sheep Dog Ministry advocates recommend utilizing off duty police officers and active duty or retired military members in their congregation to form the core team.  Careful vetting of the core team members is vital.

On the other hand, making the decision to avoid this ministry and not having a method of fighting back against an active shooter means the assailant is coming into a ‘target-rich’ environment.  This is similar to a shooter coming into any other area where firearms are not permitted, such as a school, a courthouse or a sporting event.  Remember, the typical active shooter scenario lasts 6 minutes, and it takes about as long as that for the police to get on site. The shooter knows they can walk in and have 5 to 10 minutes of time before the police arrive, so they can shoot as many people as they can in that length of time.  If they are in full-on ‘suicide by cop’ mode, they will not be thinking of their safety, just killing anyone they can before they themselves are taken out.

Key to this question is what the leadership of the church and the congregation are willing to live with.  This can only be decided on the level of the individual church.  Regardless of the internal discussion, strict confidentiality on this should be held.  Either way any public advertisement of your stance should be avoided.  You don’t want to attract shooters (“We would NEVER allow firearms in our church!”) or turn away people who might be afraid of or opposed to firearms (“We are a PROUD concealed carry church!”).

All of these concerns need to be taken into account, and you should know right up front that settling these issues is not a panacea.  Even if your church decides to form a Sheep Dog ministry, there are many other pieces to consider.  For instance,  what do you do if the Sheep Dog(s) is among the first people neutralized by the assailant?  Weighty questions, indeed.

There are other possibilities in our scenario and other responses, and we will touch on a couple of those in Part 4 of this series.  We will also consider motivation of the assailant.  Why did they choose your building to hit?  What could you have done beforehand?  What is the number one security threat to the typical church?

Please join us as we work this through.


34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.”

1 Sam 17:34-35




This is the second in a miniseries dealing with safety and security in the context of a church.  This is very similar in many respects to the context in which I work when NOT in the church; I work at a school. In fact, many of these issues may be faced by a pastor in a school setting because we do see many church planters and bivocational pastors renting worship space in schools.

At the school I work in we have several formal strategies in place, and conduct regular drills in order to exercise them.  AS a matter of fact it is mandated by law that we conduct at least one drill a month for the school year. In the case of a fire or other catastrophic situation the first choice for us is to evacuate the building.  These drills are not announced and can be during any sort of weather.  Although not legally mandated, the same thing COULD be done at a local church, but it is probably not something that you would really want to do during a worship service.

So here are a couple suggestions for you:

  1. Make sure your exits are not blocked and are functioning.
  2. Keep walkways outside clear and usable.
  3. Keep fire extinguishers charged and available at key locations around your building.
  4. Designate key people to help vulnerable members such as the elderly, children and disabled.
  5. Designate one or more assembly points outside the building.  If desired, you can actually post a sign outside at the assembly point.
  6. Look at your floor plan critically.  Do you have a sufficient number of exits to handle the number of people in any particular room at any time?  This one can be the most contentious issue on this list, since if you don’t have the exits needed you may have to shift usage (people hate change!) or think about putting in more doors ($$$).
  7. Do you have alarms set up in critical areas, and do they have fresh batteries?
  8. Do you have land-line phones available in more than one area of the building? (Land-lines because you have to have a phone available even if no one in the church building has a cell phone).
  9. Post evacuation routes at prominent key locations around the building, such as in classrooms, bathrooms and by the doors.
  10. COMMUNICATE these precautions with your people, even if casually.  It does not help to have a policy, procedure or strategy if no one knows about it.

Some of these items are applicable to multiple hazard scenarios, so they have a big bang-for-the-buck.    In our next couple of articles we’ll take a look at how this applies to the news that is in everybody’s mind, as we consider violent events in the church such as an active shooter.


