Affordable Tech Tools for Churches

As a church planter, I'm tight on both time and money. That means I'm on the lookout for tools that save me time and don't cost too much. I'm picky, so I'm not just looking for cheap. I want quality as well.

Here are some tools that I've found to be helpful recently. Many of them offer discounts for churches. You may find some of them helpful too.

Buffer — Buffer is a great way to schedule your posts to social media. They now offer a 50% discount for nonprofits.

Dollar Photo Club — Stock photos are getting more expensive. Dollar Photo Club is a good alternative to some of the more expensive sites. Join for $99 a year, and you get 99 photos, and additional ones at $1 each.

Evernote Business — You're probably aware of Evernote. It's where I store pretty much everything. You may not be aware that they offer a 75% discount on Evernote Business to not-for-profit organizations that sign up with a minimum of 5 users.

Fiverr — Fiverr is a marketplace for creative and professional services, starting at just $5. I've used it for voicemail greetings, website design, and a whiteboard animation. Check out the reviews, as results are mixed, but I've had some great work done here.

I Done This — I Done This is a simple way to keep track of what you and your team accomplish every day. They now offer a 40% discount for non-profit organizations.

MailChimp — MailChimp is a way to send emails to your email list, and they offer a 15% discount for non-profits.

Planning Center — We use Planning Center to organize and plan our worship services and participants. It saves us a lot of headaches.

Proclaim — Proclaim works with Planning Center, and helps us quickly move from our order of service to a fully formatted slideshow complete with song lyrics and Scripture readings.

Salesforce — Salesforce is a great tool to manage donors, members, and volunteers. I didn't know until recently that the Salesforce Foundation offers to pay all or most of the cost for eligible non-profit organizations.

Squarespace — Squarespace provides everything you need to set up a great website. I'm a huge fan. I host this blog and our church site on Squarespace, and you can't beat the price: $16/month for unlimited pages, storage, and bandwidth. If you need help in getting set up, I've already mentioned a Fiverr service that can help.

Leave a comment if you have any recommendations I've missed.

The Benefits of Brokenness

I have a pastor-friend who is unflappable. I think it would be impossible to tell him something that would surprise him. I know, because I’ve shared some things with him that might have raised some eyebrows. His never moved; he responded with the grace and strength that I needed at the time.

It’s hard to surprise my pastor-friend, because there isn’t much that he hasn’t experienced himself. He’s had the parenting problems. He struggled with an episode of major depression and burnout. He’s failed and succeeded in ministry. He’s stayed faithful over the long term, but he’s battered and bruised. He’s got a credibility that only comes from those who have stayed in the battle long enough to know that it’s tough.

He reminds me of another older man I met through Serge, the ministry started by Jack Miller. “There’s nothing you could tell me that would shock me,” he said. “There’s no way that you’re a worse sinner than I am.” Some could say that as a platitude; he said it as a truth. When you have been around long enough to have been humbled, and are still walking with God, you have a grace and a strength that’s hard to fake.

The older I get, the less I’m surprised by the struggles and foibles of others. I no longer have the quick answers and the simple advice. I am accumulating the wounds that I hope will one day give me the credibility that is able to stand in the middle of suffering and to say much without saying anything.

I’m no longer fighting the process of being broken. I’m learning what I couldn’t have known when I started ministry over twenty years ago: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply” (A.W. Tozer).

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

Deep Habits: Read a (Real) Book Slowly

Reading a hard book, we must remember, is an experience that returns many rewards not generated by a pithy blog post (ahem) or online magazine.

5 Reasons to Pray for Other Churches

I propose that we act now with the greatest resource we have and for the greatest goal: that churches reflect the character of God.

Here are five reasons why churches should pray for other churches in their city.

Are You Willing to Doubt Your Doubts?

Zechariah and Mary are excellent examples of the two kinds of doubt—proud doubt and humble doubt.

Making The Church A Safe Place For Mental Illness

I want the church to be a safe place for messy people, including those, like me, who struggle with some form of mental illness. Is it easy to serve someone with a mental disorder? Of course not! But Jesus gravitated toward those who didn’t haven’t it all together, and he wants us to follow his lead.

