Thursday, November 29, 2012

Housing Allowance

The housing allowance is the single most IMPORTANT TAX BENEFIT available to ministers.  Do you understand the limits and FOLLOW ALL THE RULES to ensure the housing allowance is calculated correctly?  Do you know what RECORDS MUST BE KEPT to substantiate the cost of everything excluded from income as housing expenses?  Are you certain the allowance is PROPERLY DESIGNATED AND APPROVED by the “governing board” of the church?  If you have questions about the minister’s housing allowance provided in Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code, do your research and enact legal policies new.

If we can assist you or consult with you, contact Synergy Ministries.  We are always looking out for you.

Senate Report on Religious Organizations Accountability

First Commission Report to be Issued December 4

The first report of the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations is scheduled for release to Senator Charles Grassley, member of the Senate Finance Committee, on December 4, 2012.

The initial report, culminating from the work of 80 nationally-recognized professionals, will cover all of the issues under consideration (housing allowance, love offerings, compensation of nonprofit leaders, church reporting to the IRS, and more!) except the political activity issue. This topic will be covered in a separate Commission report in 2013.

ECFA members will receive a complimentary hard copy of the report, and it will be available in an electronic version on ECFA's website.

2013 Standard Mileage Rates

2013 Standard Mileage Rates Up 1 Cent per Mile for Business, Medical and Moving

The Internal Revenue Service today issued the 2013 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Death Announcement - Molene Clark

Please pray for Martha Herston and her family.  Martha's mother, Molene Vaden Clark, 87, died Saturday, November 24, 2012 at Helen Keller Hospital.  She was born in Itawamba County, MS. to Carl Turner and Clara Mae Pounders Vaden.  She was a member of Mt. Olive Methodist Church and was a special education teacher at Red Bay School for 14 years.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday, November 27, at Mt. Olive Methodist Church with Rev. Jonathan Herston and Rev. Ricky Smith officiating.  Burial will be in Mt. Olive Cemetery, Tremont, MS. Deaton Funeral Home, Red Bay, Al. will be in charge of arrangements.

Survivors are three children-Charles Clark (Mitzi) and Joyce Russell (Truman) all of Red Bay and Martha Herston of Fort Payne, AL; seven grandchildren-Susan Parker, Linda Cason, Rev. Jonathan Herston, Mary Herston, Alan Russell, Christopher Russell and Carol Davis; six great grandchildren-Alyssa Parker, Cari, Samuel and Zoe Herston, Brodie Cason and Alex Parker; her sister-Helen DeReu of Twin Lakes, MI; a sister-in-law-Gertie Grissom of Florence.

She was preceded in death by her husband-Gaston Clark; her parents and a son-in-law-Rev. Jerry Herston.

Visitation will be 6-9 p.m. Monday, November 26, at Deaton Funeral Home, Red Bay, Al. and she will lie-in-state at the church from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. on Tuesday.

Molene and her family are supporters of Synergy Ministries.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Practicing Gratitude

When Thanksgiving arrives, just as the number of turkeys, stuffing mixes and cranberries seem to grow exponentially, so do the conversations about gratitude.  We get to feast together on wonderful food, surrounded by friends and family, and say thanks for life, health, and one another.

This year, feast on gratitude.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Follow Don Brock on Twitter @DGBrock.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pray For Israel

Israeli forces returned fire into Syria today with some warning shots, according to the Jerusalem Post.  "The IDF fired a warning shot at the Syrian military on Sunday, after a Syrian shell landed in the Golan Heights for the second time in recent days."

Israel has not fired at Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

"In the midst of Syrian infighting, a mortar shell fired by the Syrian army struck near an outpost at Tel Hazeka," IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said.  The shell failed to cause injuries or damages.

"In light of the policy instituted by IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, a warning round was fired back into Syria.  We don't believe it caused injuries or damages," Mordechai added.

America's ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, issued a statement in support of Israel's actions on his Facebook page.

"Our thoughts are with the residents of southern Israel, who continue to be bombarded with missile attacks from terrorist organizations in Gaza.  The United States supports Israel's right to defend itself and its citizens from these attacks," writes Shapiro.