“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
John 10:2-3 (NIV)

Last Thursday one of my key lay leaders and I went to a ‘Mission Area Meeting’ with the rest of our colleagues in ministry in Vermont.  The subject was ‘Safety and Security’, the guest speaker was the Sheriff of Lamoille County and one of his SRO’s (School Resource Officer).  The discussion was intense, coming a day after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.  Most of us did not want to be here discussing this topic. I think, though, that a few thoughts are in order here.  I will not do this all at once because, quite simply, there is a lot to think about.

The first thing I want to convey to you is that ‘Safety and Security’ encompasses more than one issue.  As a matter of fact many of the hazards that need to be considered will overlap, but all need consideration.  For instance, having usable, well positioned exits for a quick evacuation of people is important in an active shooter situation, but is equally important in a fire.  In some circumstances it can be crucial in a medical emergency as well.

The second thing I wanted to touch on is the need for written documentation of policies and procedures for these emergency situations.  This is something many (if not most) of us do not have.  In the course of this last few weeks I was asked by the police chief of our city, whom I know through my police chaplaincy, to provide a written policy to another chief who was having a similar discussion with a group in southern Vermont.  My church has no such written policy, so I asked around other local churches.  Having no response I moved on to larger churches in my District.  With still no response I moved farther afield.  I finally located a church with a written policy in OHIO!  They kindly allowed me to have copies of their documents, and I generalized them and made them into templates so other people could use them.

There is an old saying that ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’.  Keep in mind this one fact.  If you fail in this regard, planning for emergencies…people are likely to die.  Do you really want that to happen and if not, what would you do to prevent it?


“Blessed are the peacemakers…”  Matthew 5:9


You arrive at your church office on a typical night after work, and go to your desk.  Flipping on the monitor for the computer, then hitting the power button on the desktop, you sit back and wait for the system to come up.  It grinds away for a few minutes and then the BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH displays!  If you are a techie you start trying to diagnosis it.  If not, then you call the techie who set it up for you.  In either case you get the bad news eventually.  Your hard drive failed.  Crashed and burned is more like it.  And with it goes your financial records for the church, the documents you have so carefully written, your sermons, your hymns and choruses for the presentation software.  Even your church directory.  Those  pictures you took at the church retreat last year, the profile pictures for the church directory?  Gone.  If you had a church techie the first question out of their mouth after telling you the hard drive is toast will be, “Do you have a backup?”  You hang your head and your face turns red as you say, “No.  I didn’t think I needed one.”  Well, Sunshine, you did.

Another scenario…you have turned your resignation in to the Church Board.  You are heading to another, larger church but you have to leave some basic info for the pastor who will be following you into this church.  How do you do this?  Paper files?  My father-in-law, with 40 years in ministry, would always leave a detailed letter with key documents for the next pastor.  A CD-ROM?  The password to the computer and a wish for good luck in locating anything?

When I came to my current church we did not even have a list of the members.  We had a number given at the previous District Assembly, but no names.  We never did identify who all of the people were who were supposedly on a list somewhere.  The previous pastor was not available to call, either.

I’d like to offer a couple suggestions.  First, backup your computer.  The best choice is a backup offsite somewhere.  If you do this and the building burns down then your backup is safe even if the hard drive is literally melted down.  If you do not have an internet connection at your office then the second best choice is to buy two portable hard drives (~$60 each at the time of this writing).  Schedule a nightly backup  of all your user documents with one, then take it home or to another safe place and then use the second the next week to back up the same files.  One of your backups will be safe regardless of what happens to the second one.    You will lose no more than a week’s worth of data.  DO NOT backup the applications.  Those can be replaced and will take up a huge amount of space.  Your user documents cannot be replaced.

Second, consider using a secure cloud server off site to store generic documents that you will want to pass along to the next pastor.  I recommend using the Google app ‘Drive’.  Create a user account for the church and store the documents you really need to pass along here.  Categorize them so someone looking through them can find information easily.  So you might want a folder for Board Meeting Minutes, broken down to subfolders by year.  Another folder might contain documents related to membership records.  A third might be policy documents.  Make sure the Board knows about this account and the account login information is available to trusted individuals.  I have known more than one pastor who has died and someone else has been left to pick up the pieces. When the time comes to resign or you otherwise leave this pastorate most of the documents needed will be available simply by giving the new pastor the login info.  You can even do this by loading completed documents to a thumb drive at the church, in the case you don’t have internet access there, and upload them to the cloud server from another location.  The beauty if this is that the cloud server is (or should be) well protected and encrypted, and is accessible anywhere there is a web connection.