4 Ways to Win the Battle Against Busyness

Jesus shatters the myth that busyness equals faithfulness; he confronts all of our fears that lead to our busyness, then he points us to a better way forward—resting in him. We sit at the feet of Jesus, find our sufficiency in him, and only then fill our schedules with whatever he tells us.

He Gives More Grace

I ran out of grace this week. It happens quite often. People push me, and after a while I’ve expended any supply of grace that I have available. Even though I think of myself as a patient person, I reach the point at which I’ve exhausted all that I have to give, and I’m ready to push them away. It's sometimes easy to even write people off.

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I’m glad God isn’t like this. As I reached the end of my rope once again this week, I thought of a verse that brings me no end of comfort: “But he gives more grace” (James 4:6).

The context: James is writing about our tendency to make bad (read sinful) choices. He uses the starkest of terms. He compares our behavior to adultery. We turn our backs on God, and are completely unfaithful. It’s betrayal of the first order. Anyone who has experienced this type of betrayal, even in a friendship, knows how serious it is. How much more so when we are talking about our relationship with God? Not only that, but God is fiercely jealous for us (James 4:5).

How does a fiercely jealous God, the one who is called a consuming fire, react to us in our unfaithfulness? He gives us more grace. As Augustine said, “God gives what he demands.” There is always a greater supply of grace than our need for grace. “For daily need there is daily grace; for sudden need, sudden grace; for overwhelming need, overwhelming grace,” says John Blanchard.

I reached the limits of my grace this week, but I’ve never come close to reaching the limits of God’s grace. As I again have reached my own limits, I’m reminded of the comfort that I’ve never come close to reaching the limits of God’s supply of what I need. He gives more grace, and that is exactly what I need

Five Practices That Are Better than Resolutions

A few days into the New Year, people have already bailed on many of their resolutions and goals. It’s because we are not good at changing ourselves. Our good intentions do not result in the life change that we’re looking for.

There’s good news, though. There are a few simple practices that will make this year a good one, even if our record at self-improvement isn’t that great.

Here are five practices that you can implement that will make a big difference in your spiritual life.

One: Find and attend a good church. By “good church” I mean one that majors on who Jesus is and what he has done to make us right with God. If you find one that focuses on Jesus and the gospel — about what he has done to make us right with God more than on what we must do —plug in there and get involved. Don’t just attend occasionally. Be intentional about getting involved. It will sometimes be hard, just like family, but it’s worth it.

Two: Get into the Bible. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t read the Bible. Find a good reading plan, and make sure that it’s so simple that you can’t help but follow it. Right now I’m using a two-year plan using the Gospel Transformation Bible. I’ve read the Bible in one year before, but I’m really enjoying the slower pace. Find a plan that works for you, and read a good Bible with notes (like the one I mentioned) that will help you understand what you’re reading.

Three: Be honest in your prayers. A lot of us struggle to pray because we think we have to be someone that we aren’t. The good news is that in prayer, we don’t have to pretend before God. We can come with our doubts, struggles, questions, and fears. Don’t wait until you’re holy to pray; start where you are. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel write:

Everything that comes out of our hearts in the presence of the Lord is an invitation to be known by him. Whether it is fear, shame, pride, anxiety, or even lust, our call is to open those things before him and receive redemption as those who desperately need it. In prayer we come to fully understand the nature of our redemption; prayer is the place where we become truly known by God. (Beloved Dust)

Four: Tell somebody who knows the gospel about your deepest sins and struggles. If you’re like me, you tend to struggle alone. The problem is that sin is like mushrooms: it grows best in the dark. Find someone safe who understands the gospel, and share your sins and your struggles. Resolve to end the secrecy in your life. One of the best books I’ve read on this subject for men is Samson and the Pirate Monks. Read it and practice it. The gospel means that we don't have to pose or pretend.

Five: Major in the gospel. The gospel will always be counterintuitive no matter how long we live. That’s why it’s important to continually right ourselves by majoring in the gospel. Make sure you attend a church that regularly talks about the gospel (see the first practice). Read blogs that talk about the gospel. Read books like Gospel by J.D. Greear or New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. Do whatever it takes to soak yourself in the gospel all year long.

These five practices are the opposite of self-improvement. They are all admissions of sorts that we need help outside of ourselves, and they all point us to the help that is readily available to us through Jesus.