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2014 - Opportunities Galore

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Welcome 2014! Welcome to 2014 at Zion Church!

This promises to be one of the most exciting years in the history of our church. God is on the move and many miraculous and wonderful things are happening right before our eyes.

The most obvious is the fulfillment of Psalm 99:2, which says, “Great is the Lord in Zion
 he is exalted over all the nations.” This year Zion truly becomes the place “where nations worship” as we become a church that worships weekly in four languages and prays in over ten. Beginning February 2, Zion will add a Swahili service concurrent with our English 10:30 a.m. service on Sunday mornings. The new Swahili service will be led by Pastor Gakunzi Ntwieri with whom we’ve been sharing fellowship and worship for over a year. Every third Sunday the Swahili and English services will worship together. We believe that after a year or two of keeping this schedule, the two services will merge into one. And that is really exciting.

One of the things that makes Zion different is our commitment to be one church together and not four separate groups sharing space and expenses. The vision we have been given by God is that our future is not in separate services by language, but in united services where people from every imaginable background and generation and ability can worship the Lord as a single body together. We believe this brings joy to our Mutual Master, Jesus Christ, and is a fulfillment of his prayer that we “should be one” as he and the Father are one.

Our biggest challenge as a church is to find ways to share life and worship together as a united body. We know it is not an easy task to bring so many different ethnicities together but we believe that He whom we love and all have in common is greater than any of the multitude of things that divide us. We believe that our diversity makes us stronger, not weaker, and that it is “for such a time as this” that God placed us all here, to be a witness to the unifying power of the gospel.

Greater than any challenge we face are the many opportunities that we’ve been given as a church to share Christ our Savior with the nations in our neighborhood and with the poor and the homeless and those in need. We never run out of opportunities to share the love of Jesus with world around us. Almost every day we have a new door open to us into the lives of families and individuals and even entire communities.

One of the greatest blessings about being a part of the Zion Church community is that our families are all on a mission together. Every day at Zion is like a mission trip and you don’t even have to leave your zip code. Our children are taught about Christ in the same room as children who have never heard of him and this leads to interesting and exciting conversations. All our events occur in the context of a Christian faith that is global. You can’t be at Zion long before you realize that you’re part of world-wide Christianity. When a bomb goes off in Baghdad, we feel it. When a rebellion happens in South Sudan, we know people affected. We believe that this perception of the church as more than the local congregation causes our faith to grow and gives us a perspective on what God is doing in the whole world.

Zion has been uniquely positioned in our community to bring people and tribes and nations together. We are virtually across the street from Hoover High School, the most diverse school in our state, with some 30 languages spoken. We straddle the Lower Beaver and Meredith Drive neighborhoods, both of which are home to an increasing number of first time home buyers who were not born in the USA. Lower Beaver is also home to a number of apartment complexes favored by resettled refugees. This positioning has caused us to respond to the needs in our neighborhoods with a clothes closet, food pantry, furniture ministry and fueled educational, transportation and tutoring ministries.

2014 promises to continue to call us to other parts of the world, as well. Looks like we’re being called to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, build an orphan school in Rwanda, continue support and aid to communities in Tanzania and go to a number of other spots that our community members feel led by the Spirit of God to go on short term mission trips. We believe that these extraordinary opportunities come about because of the Word of God which calls us relentlessly to follow Jesus into the lives of other people.

We believe that the essence of discipleship is living daily with Jesus and letting him lead you into what he desires to accomplish in you and through you. By serving others we are serving him. By serving we grow spiritually and are brought back to the Word of God for nourishment and support and then through that same Word, sent back out to serve the least for the sake of the Greatest Name. We believe that such a way of life, lived out together in a very diverse church community, will help our young find their own relationship with Christ and choose to follow him.

Finally, 2014 provides an amazing opportunity for us to pray. We didn’t choose this mission that God has us on, he sent it to us through prayer. As we continue to seek out the Lord and his will for us together at Zion through prayer, we know that he who is faithful will continue to change and transform us to be more like him. Through prayer we also express our gratitude to him who makes all things new, including us, for sharing his ministry with us. It is the most exciting thing in the whole world to be a part of God’s plan.

Thanks for reading. God bless you. May the life and love and peace and joy of knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection, bless you and give you daily grace to share. PJ

Will This Be Our Finest Hour?

Greatness is determined not by one’s successes, but by how one deals with one’s challenges.

At Zion we are facing a great challenge. This week we announced to the Zion community that we must cut our budget by another 12% and that these cuts necessitate the elimination of all our paid musical staff positions. We’re losing both our director of worship and music and our organist/choir director. Both men have served this congregation long and well and we are so appreciative of their efforts. We simply can’t afford to pay for their services.

How did we wind up having to cut the budget? In 2008, Zion was hit hard by the Great Recession. Our people cut back on their giving. At that time we had to cut our budget but we tried to do so in a way that what we did wouldn’t be affected. We held on for dear life and believed that when the recession was over, giving would rebound and we could add back what we had cut.

Then in 2011, we saw an exodus of long time members to another church’s satellite in a neighboring suburb. We again lost giving. We again had to cut our budget but we didn’t cut it enough. We held on for dear life and believed that things would change for the better and giving would rebound and we could add back what we had cut.