We never like to consider these things, but if you take the two basic steps outlined above you will save yourself, your church and another pastor a great deal of work.


“…making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
Ephesians 5:16


Pastors as a group are not well known for risky behavior and especially behavior that may impact their church growth.  There is an old joke about the church being about 10 years behind the curve when it comes to innovation.  Sadly, that may be closer to the truth than we are likely to admit.  In my own small circle I know of churches who are just now introducing such things as lyrics projected onto a screen during worship.  In a meeting just this last week we were talking about music, and I remarked that what we refer to as ‘the new choruses’ were actually published almost 25 years ago!  (“Master Chorus Book” by Ken Bible)

The concept of risk is something with which we as bivopastors should become friends.  There are a few things we should know, as a basis, though.

First, risk is risky.  Duh!  Any particular action taken may or may not succeed, and in many cases the action will fail.  This is not bad, though, if we learn from our failures.  It is only bad when we do not learn from our mistakes.  Thomas Edison is said to have tried 10,000 experiments as he was inventing his light bulb.  When asked about his failure he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Second, just because it worked (or didn’t work) somewhere else is no guarantee it will do the same thing in our context.  As stock brokers are prone to say, ‘past performance is not a guarantee of future earnings’.  Seeing something working in one place, like a Willow Creek or Saddleback Church, does not guarantee it will work for you. This is probably more a problem with context than with execution.

Third, a slightly tongue in cheek definition of ‘insanity’ is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’.  One of my favorite movies is ‘The Princess Bride’.  No matter how often I watch it, though, it always ends the same way.  If I expected it to end a different way as I watch it over and over again…there is something wrong!  Yet, in the church we often do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.  I knew of a missionary years ago who boasted that they had given out 20,000 tracts on a street corner over a period of two years.  When I asked how many responses they saw, he told me that 2 people  had come into the church.  That is a response rate of .01%.  Yes, those two people are precious to God, but almost certainly the missionary would have been better off trying something new.  ‘We have always done it this way’ is a death knell for a church.

How do we use risk to our own benefit?  We need to embrace the uncomfortable.  Yes, change is difficult, and sometimes painful.  We then decide to learn from our mistakes, rather than retreat from them or wallow in our own misery.  If we are successful, so much the better.  Never let a good failure pass you by!

Encourage your people to try new things.  Give them permission to fail!  Let them know that the trying is the important part, and you will not be mad at them for failing if they are doing something new and worthwhile.

Take a look at your current ministry, what you are doing and why you are doing it.  If it is not working or if it is requiring much effort for little in terms of results, don’t be afraid to cast it aside and try something different.  Realistically a small church cannot ‘do it all’.  It must pick and choose the ministries it can offer in a strategic fashion.  Those ministries it does, it must do well.  There are certain core ministries EVERY church must supply, however.  A worship service of some sort is essential, as is a missions program, an outreach or service ministry and an opportunity for prayer.  Beyond these, everything is up for grabs.  Notice I did not define what those particular ‘essential’ ministries look like.  These are more or less defined as missional priorities rather than a fixed format.  Worship could be home groups, a formal church setting, a live band with a worship leader in a park or a coffee house.  Outreach could be a nursing home ministry, a school Bible club, servant evangelism or collecting box tops for an Native American school.  In addition, some ministries simply have a life span.  It may be that once worked no longer does and it is time to change.  That is okay.

The one thing to keep in mind here above all else is that if you do not take some risks, the chances for growth are exceedingly low.  Failure is seldom fatal, but is merely another opportunity to learn.


