Sunday, April 29, 2007

How I Pray

Twice this week I was asked by friends about how I pray and what I do for my devotional reading. Though I'm obviously not "the standard" for how to pray, sometimes it's helpful to see how others pray and ask the Holy Spirit to challenge us. Having trusted my heart to Jesus more than thirty years ago, that's how I've come to my current-- yet evolving-- daily prayer time.

Devotional Time?
I'm not sure who coined the daily time with God as devotions, but it's a great term that I now own for my daily time with him. It's a time in my routine in which I choose to devote myself and my day to God. For me, I try to do this early in the day. Doing so, I find that it impacts my entire day.

I like to start my time by confessing my sins and transgressions so that I can start fresh with God. In my mind as I do this, I see sins as those things I intentionally chose to do which were displeasing to God, and transgressions as those which I unintentionally did or even that I'm not even aware of.

Sometimes I'm not aware of anything I've done since my previous devotional time, and so I simply ask God to forgive and cleanse me anew of any and all sins and transgressions in my life. However, when I am aware of any (more often than I want to admit), then I confess each by act or incident and underlying motive.

Now I'm Ready
Next I ask God for three categories of things, and some have subcategories.
  • "Please bless me and use me as you'd like." Here I'm asking God to do in and through my life as he'd like. I ask him not to be restricted by my shortcomings, weaknesses, or past. Rather, for all that he would like to do in me and through me, I'm giving him full reign. This is a little like Jabez' prayer in which he asked God to expand his borders, but is my adaptation that says I only want what God wants in my life. Not necessarily larger borders, though that'd be okay... but his will be done in and through me.
  • "Please be with me in all I say and do today." How could I possibly do what he wants me to do on my own strength? I ask specifically for:
    • Wisdom from his throne (see James 1:5).
    • Words that are appropriate in their circumstance (see Proverbs 25:11).
    • The manifestation in and through me of his fruit and gifts. While praying this I recognize that these are always for the purpose of building his church, not for self-promotion.
  • "Please keep evil far from me and remove the evil I've invited into my life." This is for my protection, the protection of those around me, and the protection of those whom he has entrusted to my care.
Once I've worked through these, I begin praying for specific individuals and groups, beginning with those I'm closest to and slowly working outward. I ask God for the same for them as I've prayed for myself along with any specific needs they may have that come to mind.

Finishing Up
At the conclusion of my prayer time I almost always pray that all I've asked is in Jesus name because he said in John 14:14 "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." I understand that to mean that it must be according to his purpose and for his glory... which is what I'm truly asking for.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Is anyone else in church and ministry IT concerned about Skype? Our research shows that using it has the potential of turning your system into a supernode. It may be that behind a firewall or without a public IP address bound to your NIC, there's no danger. What do you think?


Upgrading Your Church or Donor Database

Having consulted for churches and ministries for two decades, I've noticed that many churches and ministries change their database for the wrong reasons. Among the top wrong reasons I've seen:

  • The system is slow. Often this is because the computer(s) it runs on has aged significantly. These are often older systems that have not been kept current with patches and may be loaded down with adware, spyware, etc. The database change will require new hardware, so the new system will be faster! (Guaranteed success!)

  • XYZ church or ministry uses another system, so we should use that one too. The assumptions are that their team is better at identifying their needs, and that they have done an excellent job in researching the best database to meet their needs. (These assumptions are often not true.) And, if your ministry is in any way different than theirs, the solution they chose may not be the best one for you!

  • Changing databases for either of those two reasons usually means money will not have been well spent. Some of the right reasons to change are:

  • The database no longer meets our needs. Your ministry has grown in some directions the database provider never anticipated, and so a change is warranted.

  • The database meets our needs poorly. It makes sense to look for a new solution to improve the processes in place that are neither a good fit nor efficient.

  • A suggestion I usually make to our clients when they're looking to make a database change for these good reasons is to talk with their current provider to see if they will change or enhance the solution and make it better. If they agree to do so in a reasonable timeframe, the ministry saves time, momentum, and money.