We managed to just barely maintain a “break-even” scenario until August of 2013. During the height of the summer travel season, we had several weeks of bad offerings in a row which put us into the red. We were only able to get back on track through a miraculous and unexpected gift. At that time, the leaders of the church realized we that had to make some cuts for the sake of the mission of the church.

We looked at everything we could cut. Truth be told, we could cut every outreach and ministry program we have and still not come up with enough savings to make it worthwhile. We’ve cut so much from the budget over the years that there simply isn’t anything left to cut. That meant we had to cut bone and muscle. We had to cut our staff expenses because the only other expenses we have of any size are building and mortgage and we’ve already cut everything we can there.

For some of our church community these cuts will be very, very difficult to make. Some may feel that we’re making the wrong choice and sacrificing the wrong things. That somehow, we have not properly discerned what is important to God. We are definitely challenging what many people believe the church was created to do.

Other churches may choose to define themselves on the very things that we are cutting: the strength of their choir or worship music. But we were called to define ourselves based only upon our obedience to Jesus. Jesus could choose to send us remarkable amounts of money. But he hasn’t. Jesus has instead brought us more and more of those in need. So we feel that obedience to Christ requires us to make these painful cuts.

Please know that we prayed and prayed and deliberated for months on this. We are simply responding to a situation in the way we believe Jesus, our Master, would have us respond.

Zion has been given a truly amazing ministry in our community. It’s completely a God thing and very exciting. But there is no doubt that God has called us to hard things. Some people ask, “If you’re doing what God wants, why isn’t he blessing you?” Truth is, He is blessing us. A lot. We get to see people come to Christ and be saved. We get to see literally hundreds of neighborhood children come rushing through the doors of the church every week. We get to minister to the needs of our Muslim neighbors and talk to them about Jesus the Messiah. We are so blessed by God!

I’ve prayed for years that God would “bless us financially.” After all, selfishly, it doesn’t reflect well on my reputation that I’m pastor of a church that struggles all the time to pay it’s bills. I want to be blessed financially. I want people to give us more and more money. But God has a plan. Whenever I’ve prayed about it, God has always answered: “I have already provided.” At first I thought He meant that we had money in the Trust Fund and we should use that. But I now understand Him to mean that He has provided us enough to do what we’re supposed to do, and perhaps, the reason we’re struggling so much is because we’re doing things we no longer need to do.

Watching my friends lose their jobs makes me feel ill. At the same time, it opens up for Zion an opportunity to pull together. We must rely on our volunteers now for music to praise the Lord each week as we gather together. It forces us to change the way we do our services and makes working together with the various cultures we minister to more appealing. In this current crisis, God has given us an occasion to make His name great by coming together and being His people in a new and exciting way. Change is hard and frankly, this church has seen unprecedented changes in the last few years. But change is also a gift from God to allow us to better serve Him in our neighborhood and to grow by hanging together and learning to trust Him in new ways. A church without serious challenges, where everything is easy, is a church always in danger of losing it’s faith. A church in constant need and facing constant change, must hold on for dear life to Jesus himself, because no one else but the Lord can save us and deliver us.

So I ask you to come together with me and our entire church family and cling to Jesus. Let’s keep on meeting together and worshipping Him and serving Him by serving others and keep on loving each other. Let’s show the devil and the watching world that we followers of Jesus don’t measure our worth by the size of our staff or programming or by the greatness of our buildings or organs, but rather, our worth comes through holding on for dear life to Him who is worthy, Jesus Christ our Lord. This could be our finest hour.

If you have questions or concerns about our transition in worship, please feel free to contact me or any of our staff or board members. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

Posted by John Kline with

Our Greatest Challenge

Our biggest challenge at Zion isn’t money; though you’d think so by how often we talk about it.

Our biggest challenge at Zion isn’t having enough volunteers; though you’d think so by how often we talk about it.

Our biggest challenge at Zion is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples and so on.

We have amazing ability in our community to serve people. Our serving has made us a hub of activity throughout the week. But what good is it if we aren’t making disciples of Jesus who make disciples?

You should never measure the success of a church by how big the crowd is. Or by how much money it gives away. The big question must always be: does the church make disciples who make disciples?

What is a disciple of Jesus who makes disciples? It is someone who lives their life with Jesus. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he’s actually saying, “Walk with me.” In other words, he’s inviting us to share his life and make him a part of everything we do. A disciple walks with Jesus every day and submits to Jesus’ instruction and guidance in his/her every move.

Spiritual growth is found in making Jesus a part of everyday life. Disciples are made when they see Jesus in you. When others can tell that you’ve spent time with Jesus and are drawn to you so you can introduce them to Him. And then they go on to walk with him and eventually invite others to come and walk with Him as well. It requires time and relationship.

How does this happen? It’s more than inviting someone to church. It’s inviting someone to share your life with Jesus so that they, too, can learn from him and become obedient to him. Discipleship happens best outside of programming. It happens best in the sharing of life. Are we willing to share our lives with others? To open our homes, our families, our everything to others so that they can see how a disciple lives? When we are, then I believe that the Holy Spirit will work through us to draw others to Jesus so that through us, he can teach them how to live.

Jesus has to do the heavy lifting in disciple making. Our chief concern is that we are walking with him and mindful of the others who are waiting for us to invite them along for the journey.