‘ “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’

John 4:34 (NIV)


As we approach the end of the year pastors are dealing with the elephant in the room.  What do we do next year?  Whether you are trying to make the next year better than the last, come up with sermon series or to simply round out a schedule of basic events, the task is much the same.  In the old days we used to have a wall calendar with a bunch of various colored Post-Its.  Nowadays most of us have a computer.  So,  shall we get down to it?

I’d like to describe here one solution that I have found that works for me.  I first described this last year just after Thanksgiving, and got enough good comments that am outlining it again here.  There are other ways to accomplish this task, but this one works.

First, I signed up for a Google account, giving me access to a number of tools.  One of those features is called ‘Google Calendar’.  Once signed up with Google, I created three different calendars.  One for the church, one for me personally and one for my secular work.

Second, I put dates as appropriate in each calendar. So far, so good!

Thirdly, I use the code generated by Google to embed my church calendar into the HTML of the church calendar webpage.  Any events put into the church calendar are now visible to our congregation, and dynamically update as the calendar is changed.

Fourth, I downloaded the Google Calendar app onto my smartphone.  I have set up a home screen on my smartphone that displays only this app so I can get to my calendar by only flipping between home screens.  In setting the app up, I specify that it displays all three of my calendars.  This merges the dates on the calendars so that I can easily see what I have, and when, coordinating all three areas of my life.

Fifth…and this is where the magic comes in…when I update the church calendar from my phone the church calendar on the church website is automatically updated as well!

If this solution works for you, then I am glad to have helped.  If it doesn’t work for you there are other solutions that can work just as well or better.  But in any case it is imperative that you get a handle on the issue or sooner or later you are going to find yourself scheduling a Board meeting when you were supposed to be at your child’s school event.

I pray you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are looking forward to a well-scheduled and conflict-free calendar of Christmas events…all filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit!


prayerThere are similarities and differences between bivocational pastors whether they minister in the city, the country, a small town or on a foreign missions field.  No matter the language, the culture or what your faith tradition happens to be, these still apply.  Over the course of my time writing for bivocational pastors there have been several themes that have emerged which show these needs clearly.

First, far above and beyond every other concern, bivocational pastors feel a need to better manage their time.  Time is a crucial commodity for the minister who works a secular job in addition to the day-to-day ministry of a church.  There is a saying that, “there is no such thing as a ‘part-time’ minister, only those who are not fully funded”.  There is a great deal of truth to this statement.  Most bivocational pastors will put in a 40 hour week at a secular job, and then spend another 20 or so in ministry during ‘slow’ periods.  Given extraordinarily busy times they may put in 40 or 50 hours in ministry alone…that makes a 90 hour week!  So the need to be as efficient as possible and manage time well becomes a passionate pursuit.

Second, bivocational pastors wrestle with what it really means to be a bivo.  Their relationship to other members of the ministry and the misunderstandings that can occur is important to them.  They wish to be taken seriously, and in some areas or traditions this is more possible than in others.  For instance, the Southern Baptist Church has been historically heavily invested in it’s bivopastors.  Likewise the Church of the Nazarene and the Wesleyan Church make use of bivos and recognize their unique placement and value.  Other bivos may not be as blessed, but all bivos struggle with these issues.

Third, all bivo pastors need encouragement and support.  This can be from several sources, but denominational support, family support and support from the local church are all needed.  October is ‘Pastor Appreciation Month” in the USA, but many pastors will go through the month with no hope or expectation of a show of appreciation.  All it takes is a single sour encounter with a member of their church to color the month badly for a bivo.  Some of the statistics around pastoral burnout are quite shocking.  80% of pastors feel they have too little time with their spouse, as well as believing that pastoral ministry affects their family negatively.  (click here to see burnout stats) That alone should give any church a cause to reflect on the emotional health of their pastor.

