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Five Years Hence: A Look At What Zion Church Will Look Like in 5 Years

Five Years Hence

A guess about what we’ll look like at Zion five years from now

By Pastor John


INTRODUCTION:  This is a simple attempt to paint a picture of where I think we’ll be as a church in five years.  God is in absolute control of everything and so this painting may look nothing at all like what our reality will be.  I felt moved to write it because without vision, we die.  What I’ve tried to do is simply take what we’re already doing and just draw out where that takes us in five years.  I offer this as a way of showing the church where I think all the wonderful things that God is doing here are going and where I think we’re heading.  It is offered to His glory. 



STAR Kids has been the driving force behind much of our mission activity as a church.  It is because of STAR Kids that we have a clothes closet, a furniture ministry, a relationship with the local schools, distribute food to 100 families a month and do many other things.  We are now beginning to experience the graduations of our first STAR kids.  There is a lot of celebrating.  Those who understand the intent of STAR kids and the amazing opportunities we’ve been given as a church to minister to these kids are  profoundly moved. These graduating kids make it clear to the entire church that together, we did something beautiful for Jesus.  Together we were able to keep kids away from drugs, gangs, and what is more, to help them have a future and a hope.  These first ones to graduate are the most difficult cases because they came to America as older kids and have been struggling to catch up with reading and English ever since.  We have done everything we can think of to love them, help them, and give them a reason to hope and keep going.  As they prepare to move to vocational school or college or into the workforce, we see why the decisions we’ve made have been the right ones and why, for the sake of the these kids, we inconvenienced ourselves and asked the entire congregation to die to itself.  Seeing these kids graduate and become productive members of society and good neighbors goes a long way in healing any wounds we’ve suffered along the way.  


Volunteers still come from all over the city to help us support, teach, advocate and reach  the kids.  This strong presence of people from all over the city makes Zion feels more and more like the community church we are trying to be.  


We are just starting to intentionally help other churches in the city begin STAR Kids programs.  We could do more if we had more staff, but we do what we can and offer our experiences as a testimony to what God can do.  The most difficult concept for the churches who want to do what we’re doing to grasp is grace.  It is so hard for people to love unconditionally without trying to control everything.  We are seen as an innovative leader among churches and a place that is unafraid to take risks and even fail.


This strong, community focused ministry leads us into amazing partnerships with various organizations and agencies.  Just as in the past God led us into partnerships with Hidden Hills Ranch, Meals from the Heartland and others, He continues to bring new relationships to us.  Because our Master taught us how to die to ourselves and because we don’t need to take credit for everything, Zion continues to influence policies and procedures affecting our kids and their families.  


Because of the intentional discipleship program we put in place as a part of STAR Kids, there are regular baptisms as a part of our time together.  



Five years hence, a lot of the perceived differences between regular WOW programming and STARS kids has been overcome.  God has provided us with the people and vision to move many of the STARS kids into WOW and they love it.  WOW attendance is now 300 and many details have had to change.  We’ve revamped the entire WOW program and have an intentional discipleship plan in place for every age group.  


The youth classes and groups are among the most popular activities on Wednesday nights.  Young people are trained to be Christian leaders in a multi-ethnic context and do fascinating and engaging service projects together.  Youth are being developed to be leaders and our special relationship with the Bible camps is making it possible for many of our best students to be counselors.  


Wednesday Night Meals

In five years, Wednesday night meals are still going strong.  Nearly 100% of our funding for this venture comes from outside of the church.  Two additional dining rooms have been opened and we are regularly feeding 500-600 meals.  In addition, two other preparation teams have been deployed.  Having three teams to prepare meals makes everything easier for everyone and has freed up Dave Schaeffer to focus his culinary skills on other events.  The new preparation teams are also ethnically diverse and offer a wide ranging variety of menus.  


Thursday Night Meals

Yes, in five years we’ve added “another Wednesday night.”  While smaller in attendance, kids from all over come for homework help, activities, food and teaching about Jesus.  Thursday night feels just like summer camp.  Sports are a major emphasis and our new part time youth ministry intern has his hands full running Thursday night programming.


Every Kid has an advocate and a life plan

In one of the most innovative and thoughtful plans unveiled at Zion, we have mobilized the congregation to provide every child who comes through our doors on any day of the week to be connected to an advocate - an adult who is in their corner and meets regularly with them to develop and implement a life plan.  The program begins around sixth grade and continues through high school.  The kids are encouraged to consider who they are, what they were made to do, and how to go about doing it.  Prayer is a major part of the program and every child in the program is prayed for every day by someone.


We’ve come to the understanding together that telling children they “can do anything” isn’t productive.  But understanding who they are and who God made them to be and helping them become that person is very helpful.  As each child begins to understand the course of his or her life, mentors, internships and experiences are brought to bear on their life so that they will be supported and prepared for the future.