In over 200 years of Christianity in the US I’m not convinced we’ve actually made many disciples who makes disciples of Jesus. I think we’ve focused on getting people to go to church and go along with what we want to do. Now we are reaching the end of our supply of recycled Christians who were born into faith. Now we have no choice, for our own survival, let alone the command of Jesus, to go and make disciples. This is our learning edge. This is where we must concentrate our efforts. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

How We Make Disciples of Jesus and What Zion United Means

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The Zion Way: 

How we make disciples of Jesus.


The way we attempt to introduce people to Jesus is called STAR, an acronym for  Serve, Teach, Advocate, and Reach.


Serve:  Jesus told us in John 13 that the world would know that we are his disciples by the way we love.  He gave us an example for the kind of love we were supposed to have; he washed his disciples feet.  We understand that Jesus washing feet is metaphorical for those who have been given much to humble themselves and serve those with less.  When we’re talking about being given much we’re not talking about income or property or the things of this life.  We’re speaking about the fact that Christ has already given us all things and now we are so blessed by knowing him humbling ourselves in order that those who don’t know him might come to know him through us.  We understand that Jesus came not to be served, but to seek and serve the lost.  We also understand that the point of our service isn’t only evangelism, it’s also worship.  We serve others because by doing so we believe we are serving our Lord himself (Mt 25).  


Teach:  Teaching is really a form of serving but our society makes a distinction.  Our goal is to teach people how to live a better life.  The content of the teaching might be practical, like “How to Stock a Medicine Cabinet” or “How to Buy a House.”  Or the content might be instructive like an ESL class or English tutoring or homework help.  The content might also be spiritual and have to do with knowing Christ and his teachings.  We have many, many things to teach.


Advocate: Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines an advocate as, “one that supports or promotes the interests of another.”  Many people in our community have no one to support them or promote their interests.  They are lost in the system and falling through the cracks.  In many cases this is because they don’t understand our society, our systems, or our language.  In other cases it’s because they are discriminated against because they are a different race or color or creed.  Sometimes it’s because they are not physically or mentally able to represent themselves.  So we find ways to promote the cause of others.  Like going with them to the doctor’s office to be certain treatment is obtained and understood.  Sometimes we work within a political or organizational system to promote change.  We might go to schools or banks or realtors or immigration offices to support and encourage and promote the cause of others.  


Reach:  We want to reach people where they are.  It all begins with a relationship.  Many people are on the fringes of our community.  We believe that they are the ones to whom Jesus would go first.  We want to follow him to the edges of our society and reach the ones who live there.  We want to befriend them, know them, and love them.  And then, when we know them, we believe that the Holy Spirit will create an opportunity for us to share Christ with them.  


How we believe our own discipleship is lived out.  

Likewise, that we all learn how to:


Receive grace.  We must all learn how to receive grace from God and from each other.  We believe it impossible to truly give grace or love without a full knowledge and experience of receiving the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ (salvation/forgiveness) and from others (love and forgiveness). 


Learn.  We are all students of Jesus and will be so until the sanctifying and edifying work of the Holy Spirit is completed in us in the kingdom yet to come.  So we all need to be learners.  We need to be in the Word of God, the Bible, every day, so that we come to know everything we can about the Word of God Made Flesh, Jesus Christ.  We need to be in prayer every day, both talking to our Lord and also listening to him.  We believe that in prayer God teaches us through the Holy Spirit to understand and desire his good and gracious will.  We also need to be learning from our leaders and teachers and each other as well.  We believe that the best way to learn from Jesus is to live out his teachings, especially the parables.  


Reconcile.  As surely as we advocate for others, we ourselves need to be in a constant state of reconciling our relationships.  We need to be actively encouraging one another, forgiving one another, speaking the truth in love with one another.  Romans 12.

We ourselves need to be reached by the love and compassion of God through daily prayer and conversation and listening to God.  


Invite.  Jesus invited us to follow him.  We accepted his challenge.  So, too, we must invite others on his behalf.  “Come and see.  We have found the Lord.”  


Give.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son....”  We understand that when Jesus calls us to follow him, he calls us to give ourselves to him fully and completely.  We understand that our life is not our own, it is his, because he paid the price for us and redeemed us from sin, death and the devil.  How can we not, in turn, practice generosity of property and spirit with others?  We believe that all we have is God’s, he gave it to us.  And since it belongs to him, he has claim on it to use it for the benefit of others.  We also understand that beyond the giving of property or money, we are also called to give of our time and also that we must give grace to all because we have been shown such amazing grace by our Lord.  



Zion United:  The Concept.

We understand that Jesus has called his people to be in unity with each other and with him and then when his diverse people are seen as one in him by the world, the world will come to know that Jesus is the Messiah (John 17).  So we seek unity for the sake of  the glory of Christ with fellow Christ followers. The world seeks to make unity as difficult as possible.  Churches in the USA must be registered as corporations, non-living entities.  Except that the church is very much alive.  The Bible understands a church as a living thing, an organism, a body made up of living parts.  Corporately, (in a legal understanding), to achieve unity we would need to reconcile our boards, our bylaws, our constitutions and our bank accounts.  Followers of Jesus also come from all kinds of different cultures, languages, traditions and theological distinctives.  So when you take two bodies of Christians, it is very hard to achieve unity in all things.   