Fourth, following closely on these concerns are matters of Church Administration.  Despite all the time pastors spend in education there is little to no time spent learning the day to day running of the church.  When I was in the process of preparing for ministry I spoke to the Senior Pastor at the church I was attending and asked him for ways to learn about this.  We settled on several courses of action.  One was taking a certificate course in Church Administration offered by Nazarene Continuing Lay Training (CLT).  The other was rotation through several church positions and shadowing others.  The learning was invaluable.  As much as I needed to know how to exegete the Old Testament Prophets, I needed to know how to understand the accounting and bookkeeping of the local church.

The last one I am going to mention is the need for connections.  Bivocationals are very concerned with making connections with people.  Not simply connections in regards to church growth, but personal connections.  Everyone needs friends and confidants.  Everyone needs people around them who don’t think of them as ‘Pastor’, but as ‘Jim’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Bubba’.  Ok, maybe not Bubba, but they need to be known, trusted and liked by people outside the context of the church.  Loneliness is a career killer for pastors, and many pastors who manage to last beyond the average career length live a very lonely existence.  Stats say that 50% of pastors will leave the ministry after their first five years. (Click here for reference).  Some of these stats are a little bit up for grabs, but they are not far off.  Imagine a context where an engineer goes to school for a BS, then an MS.  They graduate from school and after 5, 6 or 7 years are so discouraged they leave the field, never to work in it again.

Bivocational ministers share many of the same concerns the world over.  But there are solutions.  Our hope here is to not only point out the problems, but to point the way to some of those solutions.  Ultimately it is the call to ministry that sustains us in the dry times.  Look to Jesus for strength, healing and restoration.


planning_bubbleHave you planned for your church to shrink this year?  No?  Didn’t think so. But have you planned for it to grow?

A significant problem for small churches that are growing is lack of planning.  What do you do if you have a family come in with small children and you don’t have a children’s ministry?  Or perhaps you have a worship area that is not big enough.  What do you do?  The wisest thing you can do is to think of these things BEFORE they become an issue.


  1.  Set a goal for growth and be specific. Sit down and write it out.  “We would like to see two families come in during the next year with 4-5 kids under the age of 14.”  “We want to see a total net growth of 20 people over the next 12 months.”  “We are doing outreach to senior citizens and expect to see 6 attending worship in the next 6 months.”
  2. Determine what you would need to support those goals if they are achieved. Need another Children’s Church worker?  Need 20 more seats in the sanctuary?  ADA Compliant bathrooms and an entry ramp?
  3. Put the resources into place.  Find the children’s church worker and train them, rearrange the sanctuary and put 20 more seats in there!  Start construction on the entry ramp and bathroom, or at least find the funds for construction.

Planning for the future is essential if you are to see any permanent growth. This is is a basic principle set forth in the Bible.  We have to ask ourselves the question, why would God send us people if we are not prepared for them?  If we are not prepared or at least preparing for growth, maybe we don’t really want it to happen.  And that…is the subject of a whole other post!


“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

newspaperreadStaying current on world and local events is a mandatory activity for pastors.  In the life of the bivopastor it comes a little more easily, since you are ‘out in the world’ more than someone who is tied to an office.  On the other hand a fully-funded pastor can be more intentional about the process.  Either way, it has to be done.  How can a bivopastor make sure they are up to date?

  1. Set a time daily for a quick update on news and events.  It can be listening to the radio on the way to work or reading a trusted website on your phone at lunch.
  2. Talk with the people around you to get an idea of what they consider important.
  3. Subscribe to a newspaper, either a major daily like the “New York Times” or a local paper like the “St. Albans Messenger” in my locality.
  4. Aim for a broad view.  Don’t just focus in one area, get an overview that covers many types and kinds of events.
  5. Don’t read the comments on websites.  Most are useless and reactionary and will only serve to raise your blood pressure.
  6. Mix in a foreign news source every so often to get a different perspective.  My favorites are “BBC America” and “CBC” (Canadian) news programs.

In addition to keeping you current and knowing what people are concerned with, the news can provide you with many cutting edge sermon illustrations.  Look for them and if needed take notes.  You won’t regret it.


I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  Luke 13:3-5 (NIV)