Sunday School

Sunday School looks more and more like Wednesday nights - big, fun and joyous.  We struggle to find room for the openings and the small group times.  Vans go out into the neighborhoods and bring in kids.  Way more van trips than ever before.  This integration causes us to grow in new ways intellectually and spiritually, forcing us to think more and more out of the box and to exemplify more of the fruit of the Spirit, especially, love, peace, joy, patience and self control.  


We now have a summer session of Sunday School as well.  We learned that not all the kids we minister to go away for the summer.  So we were blessed with a group of people who agreed to form a JV team to make sure Sunday School kept on through out the year. 


The Mizo

The Mizo speaking pastor has arrived!  Pastor Ringa’s coming in the spring on 2014 has really helped us overcome much of what divides us from the Mizo.  Pastor Ringa regularly preaches at the other services and music groups journey back and forth between the various services.  While we continue to have a Mizo language service and Sunday School, more and more we’re seeing participation from this group in the English language Sunday School and the “late service.”


Pastor Ringa’s presence has allowed us to go to family camp together as a church with our Mizo families and we have also grown in working together and completing mission projects together.  


Zion began contributing to missionaries the 1:00 service already supports back home in Burma.  


The Karenni

A new Karenni micro church has started at Zion.  It is made up of the families of the kids  who regularly come to Sunday School and their parents who have been attending ESL classes regularly at Zion.  Working with Pastor Ringa and internet resources, we do our best to meet the spiritual needs of this growing group within the congregation.





The Iraqis

We continue to host Iraqi community events and welcome this group to our community.  Thanks to Majed Bahidh joining our staff, we are sometimes known as the “Iraqi Church.”  Some Iraqi families have converted and now follow Jesus.  But because these conversions have taken place in an attitude of absolute humility and grace, the Iraqi community continues to look to us to help them and they continue to feel quite at home in our building.  Arabic language adult Bible Study is a Sunday morning favorite.  


Pastor Gakunzi’s Group: Bethseda Evangelical Church

It’s taken a long time and we’ve moved slowly, but Gakunzi’s group is now incorporated into greater Zion.  Gakunzi has joined our staff and ministers to the congregation as a whole.  Boaz is an integral part of our worship team.  There is a Swahili language service each Sunday and we continue to seek ways to integrate 45 new children into Sunday School. 


Vietnamese Outreach Mission

John Dovinh’s arrival at Zion five years ago and the subsequent beginning of the Lutheran Asian Mission Society really tied together a number of things for people at Zion.  People were stirred up for mission by this dear, grandfatherly man with a passion for Jesus and evangelism.  They also began to see how strange and wonderful the world is.  They began to appreciate more and more the plight of their persecuted brothers and sisters around the world and saw how they themselves could help to establish churches in a far away land.  They also began to understand how “micro-polity” is a global phenomenon: that there could be Vietnamese speaking people who needed to be evangelized in Khmer speaking Cambodia was a real eye opener and helped us all understand the plight of other ethnic and language minorities in our own neighborhood.  


The New Picture Directory that Changed Everything

After Pastor Ringa arrived and got settled, we were able to finally get all the information from all the families at church and pictures as well.  The new picture directory shows the world what we have become - people who are red, yellow, black and white, young and old.  We are a beautiful mosaic for Jesus.  The publication of this directory has an incredibly powerful effect on the entire membership and helps to create a new feeling of unity and excitement. 



To keep pace with the sense of “fusion” we have at Zion where it seems everything is being mixed together all the time, preaching styles have changed a bit too.  While we still have a traditional sermon or message many weeks, more frequently gospel messages may be delivered in the context of a team of preachers, taking into account each one’s own identity as a particular generation or ethnicity or gender.  Sermons are thus more challenging, more interactive, and really seem to be hitting home.  There are also weeks where members of our community might be interviewed about how they are living out their faith and some weekends when the message might rely heavily on videos.  The most important thing for us is to get the point (the Word) across.  Some weeks there are segments of the service geared to keep the congregation current with things happening in the city or the world that concern Christ and his church.  Segments such as, “What in the World is God Up to?”, “Bullfighting,” and “Global Church Report.”  We are also certain to include at least two Sundays a year where the message is very specific to who we are and where we are in the vision God has given us.  These sermons are followed by Q and A sessions to be sure that everyone has the opportunity to get the information they want.  The one thing you can count on is that you won’t be bored.  We try and make our members the most globally aware and locally active church members in town.  We also try to instill in our attenders something we call a “biblical imagination.”  In other words, we try to help them see Jesus and his teachings in the things that are going on in their world and in their own lives and relationships.  


