Rolling Hills Church

Rolling Hills Church

We have met so many wonderful people from churches all across the country. I hate to call favorites, but I must admit a certain affinity toward the kids from Rolling Hills Church in Platteville Wisconsin. I look forward to their return trip in a couple of weeks. I doubt I will forget the singing around the camp fire, the staying up late into the night unloading an 18 wheeler, and the enthusiasm with which they worked.

One night a local man had given me a bucket of raw oysters. The team from Wisconsin caught me sitting in front of my trailer with crackers and Tabasco sauce, shucking oysters and slurping them down for supper. I don’t think they had ever experienced oysters on the half-shell. 🙂

Check out the pictures that Jamie Dunbar took while here. Also, make sure to visit the Rolling Hills Church web site and listen to sermons by their pastor Jeff Nettles. Jeff shares our commitment to proclaiming the doctrines of grace and I’ve enjoyed listening to his sermons. Lord willing, he will accompany his team to Lakeshore for their March visit.

Their local newspaper carried the following story:

On January 9 a team of 11 college students representing Rolling Hills Church left for Lakeshore Mississippi to help a church and a town devastated by Hurricane Katrina. They were unsure of specifics like what jobs they’d be doing and where they would be staying, but they got on the road ready to do whatever needed to be done. Most of them were eager to get there and get started, but unaware of the devastation that awaited them.

When we arrived in Southern Mississippi, near the Gulf coast we began to see the damage that was caused by Hurricane Katrina in August last year. There were many buildings and businesses that were leveled or so badly damaged that they would have to be torn down. We turned down another road to enter into the residential part of Lakeshore and were surprised by homes still lying in piles of rubble or completely swept of their foundations.

The team learned that many of the houses were taken from their foundations by a wave that came in with the hurricane that was estimated between 30 and 40 feet high.

We arose the next morning and were given directions of what things Pastor Don Elbourne of Lakeshore Baptist Church wanted them to work on that week. A small group of students worked in a couple’s home sanding drywall. Others did construction inside a temporary metal church building. The men who did the construction put up walls and ceilings and they constructed stairs to a platform where the church would like to house some of the volunteers that come down.

Semi-trucks, pick-up trucks, and trailers came in with donations and the group graciously helped unload each of these, sometimes even late into the night.

A few team members worked in the store located on the churches property and run by volunteers from the church. The store was a quonset hut full of things people need and was free of charge. People living in the county could come get basic items such as non-perishable food items, clothing, toiletries, baby supplies, batteries, bedding, and school supplies. Most of the items in the store are donations from churches, schools, and people from around the nation.

Working in the store and in people’s homes provided many great opportunities to build relationships with the local people and give emotional support. Almost every person they talked to had a story. Some had encouraging stories of evacuation and survival; while others shared heart-breaking stories of losing loved ones and their homes.

A noticeable characteristic of the people in Lakeshore was the lack of complaining. Very rarely would anyone of the residents complain, but rather they were so grateful for the things that they had. Most were grateful to God just to be alive. This struck each person from the team a little differently, but overall the team got a lesson in humility. The team also learned to be grateful for what we have. The team members were made aware that we have more things than we need, and everything a person has can all be taken away so quickly.

The team worked hard through out the week and saw many things that we had accomplished, but saw years of work that still needed to be done in this community.

The volunteers from Lakeshore have been working since the hurricane hit and they become exhausted from this work that they do day after day. And they know that this work will not end any time soon.

As time goes on people not affected by the hurricane will begin to forget about the continuing struggle. As people forget, the donations will slow down and the volunteers that are coming will no longer be as numerous. But the people in Lakeshore see something bigger. They are relying on the one thing they know will not fail them, that being their faith in God. They pray that He will provide their basic needs and take care of them as they have seen already.

Reformed Architecture

The other day I pulled several quotes from architect Daniel Lee. As Lakeshore Baptist Church looks forward to rebuilding our storm flattened buildings, I wanted to reflect on the theological implications of building a structure conducive to Christ exalting, God saturated, cross centered worship.

I showed my project coordinator, Greg London, some of the stuff I read and he took the liberty and initiative to contact Daniel Lee personally. I enjoyed my short conversation I had with him and he sounds interested in contributing to our project at some level. We have not worked out any details yet, but I am excited about the prospect.

Credenda Agenda interviewed architect Daniel Lee who, at the time, served as an Elder at the Alexandria Presbyterian Church, (PCA) in Alexandria VA. They asked him:

  • Why should Christians reflect more upon architecture?
  • How does an architect begin to think about creativity?
  • How do you answer the pietistic objection that spending time on architecture is laying up “treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt”?
  • Are there any distinctive aesthetic values of Protestantism, especially the Reformed tradition, which might shape an architectural style or vision?