We are in unique situations as a church:

Several years ago, a small group of Burmese refugees who self identified as “Des Moines Mizo Christian Fellowship (DMCF),” approached us for help.  They needed both pastoral leadership and a place to meet.  We suggested that they join our church and become a part of us.  So our Mizo members identify as both Zion and DMCF.  We have also never merged bank accounts, although all accounts are in the Zion name.  We decided not to do this because the Mizo’s understanding of what the money is for is different than ours.  We might use the money to patch the parking lot.  They use the money to help their people.  This unique relationship of being one thing and another together is Zion United.   

We host a pre-school, WEE, in our building.  As such, they are identified in the community with us. This preschool is a first class operation and has an excellent reputation in our community.  They came to us in desperate need of a site.  They were homeless.  We felt led by the Spirit to offer them a place.  It’s a beautiful relationship.  They contribute a few thousand dollars a year that doesn’t actually cover the expenses of their being here.  But they bring kids into our building and find other ways to improve the property.  We don’t want to be in a landlord tenant relationship with them.  We want to be able to bless them and support them and prosper them as they serve our community.  We don’t want a corporate merger, (we don’t want to take them over),  but we seek other ways of being one together.  They are a part of Zion United and we must consider them and their needs in all our planning.  

We are seeking merger with another immigrant church from the Congo.  We will go through the same process that we wen through with the MIzo.  For a while, two types of identity will exist, but one day, we will all simply consider ourselves brothers and sisters.  This is Zion United.

We have many, many volunteers that come from other churches to help us with the ministry God has given us.  We understand that they may give money and time to us and still attend another church on Sunday morning.  But we are still in a relationship with them and them with us.  They haven’t found a church that worships as they want to but also serves as they desire.  So they really attend two churches.  This is Zion United.  We don’t need to be the only church in town. 

We serve many, many children.  Some of them attend our church exclusively.  Of these, many of their parents don’t attend any church.  We have to understand that these children are a part of who we are as a church.  There are also many children who attend an immigrant church on Sunday that can’t offer the rest of the programming we do so they attend one place on Sunday and they attend Zion during the week.  That’s OK with us.  That’s the concept of Zion United.  


Zion United seeks the unity of Jesus followers in our community so that they might worship, serve, witness and grow together for the glory of God.  the property.  We don’t want to be in a landlord tenant relationship with them.  We want to be able to bless them and support them and prosper them as they serve our community.  We don’t want a corporate merger, (we don’t want to take them over),  but we seek other ways of being one together.  They are a part of Zion United and we must consider them and their needs in all our planning.  

We are seeking merger with another immigrant church from the Congo.  We will go through the same process that we wen through with the MIzo.  For a while, two types of identity will exist, but one day, we will all simply consider ourselves brothers and sisters.  This is Zion United.

We have many, many volunteers that come from other churches to help us with the ministry God has given us.  We understand that they may give money and time to us and still attend another church on Sunday morning.  But we are still in a relationship with them and them with us.  They haven’t found a church that worships as they want to but also serves as they desire.  So they really attend two churches.  This is Zion United.  We don’t need to be the only church in town. 

We serve many, many children.  Some of them attend our church exclusively.  Of these, many of their parents don’t attend any church.  We have to understand that these children are a part of who we are as a church.  There are also many children who attend an immigrant church on Sunday that can’t offer the rest of the programming we do so they attend one place on Sunday and they attend Zion during the week.  That’s OK with us.  That’s the concept of Zion United.  


Zion United seeks the unity of Jesus followers in our community so that they might worship, serve, witness and grow together for the glory of God. 

Our Values: Numbers 5 and 6

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Don’t throw back the miraculous catch.  

In Luke 5, the soon to be first disciples of Jesus experience such a large catch of fish at Jesus’ direction that their nets begin to break and their boats begin to sink.  I suppose the temptation with too much is to toss it back and save the boat and the nets.  But instead, they signaled for more boats.  We are experiencing a miraculous catch as many are coming to Christ and following him and being baptized into new life in him.  A constant temptation is to stop and say, “This is too much, we can’t handle this.  We aren’t equipped emotionally or with enough staff, time or space to handle this.”  Instead, we choose to ask others to help so that not one of the precious ones that Jesus has brought to us will be lost.  This also reinforces our desire for unity - that we cannot bring in the catch alone but the entire Body of Christ needs to participate together.


We are one body, united in Jesus Christ

We are a church of individuals, different in many ways, yet called together by God to be one in ministry and mission. As members of the same body, we become more effective when we work in harmony as a unified whole (John 17:20-23). Among us, love for one another is the norm (John 13:34, Romans 13:8), conflicts are resolved according to the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 18:15-17), and we seek to build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  We seek to eliminate from our life together what is often called, “church politics.”  We don’t gossip, malign, spread false rumors, or seek to glorify anyone’s personality except Jesus. We rejoice together, and we suffer together (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).   


Our Values: Numbers 3 and 4

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Our Values:  The Principals that Inform Our Decision Making

We “get” globalization. #3

We are very much a local church with a global perspective.  We currently worship together in four languages and pray together in over 10 languages and that number is increasing.  We understand together that the world is coming to our city and to our very neighborhood and that means that everything must change as we seek to find ways to connect with our community and our world in order to serve people as if we were serving Christ himself.  We believe in reaching out to those both next to us and across the world.  We understand that God’s Plans are bigger than our ideas and we seek ways to glorify Him in the midst of a rapidly changing world.  