    Having helped many through the process of researching and implementing new databases, I've found that few are prepared for the inevitable: a change in business processes. ("But we've always done it that way!")

    Changing databases means, among other things, a change in business processes. A reluctance to change processes often means forcing the new database to do things inefficiently. Many don’t realize this when they set out to find a new database, and because they haven’t talked that important issue through at the leadership and staff levels, they’re never happy with their new system.

    Keep in mind that there are users in your ministry that don’t want to change! Working this through from the leadership level all the way down can make a huge difference in a successful database upgrade.

    Each Fall I write an article that lists all of the providers of church and ministry databases. The 2008 article is freely available in PDF format by clicking here.


    Friday, April 20, 2007

    Why I Moved My Blog to Google

    Some of you may know that I was blogging within our corporate website. In fact, our webhost went to some lengths to get the code to add a good blog to our website (they're great if you're looking for a new webhost). So, why did I move it?

    I found that much of what I wanted to say in the blogs (we had five threads) just didn’t fit that context. I felt those blogs were “official” communications, and as an objective author and consultant I had to be careful what I said and how I said it.

    So I killed them and went to the public bloggersphere, figuring I could rant a little more.


    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    MS Office 2007

    Is it just me, or is this the worst version of Office ever? Usually when the newest version comes out I look forward to updating my PowerPoint slides and family website with its new graphics and templates. But Microsoft hardly included anything with this version! Do we have to wait for the next service pak just for something that's usable?

    Okay, I like Outlook 2007 better than the 2003 version, and Word might be better too. But now I'm considering reinstalling Office 2003 for PowerPoint and FrontPage (replaced by MS Expression). What's wrong with wanting to be productive?

    New Ribbon is like "Red Tape"
    The new ribbon is a pain. Not only does it take up too much of the screen (so I've minimized it to reclaim that valuable real estate), trying to find oft-used functions is almost like switching from WordPerfect to Word all over again! I had to customize the Quick Access Toolbar with my forty most-used functions!

    File Names
    The new file naming convention takes some getting used to. In their hope to create the new XML standard, Microsoft has added a fourth digit, x, to the filename extensions (docx, xlsx, etc). If you're running Office 2007, try this for fun:
    Step 1. Save a new document file in Word 2007 with the .docx extension.
    Step 2. Open Windows Explorer and go to the folder in which you saved that document.
    Step 3. Add an additional extension to the file name of .zip ("Test.docx" becomes "").
    Step 4. When warned about the serious consequences of changing a file's extension, click the "Trust me, I really do know what I'm doing" option.
    Step 5. Now double-click the .zip file in Windows Explorer, and you'll see the various components that make up that file! There are actually folders with files in them!

    Office 2007 will likely become the standard, as everything they do does. But there are serious growing pains with it. I'm not sure it's yet ready for prime time in the ministry office.


    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    Ministry IT Comes of Age

    When I first began serving the church and ministry community in the mid-1980s, the discussion was about why a church or ministry needs a computer, why they would want to network their computers if they had more than one, who on the team should get computers, and so on. We've come a long way from those early days of IT in Kingdom-building organizations!

    Today's discussion is focusing on how best to leverage the technology we have in place, the adequacy of our disaster-recovery and business-continuity processes, and how we create shared spaces that are easy for our users to access and that serves them well.

    IT is becoming as standard as utilities in ministry, and that's appropriate. The tools we bring to the table empower Kingdom-building ministry at a level never before though possible. Ministry IT has come of age!

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    Typing that Inspires?

    Many of us in IT have never learned to touch-type, but have spent many hours typing. I'm one of those, and I type about eighty words/minute!

    I don't think about it until someone watches me and makes a comment. Today my good friend Phill Martin with NACBA was sitting with me at the Spring IT Roundtable and marveled as he watched me typing! It was funny to see his reaction at my unconventional typing method!

    Here's how I do it: Primarily using the second finger of each hand, I float over the keyboard and hit the keys I need to. I don't try to use the same fingers on the same keys... that would just slow me down! And to augment my typing speed further, I sometimes use my index fingers and thumbs too. It must look pretty funny!