In anser to that last question, Lee comments:

The Westminster Catechism declares boldly our Chief End. It is to glorify God! For me, to study God’s glory is to engage in the study of a true aesthetic. God’s glory is `the beauty of His manifold perfections’ and therein an artist or architect finds the full inspiration and direction for his work. Beauty, perfection, and excellence of form and design are the high values of any artist consecrating his work to God. We need, like Bezalel, son of Uri, to be filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge. But how does God impart to us such skill, ability, and knowledge of true beauty, excellence, and perfection? We must study His artistic work, the universum itself. Before us lie patterns, rules, and principles of design which spring directly from His manifold perfections. Dorothy Sayers observed “As the mind of the maker has been made manifest in a work, a way of communication is established between our mind and his.” The mind of our Maker is manifest in the creation. When we draw from the ordering principles of the architect of the cosmos, we establish a setting in which beauty can emerge.

Alas, these principles have been abandoned in our generation. But our buildings, whether in our cities or countryside must again quake with intimations of God’s great Glory through their magnificent beauty, embodiment of eternal principles in fine proportions, a sublime harmony of parts, and carefully crafted, appropriate materials. These are so deeply rooted in the stunning beauty of the created order, they will either serve God’s purposes for the redemption or condemnation of those who suppress the truth of His eternal nature and power.

Do we have a passion for God’s Glory like Nehemiah did, who upon hearing of the shameful condition of Jerusalem, sat down and wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed over its condition? With Nehemiah, let us rise up and repair our ruined cities, in the face of mockery and opposition if necessary. “He is the King of Glory, He is the King of Glory!” Bring in eternity with cultural artifacts of glory, even architecture.

Read the full interview

Masculine Church Architecture

Masculine Church Architecture

Before the storm, my weekly routine included listening to the White Horse Inn. Hosted by Michael Horton, Rod Rosenbladt, Kim Riddlebarger and Ken Jones, the show features a regular roundtable discussion of Christian theology and apologetics. The stimulating conversation highlights sound theology as practiced in our contemporary context and often critiques American pop-evangelicalism.

Michael Horton teaches Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, serves as editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine, and has authored several books including, “Putting Amazing Back into Grace.”

In January, I started trying to carve out enough time in my drastically altered schedule to listen into the White Horse Inn once again. A few weeks ago, Horton interviewed David Murrow, author of “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” In the discussion, Horton made a comment about church architecture that caught my ear. Listen to the 1 minute clip ~316k. Horton observes:

“You know, how about the architecture? When you walk into a church that has strong wooden beams, or it has stone, it has something that came out of the earth, you have that sense of strength, this is going to be around for a while. You walk in, you are quiet you feel sort of like your small. This is not the time to hold hands and cry and hug each other for the next hour and a half; exclusively. It is also a time to feel small.

“Now you walk into an evangelical mega church, the colors are definitely pastel or more gravitating to the soft, the friendly, warm the soothing, the light. The furniture is soft, pillowy. Carpet instead of stone. In fact there really isn’t any stone or brick or anything like that. ” (Kim Riddlebarger interjects, “or if it is, it is one eighth of an inch thick and glued to a wall”. laughter)

Right, a man can walk into a lot of churches and feel like he is walking into a ladies parlor.”

As Lakeshore Baptist Church rebuilds our storm flattened buildings, I want to take care not to build a structure that caters to an emasculated church culture.

Christian Architecture

This week as I began thinking about church architecture, I mentioned architect Daniel Lee. He observed, “What I sense and see in my own involvement in the religious community, and in my reading, is that most Christians cannot begin a conversation on architecture.” At the risk of sounding cynical he notices that,

“The architecture that churches are building today is as confused as the tastes, and faith, of building committee members. Building committees, or other deciding powers, want inexpensive construction that solves basic functional needs. As they select their architect, they are often most concerned with how many churches he has designed, or whether he is well known. It would be nice if he is a believer but they are looking, first, for a safe choice. They feel inadequate to assess philosophical or artistic aspects inherent in their task and simply hope for the best. The results we are seeing are disappointing, and the church is missing important opportunities to create significant new architecture.”