We are a part of something bigger than ourselves.  #4

Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that things here would be the way they are in heaven.  We believe that God’s kingdom is comprised of all his children and so we seek ways to work with others for the sake of making that kingdom real to the world around us.  We seek unity with other believers and churches and partnerships with others who are engaged in doing good things in the world.  We do not believe that we have to own every idea or ministry.  In fact, we believe that our Master taught us how to die to ourselves and to our egos and so we hope that we can find ways to bring people and groups together without having to “own it” or take credit for it.  We believe that this attitude will bring many good things into being without our egos getting in the way.  In all things we seek a kingdom orientation. 

Our Values: Numbers 1 and 2

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Our Values:  The Principals that Inform Our Decision Making 


Values determine how you make decisions.  If your value is that you never go into debt, you might decide not to charge that trip to Disney World.  If your value is that you will live for the day, you very well might decide to charge that trip to Disney World.  As a church, we have determined the things that we value, the things that determine our decision making.  We're preaching about them in order to introduce them to the congregation.  I hope you enjoy this synopsis.  We'll be introducing two at a time.  Thanks for reading.  PJ  


Aren’t they all our children?   

Jesus was particularly fond of children and he used them in many examples of what the kingdom of God is like.  Our neighborhood is blessed with many, many children.  Many come from disadvantaged families or broken homes.  We seek to find ways of incorporating them into our church, our families, and our shared life together.  They are the first thing we think about when we’re making any plans.  Even if their parents never attend our church we seek to find ways to show them the love of Jesus Christ and include them.   


Let’s do something beautiful for Jesus.

In Matthew 26, Jesus is anointed with a lavish amount of perfume by a woman who saw in him her Savior and Redeemer.  In verse 10, Jesus says, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”  Those with Jesus complained that such extravagance was a waste of money and could be better spent.  But we understand that when Jesus is present, extravagance is called for.  We should pour out our lives and all we possess upon Jesus and His great work.  Mother Teresa once said that Jesus travels the world in distressing disguises.  We seek to find ways to intentionally welcome him and poor ourselves out for him in every disguise he can wear, especially when he visits us as the poor or the “least of these.”   This attitude leads us to “see the need and meet the need” because by serving others we are serving our Master.  “What so ever you did to the least of these you did so to me.”   Our constant question to others must be, “How can we bless you?”


The Changing Face of the Local Church

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Recently, I visited some friends in a major midwestern city.  They attend a large Lutheran Church which is part of our association, LCMC.  It's a nice big church.  Plenty of people to volunteer and help do good things for Jesus and also pay the bills.  They have mission projects, local ministries, and contemporary worship.  They are in a fast growing suburb.  But my friends are unhappy and have started attending the local (Baptist) multi-site mega church.  


The conversation was fascinating to me and epitomizes the quandary that the Church in North America is in these days.  My friends like the Lutheran church because it does good work in the world and the community and is mission minded.  They also like that it's grounded in what they consider to be a good theological tradition.  They like that the church offers Bible Studies and opportunities to grow spiritually.  Sounds like a great church, right?


So why are they unhappy?  Well, the pastor changed preaching styles and they no longer feel fed by his messages.  He's kind of gone off on a bummer reflection tour, looking back over his life and tying up loose ends.  He's also leading the worship which has changed styles and they don't really like the new genre.  They also realized that despite attending this church for more than a year, they have no strong relationships there.  


What's the pull of the "new" mega-church satellite?  They love the worship.  My friend says it's like going to a performance.  They even have a smoke machine.  It is so incredibly tight and professional and it's all songs that you like and are on the radio, week after week.  Worship never, ever, let's them down and never leaves them feeling empty.  


Then, there' s the fact that most of their friends are leaving their churches, too, and hanging out at the same mega church.  So they now have friends at this huge church that they know from other places in their life.  


And, here's the pinnacle of it all for me:  the new church doesn't ask them to do anything except give money and they don't really feel they have to do that much, either.  Sure, the weekly bulletin handout asks people for a deeper level of commitment but since the church is so big, no one can guilt you personally into service and no one will guilt you from the front to serve because that would turn people away.  


The conversation steered into the topic of time commitment.  My friend travels all week long for his work.  He's tired on the weekends.  My friend's wife fills her life with children's sports activities and the local school.  She feels she's committed enough with what's on her plate and isn't looking for a church to get involved in.  


So I told them that they were choosing a new church based on their own preferences and conveniences and they agreed. “We’re being religious consumers,” they agreed.  And it doesn’t matter to them.  I think my friend desires a relationship with his church, I think he'd make a great leader.  But he doesn't have time to pursue it.  So he feels a bit guilty.  But for most people, guilt is dead.  They've moved on.  


The question these days is very much, "What can the local church do to serve me?"  And I'm not talking about a question that's being asked by unchurched people, I'm saying this is the question that committed Christians who grew up in the Church are now asking.  In order to "maintain" our members we must provide convenient service times (which for decades have included Saturday or Sunday nights or both).  We must not ask them to serve too much (maybe a couple times a year and in such a way that it is incredibly well managed and an easy in, easy out situation).  We must provide a consistent worship experience that meets their tastes and their needs.  Sermons have to be applicable to what is happening in that moment and they have to be memorable.  


I believe this attitude is the prevailing attitude about church in our culture these days.  Church needs to be a place to greet your friends, have a great sing along, and get moved by a message and be out in 60 minutes or less every week on a day of the week that suits your activity schedule. 