    Strategy for Increasing IT Budget

    While at the Spring IT Roundtable this week, I remembered a comment from the CMA Conference in Palm Springsearlier this year . The discussion was how to get the funding necessary to do important IT tasks like proper backup.

    An attendee there suggested that for those ministries who have their finances audited, there's an easy opportunity to let the auditor know that things aren't quite what is needed. The auditor will naturally ask, "Why not?" The answer is that the funding just hasn't been available to do all that needs to be done.

    That rather innocent comment will likely lead to an addition to the management letter, which will likely lead to an increase in the IT budget to accomplish what needs to be done.

    Of course, this tactic can't be used for candy-like items, but for those needed technologies that would impact disaster recovery, business continuity, or security, it just might be right!

    What do you think?

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    Check Your Merchant Account!

    At the Spring IT Roundtable in Houston today we heard a lot of great information from some wonderful vendors. Something mentioned by Tim Whitehorn with ServuceU Corporation is important to relay to as many ministries as possible.

    Visa has issued PCI (Payment Card Industry) Data Security Standards (DSS) that those processing credit cards online must comply with to avoid carrying a lot of liability. The key for ministries is that their merchant account vendors need to be in compliance. Those who are in compliance are listed on Visa's website (click here). Once on their site, follow the quick link in the right column to check your vendors.

    Biometrics in Ministry?

    In most states there are now legal remedies for any who have been harmed because their personal information was not properly protected. Church and ministry networks have information that, if not properly protected, could cost a lot of money in penalties plus a hurt reputation in their community.

    I recently wrote an article about the use of biometrics in church and ministry networks. Though retina scanners and voice-print analysis probably won't make it in ministry settings, fingerprint scanners are reasonably priced and easy to use. They solve the problem most in ministry face in trying to create a security-minded culture.

    What do you think? Is it time to consider the use of this technology in church and ministry settings?

    Monday, April 2, 2007

    IT = Empowering Servant

    Most ministry IT staff I know have a heart that strongly wants to serve their teams well and empower them to be as successful as possible in fulfilling their mission. The surprising thing is that many don't perceive them that way. Why not?

    IT Speak
    Many in IT prefer to speak in terms others would never understand. Terms like SCSI, SOAP, bandwidth, TCP/IP, PCMCIA, and RAM usually confuse those who aren't IT professionals. When outsiders hear these terms they think:
    • SCSI (pronounced scuzzy) = something you wouldn't ever want to touch
    • SOAP = what you need to use after handling something SCSI
    • Bandwidth = the size of one's wedding ring
    • TCP/IP = some kind of urinary tract problem
    • PCMCIA = PC computers that are missing in action
    • RAM = forcing software, policies, etc down their throats
    Let's get beyond this! Let's start speaking to IT outsiders in common English.
    • Instead of a SCSI drive, call it a hard drive where their files are stored
    • Instead of SOAP, call it a way for applications to communicate via the web
    • Instead of bandwidth, call it the speed of their Internet connection
    • Instead of TCP/IP, call it the communication connection and language style their computer uses to talk with other computers
    • Instead of PCMCIA, call it the card that goes in the slot
    • Instead of RAM, call it the amount of memory their system has for active processing
    Slow Down
    This one's hard... because we're busy and we can fix their problem faster than they can with our guidance. But slowing down and letting them fix their problem with our guidance is the only way to grow their knowledge and independence. And it's the only way they'll feel that we understand what they're going through.

    Policy Enforcement
    This one's hard too. Without policies, there's a lot more to support. Even though it takes time, consider putting together an IT policy that your leadership and board adopts. That way it's the board that has said, "No."... you're just the messenger.

    And have an appeal process for those circumstances when a team member needs to go around the policy. Most won't bother with it and just choose to comply, and those that do use it are probably those who can demonstrate a good case for their need.

    If this seems like a daunting task, consider our firm's IT Policy & Procedure Handbook (offered at We've heard from many that it got them a lot further than they ever thought they'd get, and did so with very little effort. That’s why we wrote it... to serve.