As Lakeshore Baptist Church plans to build all new buildings, I want to think about how the structure we erect can reflect our chief end, which is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Some may argue that the house exists as nothing more than a material necessary evil, but Lee explains,

“Church architecture serves to frame and enhance our worship, in a way that honors the One we worship. Churches are buildings shaped, crafted, and set aside for the very special purpose of our corporate communion with our covenant God. But as works of art, they also speak to the larger culture around them. This is because architecture symbolizes, within the fabric of a community, the social hierarchy and aspiration–or the actual position–of the institution housed within it. It reveals, through artistic means, the relationship between larger transcendent constants and the immanent issues we confront in daily life. And, it provides a meaningful setting for our daily social and spiritual interactions.”

When Katrina took our church buildings, we realized something we had always halfheartedly affirmed – “the church is not the building.” We also learned, on the other hand, that buildings do come in handy. 🙂 Focusing on the preached word becomes difficult while sweltering in 100+ degree temperatures, standing in ankle deep mud, or swatting a cloud of biting gnats. We will rebuild. As we do so, I pray that our theological confessions will shape our progress. Let us reflect the glory of God through our relief efforts in the community, our proclamation of the gospel of grace, and even through our building plans.

Daniel Lee reminds us,

“To be made in the image of God means to be creative and artistic. Our places of worship should be beautiful works of architecture. It is possible to worship God in a gymnasium or lecture hall, because if people are truly seeking him, God will meet them there. But to worship in such architecture is to suggest that our purpose is either recreational or cerebral. We should build spaces crafted specially for a human-divine encounter with God. Our churches should help us focus our spirits on God in worship. Let our worship be a spiritual love feast, and may our banquet hall be appropriate to a King.”

Read the full interview: Is There A Christian Architecture?

21st Century Church Architecture

steeple of hope

Leonard Sweet gives Ten Commandments of Architecture for the Postmodern Church in his article, “Church Architecture for the 21st Century.” Overlooking my discomfort with his use of the “postmodern” label, I think he makes some interesting recommendations.

10. Thou shalt not make a graven image.
9. Thou shalt not create ugliness.
8. Thou shalt design for all senses.
7. Thou shalt have a sense of place.
6. Thou shalt get real.
5. Thou shalt build a living church.
4. Thou shalt get the church out of doors.
3. Thou shalt love thy setting.
2. Thou shalt build smart churches.
1. Thou shalt create new God-glorifying spaces.

Read the article: Church Architecture for the 21st Century

Thinking about church architecture

When hurricane Katrina slammed into the gulf coast, Lakeshore took the brunt of the winds and a massive storm surge. People have asked us, “was your church destroyed?” We have answered, “no – Katrina did not destroy our church. She did completely wash away our buildings. We only found bits and pieces of strewn rubble and the concrete blocks the buildings used to sit on. The hurricane did destroy our buildings, but the church still stands strong.”

The week after the storm we salvaged a few folding chairs, built a make shift pew, set them where the old building used to sit, pulled the pulpit out of the muddy woods and gathered to sing praise to our almighty sustaining sovereign God and gain stability from the preached word. We later erected a blue tarped shelter to provide shade from the blazing sun. We drug the fiberglass steeple from where it landed and set it up beside the road. A couple of months in, we moved into an air conditioned quonset hut. For thanksgiving we worshiped in a big white tent and moved into a metal building a couple of weeks before Christmas. We now look forward to building full facilities, complete with a spacious sanctuary, offices, educational space, nursery, fellowship hall, fully equip kitchen, indoor restrooms, and storage space. What will these buildings look like and what will drive the design process?

Architect Daniel Lee observed, “What I sense and see in my own involvement in the religious community, and in my reading, is that most Christians cannot begin a conversation on architecture.” This week I would like to open that conversation. What should a church consider as it rebuilds all new church buildings? We have learned that deep rich authentic worship can exist without structures, in awkward locations, and under the worst of circumstances. Does that mean that buildings should serve as nothing more than pragmatic tools of minimalistic shelter? Should we simply decide how much space we need and design accordingly, or should we consider other factors? I would love to get some feedback this week as Lakeshore Baptist Church grapples with these and other questions. Comments to my blog have become somewhat scarce in the last couple of months. For those still reading, let me hear what you think.

A visitor’s letter

Living and ministering in a disaster area affords me the opportunity to meet people from across the country on a daily basis. Last night we had people from north Mississippi, Michigan, South Carolina, and California sleeping on the church property. Dozens more came by to drop off supplies, take pictures, pray with me, and tour the unique ministry God has granted us here.

I just received a nice letter from one of our visitors from yesterday and thought I’d share it.