There appears to be no further statement from the State Department at this moment.

[from Weekly Standard Blog by Daniel Halper]

What Search Committees Are Looking for in a Pastor

A few years ago, Pulpit & Pew Research on Pastoral Leadership shared a fascinating report: "What do Lay People Want in Pastors?"

Demonstrated competence and religious authenticity.
Search committees want pastors who have the ability to do the work required and a genuine religious life that brings together both "head and heart."

Good preacher and leader of worship.
Regional leaders and lay leaders differ regarding what constitutes good preaching. Lay leaders generally care less than judicatory officials whether the sermon reflects careful scholarship and organization and are concerned instead that it relates to their own life and engages them personally.

Strong spiritual leader.
Lay leaders want a pastor with a deep commitment to religious beliefs and an ability to inspire spirituality in others. But many judicatory executives regard this as problematic because of the difficulty of determining who will be a good spiritual leader for a particular congregation.

Commitment to parish ministry and ability to maintain boundaries.
Lay members and search committees generally expect their pastor to be primarily devoted to ministry and take minimal time for other pursuits. This criterion, Lummis suggests, is a key place where lay visions of ideal ministry run counter to current thinking among those who counsel clergy about the importance of maintaining boundaries and the need to find time for other interests.

Available, approachable, and warm pastor with good "people skills."
Regional leaders across denominations cited the pastor’s ability to show church members he or she likes and will care for them as an essential quality search committees try to find. This quality, however, can be situationally specific to the culture of a particular church or region.

Consensus builder, lay ministry coach and responsive leader.
Lay leaders want pastors who are responsive to their concerns, pastors who can initiate ideas to revitalize the church, while soliciting opinions of members and engaging them in putting ideas into operation.

Entrepreneurial evangelists, innovators and transformational reflexive leaders.
This area often presents a disconnect between what churches say they want and what they really want. Many say they want a pastor to help grow the church but don’t want to undertake or think about the necessary changes that will be required.

[from Revitalize Your Church by Mark O. Wilson]

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Schuller vs. Crystal Cathedral

Schuller and his wife, Arvella, seek more than $5 million.  Meanwhile, the outcome of the trial will have an impact on creditors who have been waiting to be paid since the Crystal Cathedral Ministries filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

"We're just hoping that it's soon over, so we can just move on," said John Charles, chief executive officer of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries.  "It's been painful for both sides."

Carol Schuller Milner, a Schuller daughter who along with her husband, Tim, also has claims in the trial scheduled in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, said: "This is really grieving us.  We don't pursue conflict.  We believe in reconciliation."

The elder Schullers filed a number of claims for breach of contract and copyright infringements.  The largest claim seeks damages for the rejection of an agreement between them and the ministry written prior to Rev. Schuller leaving his post as senior pastor in 2005.

In that agreement, the church agreed to provide for Robert H. and Arvella Schuller until their deaths.  It included payments of $119,000 per year in housing allowance, $20,065 for insurance annually and $198,000 per year to Schuller's corporation, Robert Harold, Inc.  Both Schullers are in their 80s.

Starting in late 2008, as the ministry faced an economic downturn and a decline in donations, the Schullers were paid less.  When the ministry filed for bankruptcy, all payments stopped.  And in the reorganization plan, the agreement with the Schullers was rejected.

Payments also stopped to Carol and Tim Milner.  She was employed for $10,000 monthly to do work related to her father's intellectual property.  He worked as an independent contractor on various services, including fundraising and arranging the reverend's speaking engagements.  Their claims total approximately $189,000, according to court documents.

The elder Schullers have been criticized for using their power and influence over the years to give themselves and their children generous salaries, housing allowances and other benefits, even after the church began to struggle financially.

Carol Milner disputes the idea that her parents and siblings are wealthy or took advantage of the church.

"People have said the big, bad Schullers took all this money, but in reality we were running a $60 million organization.  And we gave it our all," she said.

"My parents did not become wealthy as the result of the church," Milner said.