Church, done well, has now become an "event."  It's more like going to a movie or sporting event than ever before.  We want to see people we know so we can feel part of something and not alone,  but we're so tired from the rest of our week that we really don't want to meet anyone new.  Unless it's easy and they're introduced to us by someone we already know.  We don't want to serve at the church, like usher or greet or whatever because we're so busy with the rest of our life doing great things for our family that we just don't have anything left.  We like it that whatever we put in the offering is part of something greater and it's always going to be enough to keep the church thriving and growing because there are other people we'll never meet who are giving a lot.  We imagine what it would be like to have a relationship with the preacher, we even think we really know him through the sermons, but the truth is he doesn't know us and he never really will on a personal basis.  But he understands our life and lifestyle choices completely.  He's one of us.  Besides, most of us listen to one or two other preacher's pod casts anyway.  If we ever need pastoral care, the church will send someone we've never met whose either a retired person or on the staff.  This is, after all, part of what we pay for.  


Now I understand that some will say I'm being crass.  I don't mean to be.  I'm not mad about it, I helped to create it.  I was good at it.  Here's my concern:  is it sustainable?  I'm sure I'm not smart enough to tell you how history will view what's happening in the church right now.  I think it's probably something like the death of the established church that just couldn't change with the times.  But it's also the death of some other things, too.  It's the death of a church culture that was more than an hour a week.  It's the death of relationship with a pastor who knew you as well as your doctor or barber. (Few of us have those relationships anymore either).   It's the end of church like we've known it for the last 100+ years.  And that's not all a bad thing.  It's just going to be different, that's all. 


There are a couple of real challenges the mega churches will have to meet and overcome in order to survive the coming changes.  One of the them is so much of the mega's energy has been in raising money for themselves.  Big building projects and then satellite locations.  At some point, we'll run out of people who are unhappy with their established churches, (people upset with the pastor, with the music or the programming).  Then what?   


Succession.  Most mega church pastors I read about don't have a succession plan and they are mostly closer to 65 than 50.   When they ultimately retire (hopefully before they go off on the self reflective sermon tour that helped to drive my friends out of their church), there will be a huge stylistic change.  The next generation sounds different and won't worship or preach like us at all.  It's going to be a rickety bridge to get across.  If megas start to loose members because of bad succession plans, you have a scenario like that of the Crystal Cathedral.  They went broke.  You have to have a mega congregation to pay for a mega building (similar to what a lot of big urban churches struggle with as people move to the suburbs).   


Serving.  I think one of the most appealing things about going to a big beautiful church is that they don't need me for much.  I can go and consume and go home.  Believe me, I understand the appeal.  But I think that big, beautiful churches could be doing more to push their people into mobilizing for kingdom work in the neighborhood or city.  And that work is dirty, it has to be on-going and it can’t all be done twice a year in well organized, time sensitive events.  Without that essential element of serving, why will anyone be drawn to a church in the future when we run out of recycled Christians?  Serving answers that all important question these days, "What do you guys do?"

Thinking about the body

Paul understood the whole church of Jesus Christ to be a body.  In 1 Corinthians 12 he writes, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.... The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”


Now I understand Paul to be talking about more than the local congregation.  I understand Paul to be talking about the entire church of Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus did in John 17  when he prayed that all his followers, and those who came to believe in him through them, might be one with him and with the Father.  The Church is one body, wherever it is, however big or small, whether persecuted or free.  We are one body. 


I think we work really hard on being one as a congregation, but we must never forget that the body of Christ is bigger than just our own church.  It includes Christians across eternity, across the world, and across town.  We all need each other and we should all honor each other and we should strive, as our Master commands us, “to be one.”  


Human sin and egotism makes it harder than you would think to live this out.  


Consequently, we have a core value at Zion (part of our values which we’ll roll out and explain in the fall) that says this:


We are a part of something bigger than ourselves. 


Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that things here would be the way they are in heaven.  We believe that God’s kingdom is comprised of all his children and so we seek ways to work with others for the sake of making that kingdom real to the world around us.  We seek unity with other believers and churches and partnerships with other people and organizations and ministries who are engaged in doing good things in the world.  We do not believe that we have to own every idea or ministry.  In fact, we believe that our Master taught us how to die to ourselves and to our egos, and so we hope that we can find ways to bring people and groups together without having to “own it” or take credit for it.  We believe that this attitude will bring many good things into being without our egos getting in the way.  In all things we seek a kingdom orientation.


We try to show that we are a part of the greater body of Christ.  We have done this in the following ways:


  • By supporting local congregations in Des Moines and other cities in Iowa that ask for our help.  We have sent worship teams, preachers and teachers to different locations in order to help cover empty pulpits or organs or classrooms.  We have especially tried to be of service to new immigrant churches which are trying hard to get established in this new land.  
  • By reaching out in our community and “being church” for those who have no church or who have been forgotten.  
  • By supporting missionaries and churches and evangelists and catechists in Tanzania, Vietnam, Burma (Myanmar), and elsewhere. 
  • By sending mission teams to help do good things all over the world and to be the presence of Christ.  Our people have gone all over the world and all over the nation as part of this effort.  Whether it’s a youth service trip to Colorado or a three week trip to Africa, it’s the same concept.



