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


ripples-in-pondThe last post I wrote concerned strategies for constructive failure. One of the most constructive things you can do for people is to give them permission to try new things without an extensive approval process (assuming funding is not expected) and to value the experience without expecting a success every time.  When you tell people to go and try new things they tend to be eager, but frightened of the possibility of failing.  They are afraid that they will be diminished in the eyes of the pastor if they fail, and even in the eyes of their peers in the church.  To overcome this you need to create an atmosphere of adventure and acceptance.  The truth is that success is, in many cases, in the eye of the beholder anyway.

Take the following scenario as an example.  John wants to start a new Bible Study group focusing on men and their issues.  His first study is on pornography and he has five men who attend.  Two of the men commit to an accountability relationship while the remaining three eventually drop out.  The study stops meeting.  Success?  Or failure?

Well, in some people’s eyes the fact that the study had three people drop out and the study itself did not continue indicates that the idea was a failure.  No ongoing ministry resulted.  But on the other hand, two men have committed to an ongoing accountability relationship which will not only impact them, but their family and friends as well.

The simple fact that John tried something new, and two men have been impacted (not to mention the outward ripple effect).  This is cause for celebration!

By giving people permission to fail, you are also giving them permission to succeed.  The number of perspectives and ideas generated from those perspectives multiplies the chances for long term success.  Even better is that such a philosophy will spill over into other areas of ministry, and the morale of the entire church is affected.  So, go for it!


NOAA WP-3D Orion weather reconnaissance aircraft

NOAA WP-3D Orion weather reconnaissance aircraft

In 1943, during World War 2 an airborne unit was formed that still exists and whose mission is unique.  Today that mission encompasses several agencies in the US government including the US Air Force Reserve, NOAA and the US Navy.  The mission…to track and acquire data on tropical cyclones by flying into them.  They are known as Hurricane Hunters.

Watching the political rhetoric in the 2016 Presidential contest, and just having gone through both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it is easy to imagine the whole scenario as a figurative hurricane.  Lots of wind, rain and collateral damage.  How do we as ministers, especially as bivo pastors out in the secular workplace, address the current situation?  Do we visibly back a candidate?  Do we support them from the pulpit?  Can we post to our church website links to a candidate?  Ask for donations?  Can we do any of these as private citizens? Even if we CAN do these things, SHOULD we do them?  Folks, we are about to fly into the eye of the storm!

The first question is CAN we do these things suggested?  The answer is two-fold.  On the public level, from a pulpit or from a church website or other official forum we reference the Johnson Amendment put forward by Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1954, which refers to a change in the U.S. tax code prohibiting tax-exempt organizations (including churches) from endorsing or opposing political candidates. 501(c)3 organizations are also specifically addressed in the US Tax Code and have strict limits or prohibitions imposed on them.  So very simply…the answer is no, unless you want to endanger your tax-exempt status.

On the private level, yes we can endorse or work for any candidate we wish as long as our official capacity is not used or referenced.  Be warned, this is sometimes a thin line.

Should we endorse a political candidate?  That is an ethical question which should be approached on a case by case basis.  In some contexts it may merely serve to push people away from the church on account of their knowledge your choice of candidate.  In other contexts it may be perfectly fine.

In practicality I have found that simply reminding people that the Bible has specific things to say, urging them to read the Bible and then getting out to vote is sufficient.  I specifically tell them I don’t care who they vote for as long as they have chosen a candidate that lines up with their view of what is best and what God is telling them.  I leave the rest in God’s hands.

One final note.  I remind our congregation that we are Christians first, and citizens of an earthly nation second.  The words of John Wesley in his journal still ring true today…

“October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

Go and do likewise. Amen.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12:17-18 (NIV)

mission statement“Oh, no…another thing to do!”  I can hear you now.  it seems like forming a mission statement is just one more in a long list of to-do items.  Why should this take precedent over anything else?

A mission statement is a statement meant to define the aims and values of an organization.   A good mission statement contains at least those two components…aims and values.  It is a shared statement, which means that everyone should agree on those items.

A mission statement is different from other leadership tools in that it is a shared set of ideals every activity undertaken by the organization is expected to adhere.  This works for the church in three very specific ways.

First, any activity that does not further the goal of one or more of the provisions of the mission statement make that program or ministry a liability.  In other words, you can look at the activities and ministries of a church and determine if you are wasting time and energy on something that really needs to be put somewhere else.  There is an old saying that ‘sacred cow makes the best hamburger’.  Sometimes a ministry or program is cherished not because it is working or because it has furthered the church as a whole, but simply because ‘we have always done it this way’.  Having a good mission statement helps identify those areas.

Second, any existing program can be ranked in terms of it’s contribution to the mission statement.  If four core values are articulated in the mission statement and a ministry contributes to one value, while another contributes to three…you can judge their relative value.  This is one tool (but only one) that might help make decisions about where to allocate resources.

Third, any new ministry can be assessed by it’s relation to the mission statement.  If someone suggests a program a first line criteria for approval should be ‘Does the program or ministry align itself with our values and aims as put forth in the mission statement?’  If yes, then further discussion can take place.  If no, then further discussion should not be needed.

Mission statements can be a real time saver in the end, and allow you to have a more focused and effective ministry.  Anything that can do that is worth it’s weight in gold to a bivocational minister!


Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  
Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

Caution - HandThe last thing any pastor wants to have happen is to have a situation where an person or representative of an organization walks into the church and asks for a service or use of the facility in a manner inconsistent with our beliefs and practice. The typical response to such a situation is likely to be, “I am sorry, that is against our policy”. The next, very predictable, statement is, “Can I see a copy of your written policy?”

My wife and I came into our current church as ‘interim’ pastors in 2007. One of the first items of business was to assess the status of the church from several different angles and one of those was to examine the church policies in place. To our surprise we found that there were NO written church policies. In the secular climate at the time we knew, and were urged to by our District and Zone leadership, to put known church policy documents and statements down on paper, discuss them, refine them and have the church board approve them.

Having policies is a great thing. It takes pressure off the pastoral leadership, places it back where it belongs with the church board and church as a whole, keeps things consistent for all involved and enables the church to focus on other important matters. But having policies and not writing them down and approving them is inexcusable and a recipe for disaster! This is perhaps especially crucial for the small church where a single incident may literally destroy the fellowship.

Here are some of things you might want to consider for policies for your church:

  • Sexual Abuse Prevention Policy
  • Acceptable Church Use Policy
  • Wedding Policy

Some of the specifics we include in our own policies are a requirement for ALL people working with children (including pastoral staff) to go through Abuse Prevention training, as well as having a background check. Two adults and/or open doors are required in childcare situations. Smoking is prohibited in the church, and any activity contrary to the letter and spirit of the beliefs and practices of the church is also prohibited. The Church Board retains final authority to approve outside events in the facility. Premarital counseling is required of anyone wishing to be married in the church.

What to do if you don’t know where to start? First, pick a subject area and simply start writing. Second, consult with other churches in your area or your denomination and ask them for copies of their statements. Third, consult with your church insurance agency for ideas and for training resources.  Insurance agencies often offer training videos and curriculum to their clients free of charge.

If you are currently pastoring in a small church, please consider what a single lawsuit or legal action can do to your ministry and put some written and approved policies in place before you need them! In this case, a little foresight can go a long way.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”     

Matthew 10:16 (NIV)