Church of the Week: Harbison Chapel, Grove City, PA

On a recent visit to Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania (see here and here), I was so pleased to find Harbison Chapel on the school's campus open at midday.
The chapel, in the center of the campus, was built by the sons of Samuel P. Harbison as a memorial to their father, who served the college as a trustee.
The interior is beautified by hand-carved woodwork and brilliant stained glass windows. It is the campus home to chapel services, convocations, and Sunday vespers, and hosts frequent and numerous weddings throughout the year. It is a stately treasure, and I'm glad I got to visit it and pray in it, however briefly.

Church Signs With Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 27)

This sign is borrowed from Ed Stetzer's blog. The syntax of this sign's message not only makes it confusing ("exactly WHO is eating all those lives?") but even those who read it correctly may not understand it. Sure, it's from the Bible, but so is "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones" (Psalm 137:9).

I rest my case, your honor.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 39)

The pastor's desk above is one of two desks used by my friend, Father Austin Fleming, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Concord, Massachusetts. He also blogs at "A Concord Pastor Comments."

He explains this desk: "I have a really nice upstairs pastor's office which is neat and orderly (mostly because I so seldom use it!). I prefer this desk right by the front door of our parish center. Seated here, I get to see/greet/chat with all who come and go during the course of the day. To my left is my secretary to whom I can easily refer folks who walk in and mistake me for the receptionist. Across from my cluttered desk is a small library room with comfortable chairs in which I can meet with individuals and couples for private conversations. It's my workbench--not tidied up for the photo but it's often a lot more cluttered than it was today."

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature on the Desperate Pastor blog, submit a photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk--but no tidying up before taking the picture, mind you--to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Post #1,500!

This post is the 1,500th to appear here on the Desperate Pastor blog.

That's just crazy.

A lot has happened since the first Desperate Pastor post (on April 25, 2009, titled "The Beauty of Broken Things." That's it in the screenshot at right).

Out of 1,500 posts, you would think that one or two might have actually been good. Right? Well, maybe not. But some have seemed to be more helpful than others, judging from traffic and response. So below are ten of the best, leaving the other 1,490 in the dust:

1. How I Got My Groove Back

2. Balancing Ministry and Family

3. 7 Keys to Staying Married in Ministry

4. You Probably Will Not Like My Church

5. A New Way to Pray 

6. Sense-ational Preaching

7. Boundaries for Pastors

8. My Single Most Effective Office Organization Tool

9. Top Ten Things I've Learned as a Pastor

10. Why I Value Female Ministry and Leadership

Next stop: 2,000 posts. If the Desperate Pastor lives that long. And Jesus tarries. And the creek don't rise.

Thanks to all the faithful readers (both of you) of this blog. Keep it up.

(photo courtesy of

Systems and Tasks

For much of my ministry life, I focused the majority of my efforts on "getting stuff done." I kept a daily to-do list and worked it like a borrowed mule. I took no little pride in my ability to accomplish a lot, day after day.

If I had it to do over again, though, I would shift my focus from accomplishing tasks to installing systems wherever and whenever possible.

A system is a mechanism that accomplishes tasks. A task is something you do; a system is something that does.

You already use simple systems. You probably have an alarm that automatically sounds at the same time every morning (or most mornings). That's a simple system. You set it once, and then don't have to bother with it thereafter (except to change it on vacation). The timer or solar "eye" that turns on your security lights or landscaping lights is another automated system.

Good systems get things done, often and preferably without your continued involvement. They automate and streamline decision-making and implementation. They prevent overload and burnout. They allow leaders to focus on big-picture things instead of too many "to-dos."

What are some systems to install in your ministry? It differs drastically from one situation to another, of course. But here are a few examples:

  • Many churches have used a "phone tree" to notify people of a prayer need, change in schedule, etc. Nowadays, a system like this is often accomplished online (e.g.,
  • Clear plans and posted procedures for various situations (e.g., who gets called first when the church basement floods? Second? etc.).
  • A pastoral care system. Many pastors, churches, and church members assume that all pastoral care (such as when someone is homebound, bereaved, or in the hospital) has to be done by the pastor. Sometimes, that is best. But in other cases, a system can be installed whereby a team of people make calls, coordinate meals, send flowers, etc. Especially as a church grows larger it becomes more important to involve more people in this important ministry.
  • Sermon and worship planning. I've already posted on this blog about the advantages of annual plans (see here). Such planning enables the development of multiple systems that is impossible if Sunday's plans are developed a few days in advance. The same applies to the rest of the church calendar.
  • Schedules. Rather than grabbing ushers a few seconds before the offering is to be taken, how about posting monthly schedules of greeters, ushers, prayer counselors, etc.? 
  • Automated giving. Technology now allows people to automate their giving to the church, simplifying the budgetary and reporting process. 

    These are just a few examples, of course. Here's another: does the church secretary or receptionist know if/when to call pastors on their day off or sermon-writing day? Shoot, just having a "Do Not Disturb" sign (or, maybe, "I'm Praying, Go Away, Sucka!" sign) is an example of a simple and workable system. 

    So what systems have worked for you? What systems do you need to install? 

    (photo via

    What's In a Name?

    In conversation recently with a fellow church planter, I took a few seconds to riff on the faddish naming of new churches these days--you know, the usually one-word "cool-sounding" things we call our churches now: Activate Church, Elevation Church, Journey Church, Soul Church, and so on.

    As a writer, of course, I think words and names are important. I'm not knocking sharp branding (okay, maybe just a little bit...the "trendiness" of our efforts, maybe). But it got me to thinking, which is always dangerous.

    What church name might appeal to me (not that I am--or should be--anybody's demographic)? But as someone who has been a Christ-follower for decades and been a part of numerous churches and even helped to plant one, would any name make me sit up and take notice and actually think, "I'd like to try that" or "I want to go to that church?"

    I came up with a few:
    Serve Church
    Church Around the Table
    Church Outdoors
    Messy Church
    Blues Church (I like the Blues, okay?)
    House for All Sinners and Saints (that one actually exists)
    Donut Church (okay, that may not be totally serious. Then again...)
    I'm not saying any of these would be appealing to anyone else; I'm just saying they would intrigue me.

    What about you? In an age of "This Church" and "That Church," what would actually capture your notice and imagination?