I think we are called to do more at Zion to show our city that we are, in fact, part of something bigger than ourselves.  Can you imagine the witness that churches working and worshipping together would have?  I have a dream for Zion, that we would lose our dependence on the weekly offering.  That’s why we’ve been making such a push for electronic giving lately.  It’s also why we don’t pass the plate at services any more.  We want people to give regardless if they can make it to church services or not.  Ultimately, this will free us up to truly be a church on the move, and allow us to move out into our community and bless other churches on a Sunday morning by showing up and encouraging them.  In other words, we could have our service together with them at their church and they could keep the offering because we wouldn’t need it.  We could worship in parks and other public places.  Worship would become an outreach.   


All this talking about how we try to live out this value might sound egotistical but it isn’t.  The truth is, that for all the support we give to the body, we also receive a tremendous amount of support from the body for our ministry.  Here’s what I mean:


  • This summer, three different Christian camps worked with us so we could send nearly 50 kids to camp.  They shared the financial burden and kingdom work was accomplished.
  • We have volunteers from many different churches every Wednesday night for our STAR Kids program.
  • We have volunteers from other churches staffing our clothes closet and helping in our furniture ministry.  
  • We receive regular gifts of money from people in other churches to help support our ministry and outreach.
  • Art Camp and our soccer team, Zion United, are all helped enormously by volunteers from various other churches.  
  • We just received an invitation from other churches to band together and help a local man who was car jacked and is having a slow recovery and whose family is in desperate need of help.  


We have been so blessed by the body of Christ in our city.  Recently, a church in the suburbs called to ask if they could partner with us in our furniture ministry.  They are willing to make this ministry a part of their church as well, helping us with donations and with people and trucks to move things.  It’s amazing to see what can happen when we work together.  The fun part for me is that I have never met the pastor or any staff members from this church.  They simply checked us out on the web, found out that we love Jesus like they do and they offered a union of sorts to help.  That’s kingdom of God stuff to be sure. 


But everything isn’t always that easy.  Another church in town sent a high ranking staff member to tell us that they wouldn’t help us.  They even expressed dismay that some of their members were helping us in various ministries as volunteers.  They expressed concern that they might lose members to us.  This was really hard to hear, as this is a very large and very wealthy church and the people we serve have such incredible need.  But they expressed their belief that they couldn’t participate in someone else’s ministry in our city without owning it.  The irony is that they can freely participate with churches in other parts of the world but not here.  I suppose we’re all called to different ministries, but I’m not sure that nullifies the desire of Jesus that we be one.  


I give this example not to shame or embarrass anyone, but rather to show that working together as a body is harder than it seems.  For the most part, churches are in competition for members and money and fame.  To work together requires a real effort to die to yourself and trust Jesus to keep you in “business.”  But I believe that our Founder and Master showed us how to die and that he bids come and follow him.  Which, if we’re faithful followers, ultimately leads to the cross.  But it’s through that spiritual dying that we are reborn to eternal life and can really be useful to our Master, Christ Jesus.   One of the greatest witnesses we can give to the world, which is used to churches  being in competition and divided, is to put our self interest aside, overcome our egos, and strive to truly be one body for the sake of our one Lord.  


Posted by John Kline with

More Than Just Another Non-Profit

Some people have approached us about the idea of spinning off some of our more successful ministries as separate 501C3s.  They argue that it would be easier for us to raise money for these ministries if they weren’t associated directly with a church.  


I understand the point.  It’s just that we believe our call to ministry in this city is supposed to be associated with the church.  Our church, your church, and all the other churches that make up the Body of Christ in our community.  Our ministry, the Spirit has told us, is a witness that gives glory to Jesus Christ.  We don’t want to diminish that glory by forming a non-church corporation, even if doing so would make it easier to raise money and our lives that much less complicated.


Personally, I struggle with the idea that any aspect of our ministry is somehow diminished because it is funded by, housed in, or inspired by Zion Lutheran Church.  But the conversations keep happening.  


The foundational objections to supporting ministries that are identified with individual congregations seem to fall into the following categories:


1.)  “If I’m going to give to a church, I’m going to give to my own church.”  Christians don’t want to support a church’s ministry that isn’t their own church.  Pick your denomination, Baptist, Catholic, Free, it doesn’t seem to matter.  Christians, from what I’m told, don’t want to support the ministry of our congregation because we don’t belong to their particular denomination or congregation.  Really?  Seriously?  I makes me sad.  Are we really that competitive?  Do Christians subscribe to a some zero-sum idea about ministry and money that says, “If you have a successful ministry, it must somehow diminish the ministry of my group”?  Or, worse, “If I give to the good you’re doing, it means I have less to give to the good my own church is doing.”  Ouch!  Does our Lord not have cattle on a thousand hills and are we not One Body?  Apparently not.  


There must be other reasons, too.  Perhaps other theological traditions think we’re not really Christians because we bear the name Lutheran.  Ouch!  But that has historically been the case.  


I think that other churches worry that if they support ministry in other churches, somehow they might loose people to those churches.  At Zion we have a lot of volunteers who come from other churches.  They help us, some of them decide to worship with us regularly, but not many.  In fact, very, very few.  We are a peculiar church.  But it makes me sad that we can’t work together because of fear.  


There is a great deal of irony in this situation.  As congregations we’re happy to partner with congregations on the other side of the globe but we’re hesitant to do so on the other side of town.  This is a bizarre and inconsistent behavior.  


