I’m gonna say it up front – this post will likely not be interesting to 95% of you.  So don’t feel bad was about bailing after you read the next line.

I’m going to talk about my love for WordPress.

For those of you who don’t know, WordPress, in the simplest of terms, is a piece of open source software that is used to build websites.  Technically, it is considered a type of content management software (or CMS), since it is used to handle all sorts of data.  But I have come to love it for the way it reinvigorated my love for web design after several years of web inactivity.

A little bit of backstory: I built my first website in 1996 – back when you needed to tie up your phone line to get online.  I was 17, and using the most basic of HTML code, I put together a basic site for my high school garage band, Gren Benz.  (Sorry/not sorry, I’m not going to share any clips of what we sounded like.)

Then, in 1998, I created my first business website for Carpenter Engineering in Lebanon, PA, where my father worked for a number years (Amazingly enough, 17 years later, my original site still exists).

I created a few other sites here and there, but overall, I gave web design a rest when I headed off to Millersville University in the Fall of 1999. During this period of time, God dramatically transformed my life and saved me through by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I felt a new call on my life to become a pastor,  I transferred to Lancaster Bible College, graduated, got married, moved to Massachusetts to earn my Master of Divinity degree (M. Div.), and then finally in 2006, God called me back to Lebanon to become an Assistant Pastor at the Bible Fellowship Church in Lebanon.

It was at this point that I began to experiment with web design once again.  Our church did not have a website, and since I had experience & interest in this area, I was asked to create the first lebanonbfc.org.  It was more sophisticated than my earlier attempts at web design seven years earlier, but still based on static HTML code.  Though it would seem rather crude today, I can look back and say that it was sufficient for its time.

Fast-forward 7 years.

It was the summer of 2013, and the now-old lebanonbfc.org was really beginning to look dated.  In the time since I had created our church’s site, YouTube and online video had exploded, the iPhone had been invented (which of course, led to the proliferation of smartphones and other devices that we take for granted today), social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were now dominating and defining the internet landscape, and websites in general were becoming more sophisticated and dynamic.  Our old church website was not suited for this new technological era.

It was at this point that I considered throwing in the towel.  Having only a limited knowledge of HTML back in the 1990’s, and having learned very little else in the time since then, I felt that I was no longer able to keep up with the current technology of web design.  I knew that our site needed to be faster, more dynamic and responsive, but I had no idea how to make it happen.

I was about ready to give up on building websites for good.

Enter WordPress.

I discovered WordPress through a close pastor friend of mine, Corey McLaughlin.  His church, Sheffield Chapel, had built their website using the software, and so I decided to give it a try.

In the months that followed, I was able to build a new website using this platform, and in March of 2015, a totally revamped lebanonbfc.org was launched.  The new site featured sortable sermons in mp3, video and PDF formats, a responsive design to fit any device, a dynamic Google calendar, better forms, and much more.

The end result was that WordPress sparked a renewed interest in me for web design.  Whereas I once thought I had lost track of technology and had no hope of catching up, this new method of building websites gave me the confidence and ability to start building again.

(*Now, at this point I will clarify that I am not a web designer- I am a pastor.  And as such, this really is only a tiny portion of the work that I do at the church. But I will say that it is wonderful when your job and personal interests overlap!)   But with that said, I have experienced a newfound sense of joy in helping my church be the best that it can be when it comes to its online presence.  Websites are now the new ‘front door’ of the church, and I want to everything I can to make our online front door as beautiful and accessible as possible.  What’s more, I love the open-ended nature of WordPress- how there is always more to learn.  I am constantly discovering new plugins and tools for me to integrate into our website, in order to make it more useful for our current members as well.

So now that you’ve read thus far (you deserve a medal, by the way), what’s the real takeaway from all of this?  Well, there are at least three ways I’d like to encourage you from my experience.

  1. Never give up.  As I mentioned, I was ready to simply abandon web design altogether. But that would have been the easy way out.  To be sure, it took a lot of time to research a new way to build websites, and once I found WordPress, it took me even longer to learn how to use it properly.  Learning a new skill is never easy.  It can be hard to transition from something you’ve always known to something brand new.  It will be frustrating.  It will be time-consuming. But it will ultimately be worth it.  Have you been stuck on a project for a long time?  Does it seem like you’re just spinning your wheels?  Don’t give up.  If one solution isn’t working for you, attack the problem from another angle.  Pray about it.  Be persistent.  In the end, your efforts will not be in vain.
  2. Embrace your gifts.  For a long time, I have been rather sheepish about speaking about how much I enjoy using technology in ministry.  Perhaps it was because I thought people viewed it as unnecessary, or because I didn’t know many other pastors with a similar passion.  But never be ashamed of the gifts that God has given you.  Remember that one of the key difference between a hobby and a spiritual gift is that the latter is done to build up the body of Christ.  So no matter what it is that you are good, be sure to use it for God’s Kingdom. That is the highest use of any natural ability.  Embrace the gifts that God has given you and make the most of them.
  3. (Optional 3rd lesson) If you enjoy web design like I do, give WordPress a try!  If you have some thoughts to share (blog), or is interested in starting a business, build yourself a website!  You can start with a simple blog at WordPress.com, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, purchase a basic web hosting plan, and start experimenting with a full-featured site.

No matter what you do, keep on learning!  While God has given you life, use the precious time that he has given you to do something amazing.

Soli Deo gloria.