By Dave Milam
Building programs can be brutal on the church staff and their families. It’s nothing new to see pastors christen their new buildings with letters of resignation. Frazzled from the project, some even trade the pulpit for a moment of unguarded weakness and leave a trail of broken relationships in their wake.
They are spent, burned out, done.
Ironically, one of the most challenging things a pastor will face is missing from Bible college or seminary training. Most don’t learn how to run a building or capital campaign.
But after years of working with pastors, I’ve discovered there are seven deadly mistakes church leaders make to fuel the burnout rate during a building program.
Overfilling the Paper Plate
Granny never bought those cheap, thin paper plates with the wavy edges for a Thanksgiving meal. Those thin paper plates can only bear so much food before they crumble.
Most leaders are responsibility gluttons, and they have a tendency to overfill their paper plates.
It would be a huge mistake to underestimate the daily emotional weight of leading a church during a building program. Make sure you delegate well and practice a weekly Sabbath to maintain your spiritual and emotional health throughout the project.
Failing to Celebrate
I know this sounds like something you would hear preached during graduation to a room full of wide-eyed seniors ready to take on the world, but this is an exciting time.
If you don’t earmark moments to celebrate throughout your building project, the journey may be a blur by the time you cut the ribbon. It’s not every day you get to build.
God is a God of celebration. In fact, He mandated it to His people and scheduled it on the calendar. And though celebrating may not be your sweet spot, your church will appreciate the times of celebration that allow their whole family to participate in what God is doing.
Their kids will grow up remembering when their parents and church were called to sacrifice for the expansion of the body of Christ. And you will be a part of instilling generosity and growth into a generation of Christian leaders.
So, work hard to be fully present and to celebrate each milestone with your team. Don’t forget what it was like to see the framed building erected for the first time on raw land or the smell of fresh blueprints unrolled on a plastic folding table.
Patching Walls on a Crumbling Foundation
A new building will not fix an unhealthy church. In fact, the added weight of the project will often expose every crack in the foundation and amplify problems that have been lingering just below the surface.
If you sense your church may be unhealthy, first clarify your vision and strengthen your strategy before considering a big build.
In fact, we recommend church leaders engage in vision clarity and strategy development during a building program. Opening a new facility is likely to increase your attendance, so it’s critical to test your infrastructure to see if you can handle the bump.
Forgetting About the Battle
One of my favorite sections in the book of Nehemiah is when half the men stood ready to fight while the other half built the wall with a weapon in one hand and building materials in the other.
Though they were working, they were also prepared for war. Always remember that you’re not just constructing a building—you’re marching closer to the front lines of a spiritual battle. So, expect a spiritual attack.
I work with a company that invests a lot of our resources into expanding the kingdom by building and designing inspired environments to help reach the lost. Over the years I’ve noticed church projects are different from retail projects because of the added component of spiritual warfare.
Our team knows we will undergo spiritual attack the moment we step foot on a church property. That’s why we ask the church leaders to pray for us.
So, don’t forget that battle takes place on your knees, not in planning the project, walking the job site, or poring over blueprints. Follow Nehemiah’s example and pray, standing ready for the spiritual battle as you build.
Ignoring Mission Drift
Leading a building project can be like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole for 18 months straight. If you’re not careful, the decisions to be made and opinions to managed can bury you alive.
The building will scream for your attention, and you’ll feel the urgency. But often what is urgent isn’t most important. If you aren’t careful, your thoughts and conversations about the building may silently evict the mission as your main priority.
Mission drift is a real challenge for leaders walking through a building program. Make sure you delegate well and keep the main thing the main thing.
It’s easy to forget that the building isn’t the mission.
Flinching for Fire Drills
Do you remember elementary school fire drills? At the sound of the siren, kids would overdose on adrenaline; their hearts raced and pupils dilated as their survival instincts kicked in.
Every construction project has a billion fire drills, and every fire drill has the same emotional and physical effect on leaders as it did when they were kids.
Unless you’re trying to burn out the pastor, it’s not healthy for the head honcho to suit up every time an alarm is sounded. Make sure someone on the team is on call at all times and empowered to help make decisions.
And no, it can’t always be the lead guy.
Choosing Perfection Over Excellence
Perfectionists hate hearing the phrase “good enough.” For a perfectionist, that phrase is the dreadful sound of laziness and a sign someone has entirely given up. But in any building program there is a place called “good enough,” because “perfect” is often expensive.
Unless your design and construction teams are willing to throttle you back, you may find yourself chasing perfection and completely blowing the budget.
So, work hard to achieve excellence—and leave perfection to God.
DAVE MILAM is vice president of strategic design at Visioneering Studios, a team of nationally licensed architects and general contractors.
Visioneering Studios grew out of the desire for the church to regain a leadership position in culture. Since its inception in 2002, Visioneering has grown into a national faith-based design-build firm offering its suite of services to churches, nonprofits, and commercial businesses alike.