So I ask myself the question:  what ministries through other churches do we support?  The answer turns out to be very, very few.  So perhaps before I critique others, I better get my house in order.  We need to find a way to support others in what they’re doing.  We need to find a way to bless what God is doing in other congregations.  We have very few ideas about how to do this, but it will take some doing to implement them.  Why?  Because we’re guilty of the same mindset as everybody else.  


2.)  “I can’t give to the good ministry your church is doing because you might ask them to become Christians.”  This excuse isn’t limited to just non-believers.  Even some Christians are nervous about the idea of sharing the faith.  We are not shy to present the gospel to people we serve when we believe the Holy Spirit presents the opportunity.  We are not ashamed of the gospel.


Our primary mission is that we serve people who can’t serve us back and thereby serve our Master, Jesus Christ.  We serve to honor him first and foremost.  If people want to become his followers because of that service, that’s an act of God and His work through His Holy Spirit.  We don’t do what we do for people so that we can grow our church.  That would mean we were serving people who could give us something, their membership, in return.  We serve according to the paradigm of Luke 14:  when you give a banquet, don’t invite your friends and rich neighbors because they can pay you back.  Rather, invite the poor, the lame, the blind, the widows, the orphans, the forgotten.  Those who cannot pay you back.


The irony with this excuse is extreme.  Consider this:  You support the good we are doing, which we are doing because we are Christians.  But you don’t want to make any more Christians who might, in turn, help us do even more good things?  


It reminds me of a family that left our church more than a year ago.  They left because they wanted a church that was less structured around service and more structured around youth.  So I simply asked, “You plan to leave this church, which you admit  is doing beautiful things for Jesus, in order to go to a church which will focus more on your child in the hopes that he will grow up to be the kind of man who does the things we’re doing here?”  Yes.  I got it right.  Amazing.  Why wouldn’t you want to support an organization that does good things and has the potential to teach more people to do good things?  Ultimately, wouldn’t the world be a better place?  


So, I’m still trying to figure out how people think we must present the gospel.  “Convert or die?”  Simply at a loss as to why you wouldn’t want to create more followers of a global movement that has self sacrifice and service and love and justice and charity at it’s core.  We must really have a bad reputation out there.


3.)  “I am willing to support any ministry you do, but I will not support the church itself or help to pay it’s bills.”  We call this, “designated giving.”  I think I understand the point here.  It must be that people separate what we do for others, the service part, from what we do for ourselves, which must be the worship part.  I suppose people think that church services are for insiders.  But not in this church.  The church service itself is supposed to be a service of proclamation.  The gospel is supposed to be presented.  This is the place you invite your unchurched, de-churched, unbelieving friends to come and hear the Good News.  Worship is also mission.  


The whole point of the gospel is that those who were outsiders are now insiders with God through Jesus Christ.  Sunday School is a mission field.  It’s where you bring all the kids in your neighborhood on Sunday morning who aren’t going someplace else. 


I know that some folks believe it is more righteous to buy us the text books we need to teach English than to give money to “the church.”  But where are the English classes held?  In the church.  Who organizes the volunteers who teach and help and work and serve?  Church staff.  I’m not sure you can separate what is “church” from what is “ministry.”  Especially in our case, where the building is leveraged for mission as much as humanly possible.  There isn’t much idle time here, we’re truly a community church.  And we don’t charge for that normally.  So if people want us to be able to do the things we’re doing, they need to support “the church,”  because “the church” is essential to what’s happening. 


I suppose there is no glamour in paying the mortgage.  But there is glamour in supporting the program that get’s people jobs.  But without the building, that program has nowhere to meet, no a/c or heat, no electric lights, no bathrooms, no kitchen for coffee, no internet access, no computers for applying for work.  Supporting the church for the sake of the work of the church isn’t glamorous, but it’s essential.


We could not do any of the mission we do without our staff, building, etc.  Our church has become a home for many people.  A place to sit and have dinner, to worship, to fellowship, to work and to play.  


Recently, we spent three weeks as a church studying about giving.  The main point was simply this:  The New Testament is emphatic that “the church” is the body of Christ.  When you persecute “the church” you are persecuting Jesus Himself.  When you bless “the church” you are blessing Jesus himself.  Giving shouldn’t be about what makes you feel good or about what’s hip or glamorous.  Giving should be about you giving abundantly and blissfully to the person of Jesus Himself.  I’ve come to the conclusion that if we can’t do that, we probably shouldn’t give at all.


One final thought:  people love to see fruit on the trees of the church.  They love to see success.   I’ve seen people only want to give to that success.  But this is the funny thing about fruit:  it doesn’t just appear.  It has to grow.  If a nice big juicy fruit is what success is, let’s not forget that it begins with fertilizing the tree, watering the tree, pruning the tree, etc.  All these tedious things the gardeners have to do if we expect to see fruit.  When you give only to the fruit, you forget what it really takes to have fruit, gardeners, trees, orchards, etc.  It’s all part of the big picture that gives the fruit.  So we need to give to the “whole” process.  Not just to the end.  Or there will be no fruit.  And, let’s not forget that even with all the giving in the world, there is no fruit and no tree without the God who created seeds, sunshine, water, and all the other things that make the fruit grow.




Ramblings about God, the Church and Everything.

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  • where the love of our Lord is evident in the way we live and minister together. 

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