[from the Orange County Register]

Five Difficult Challenges Pastors Face

  1. Responding graciously to someone right before you preach.  The pastor has put hours into the sermon.  He has prayed for God's power for that moment.  He is focused on God's Word and its proclamation.  All of his energy is devoted to the upcoming moment.  Then someone rushes up and drops a bombshell on him on the way to the pulpit, or hands him a piece of paper and says, "Pastor, you need to announce about the garage sale we're having this week."
  2. Knowing what do with a staff member who is not making a vital contribution to the church.  Many churches will not let leaders make the tough decision of letting a staff member go, even if he is not really productive and obviously an ill fit for the ministry and the church.  Such a move is considered "un-Christian" and will not be tolerated, even if it would ultimately be best for that staff member.  Many pastors have lost their own jobs when they made such a move.  So we often move those persons to innocuous, low-accountability positions, even though we know it is poor stewardship.
  3. Loving a person in the church when that person is your critic.  We want to be Christ-like and love people unconditionally.  I admit that I often saw those people through their critical words instead of seeing them through the eyes of Christ.
  4. Preparing more than one quality sermon a week.  When I was a pastor I had to prepare a Sunday morning sermon, a Sunday evening sermon, and a Wednesday evening Bible message.  Frankly, it took all I had to prepare one good message.  I know many churches no longer have the Sunday evening preaching service, but tens of thousands of pastors still prepare more than one message a week.
  5. Doing the funeral of a person who was not a Christian.  We can always hope the person had a deathbed conversion of which we are not aware.  And we can always preach messages of comfort to the family and friends.  But it is extremely difficult to talk about the deceased if he or she was lost.

[from Rick Warren's Podcast for Pastors and Church Leaders. by Thom S. Rainer]

Today's Quote

"It is important for your volunteers to understand that their service – no matter how big or small – is an integral part of a much bigger picture."

[By - Nelson Searcy, (Connect: How to Double Your Number of Volunteers (p. 76))]


A wise old minister once said Love is. . .
Slow to suspect - quick to trust
Slow to condemn - quick to encourage
Slow to offend - quick to defend
Slow to expose - quick to shield
Slow to reprimand - quick to forbear
Slow to belittle - quick to appreciate
Slow to demand - quick to give
Slow to provoke - quick to reconcile
Slow to hinder - quick to help
Slow to resent - quick to forgive.
[ from Revitalize Your Church by Mark Wilson]

Why Parenting Is More Important Than Schools

Given all the roiling debates about how America's children should be taught, it may come as a surprise to learn that students spend less than 15% of their time in school.  While there's no doubt that school is important, a clutch of recent studies reminds us that parents are even more so.  A study published earlier this month by researchers at North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the University of California-Irvine, for example, finds that parental involvement — checking homework, attending school meetings and events, discussing school activities at home — has a more powerful influence on students' academic performance than anything about the school the students attend.

[From Time Magazine]

Leadership Development

What does the "expert" leader look like?  Moreover, how would we know we are in the presence of an expert leader?  The National Research Council (NRC) (2000) suggests the following as attributes of experts. Which do you think apply to leadership?

  • Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices (NRC)
  • Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter (NRC)
  • Experts' knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is the knowledge is "conditioned" on a set of circumstances (NRC)
  • Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort (NRC)
  • Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others (NRC)
  • Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations (NRC)

So does any of this sound like an expert leader?  Which of the bullets apply?  Which may not?  More important, what are additional attributes of an individual who is displaying expertise in the ream of leadership?  Lord & Hall (2005) would suggest that there are six specific skill domains when it comes to leadership:

  1. task
  2. emotional
  3. social
  4. identity level
  5. meta-monitoring
  6. value orientation
So this is interesting ... do you think that the leader needs to show expertise in each of the six domains outlined by Lord & Hall?  Seems like a tall order, but perhaps that's is truly being asked of a man or woman who has chosen to take on a formal or informal leadership role.  What do you think?  It’s an amazing conversation.

[Developing the "Expert" Leader from Center For Leader Development by Scott J. Allen]