It was a true blessing to meet you yesterday. I am the missions pastor from the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. I am the one that was carrying the video camera around yesterday. Hearing your story of how God has sustained you and your church family through this storm was an incredible testament to the love and mercy of Almighty God. I was in Mississippi to find a place where people from here could serve and I certainly found the spot. We as a church are also looking for a congregation to adopt and walk beside through these times. I would like to meet with you in the near future and discuss this possibility. Please know that we will continue to pray for you and for your friends and family. God will use this situation to reveal His glory and indeed He already has done so. Keep your eyes and heart focused on Christ. I look forward to speaking to you soon.

In Christ,

Barry Coffee
Missions Pastor
The Church at Brook Hills

More from South Jersey

South Jersey Team

Yesterday I mentioned Bob Thomson’s photo gallery. He reports:

Our team of 25 representing Quinton Baptist, Elmer Baptist, Grace Bible and Pittsgrove Baptist of southern New Jersey visited Lakeshore from Jan.16th to the 23rd.
Our mission trip was a trip we will remember for the rest of our lives.

While there the team was able to improve the compound by adding flush toilets and showers, and doors to the new bathrooms. Our work in the sanctuary included working with another team from Georgia on the new floor and lighting. Bookshelves were made and a rear exit door was completed.
A platform was made and the cross was hung on the wall. We buried a power cable that ran from the supply pole to the metal building for the hot water heater. A new tool shed was established and a concrete cover for the septic system was poured. Work was done on the “box” at James’ site. This included trenches for drain and supply lines to the bathroom and washer. We also manned the kitchen and helped in the store. The kitchen received an operational double sink installation and lighting was completed on the patio.

In the community we spent a lot of time and energy on Magnolia St. We worked on church member’s homes and their neighbors. The Lord blessed Magnolia St. that week with the cutting of trees and limbs, dry walling, and floating. Tear off and new roofs were completed. A tear out of ceiling dry wall, and insulation, removal of shower module and toilet were carted to the roadside. Our roofing crew did another complete roof with building repairs at a site near Rt.90. They also assisted us on a tear off at Aunt Gloria’s home, while another crew brought in 2 loads of new roof shingles and plywood for roof repairs. That job was stopped by rain and the Strongs continued working by carting supplies from the warehouse to the store.

We prayed with your people and handed Bibles to the homeowners. The Lord blessed our churches while we served Him in Lakeshore. Our team was unknown to each other 2 weeks before the trip. But today we are forever bounded by Katrina in the deep South. After our wrap-up breakfast we continue to pray for each other and our families as we get back to our individual routines.

We have called Greg and are in motion planning a return trip to “revisit Lakeshore” in April. God bless you, Pastor Elbourne and the staff at Lakeshore Baptist.

In Him,
Bob Thomson, co-ordinator
Ray McFarland, Troy Ale, Ed Timberman, Pat Strong, Ron Munyan, Patrick Strong, Jr., Ed Jenkins, Bob Strong, Don Stimpson, Chris Strong, Jeff Theis, Lamar Shafer, George Lewis, Sharon Shafer, Jerry Ridgway, Amanda Shafer, Wayne Denlinger, Travis Shafer, Todd Batten, Don Gunning, Mark Powell, Dawn Gunning, Andy Hankin, and Pastor Richard Brennan

Have you been to Lakeshore?

I have met literally thousands of people over the last five months as we continue to recover from hurricane Katrina. Off the top of my head we have seen folks from at least 33 states. I’m sure my quick mental run down has left off several. I can not even begin to list everyone. Someone told me, “you should have kept a journal of everyone who came down to help.” In theory, that sounds like a wonderful suggestion. In reality, I could not keep up with even half the things I “should have” done. I barely had the strength and composure to direct the volunteer hands to the tasks, much less record their visit for posterity.

I have hundreds of business cards and slips of scribbled paper. Trying to match them up with faces and what each team did would prove impossible. So, can you help me out? I’d love to hear from everyone. Please email me with your name, your team members, your church name, web site, full address, phone number, when you came, and a bit of what you did. If you took pictures, I know most everyone did, please forward those along as well. Because my regular church email account can’t handle a glut of pictures, please send them to

If you came down the first week after the storm, or just last week, let us hear from you. I especially would love for you to do a full write up about your trip, your impressions, and what you saw God doing in Lakeshore. I may even post some of them to the blog.

I know God has thousands more out there who will bless us with their help as we continue to recover and rebuild. We still have a long road ahead of us, but with the aid of so many we rejoice in the sustaining grace that our sovereign God provides. If you have not been to Lakeshore yet, we look for your visit soon. 🙂 Just call Greg London (770) 402-3419 and he will put you on the calendar.