A path of intentional discipleship for the whole church

We don’t want to formalize or programmatize the Gospel.  We do believe that there are certain things every follower of Jesus should know and understand.  We want to make certain that those things are being taught in an age appropriate way to all age levels within the church.  The list is still being developed and implementation will be a huge undertaking. But they are essential, we believe, to understanding the nature of God’s kingdom.  We want everyone at Zion to have a knowledge of Scripture and we want to teach it to them with a focused approach.   We believe that the job of the spiritual leadership of Zion is to present everyone at Zion as fully mature in Christ by proclaiming, admonishing and teaching all wisdom about Jesus. (Col 1:28). 


We’re mastering videos

Better late than never, we’re figuring out how to effectively use videos in church.  We have interested volunteers who don’t mind coming early and staying late.  They don’t mind spending hours in production to get just the right effect.  So, at many services the announcements are done by video.  We’re also able to show video highlights of things that happened in the life of Zion that week.  Videos now enhance the Zion website. Videos also aid us in our fundraising, making it easy to show what kinds of ministry we do and to what effect.  And, Pastor John finally has a video blog.  


Evangelism and Outreaches

We’re really well known for our outreaches.  Once people see our “beautiful garden” of unity, they want to know how it came to be.  Then they want to know how to do a Luke 14 outreach.  We keep doing them.  Every year we pick a new complex to add to our list.  We’ve got the method down so well that we can do two on the same day.  It helps to have some trailers and pre-packed equipment at the ready. 


In our neighborhood we’ve put together some materials and a small campaign called, “We want to be your church” where we invite the community to utilize our facilities and services.  People are encouraged to have their gatherings, funerals, weddings, family events at Zion.  A crew of building hosts and hostesses make this possible.






The wifi works everywhere in the building and the various networks are secure.  It didn’t take much money, just a consult with an expert and now we have a solid connection everywhere in the building and our ability to share information just got so much easier. 


The Basement 

The basement is finally finished.  We bit the bullet and did a fund raiser and finished off the flooring, got the classrooms equipped and the coffee station put in.  Mission accomplished!  It only took 15 years to get it done! 


Barn and Playground

The “younging” of the congregation highlights the need for a new playground.  WEE preschool needs a separate play area for kids under 5.  Through an outreach to the entire community, we are able to raise $100,000 for two new playgrounds, one for 2-5 year olds, one large one for 5-12 year olds.  Between the two play areas is a basketball court which serves as a driveway for a new barn near the bell tower which houses the 3 Zion vans with their new, very distinctive logos, lawn care equipment, our furniture ministry, and clothes closet storage and sorting and industrial driers.  The barn also has plenty of room for sports equipment for WEE and Zion.  In the winter, you can pull the vans out into the parking lot and play basketball inside.   Many seasonal items now stored in the church building can be moved out to the barn.


Campus Plan

The necessity of building the barn and new playground area forced us to develop a “campus plan” for the rest of the property.  We now understand how our future ministry will impact our property.  We know where we can build and how much we can build, we see how it relates to the gardens and our future parking needs.


Dreaming about a gym

The number of kids and activities we have pushes us to be in internal conversations about how much we really need a gym.  


Thinking Green

As we gain confidence in our ability as a church to succeed by the grace of God, we begin to explore ways to save money.  Thermal energy seemed the right way to go and we’ll shortly begin a campaign to raise money to install a thermal system in the front yard.  The expected savings are staggering.  



People want to intern at Zion.  Because of the uniqueness of our ministry and because we’re way out in front of most churches in turning toward intentional integration and mission, we have a good crop of available interns to help us with different projects.  The benefit to us is amazing and helps us keep our staffing levels down.  The benefit to the interns is equally as amazing and helps to build up the kingdom of God. 



Adult Education:

Zion is known throughout the community for it’s seminars and classes.  We feature an amazing line up of speakers and teachers and people want to come and be taught.  We have very basic seminars to help teach the community how to parent, be married, and take care of the many responsibilities of life.  We have Bible classes that are challenging and life changing.  We offer a variety of seminars and classes in various languages as well.  The arrival of Dr. Richard Newkirk some years ago helped us focus on meeting the needs of the church and community by bringing great classes on parenting and marriage and other important skills.  He is helping us think through a strategy of what the neighborhood really needs.  His ability to counsel also helped us really strengthen marriages within our church and community.



Prayer groups continue to sprout up everywhere.  Prayer is one of the things we do best.  After years of struggling with how to have a prayer ministry, the answer we’ve been given is that every person at Zion is to be a prayer warrior and is to pray at all times and in all places.  Our first response as a congregation to any task or opportunity is to pray.  


Redeemer Lutheran

We have a very close relationship with our sister congregation, Redeemer, on University Avenue. Redeemer became the first church to ask us to import our unique ministry philosophy to their location.  We have been helping fill their pulpit and provide them with other help on a regular basis.  We’ve now taken the bold step of sending them pastoral leadership and a bunch of people to help them restart their ministry with better demographics.  Redeemer is now beginning to thrive and is our close partner in ministry.  


A strong emphasis on Bible Camps

As a church we’ve learned that some of the best times are had at camp together.  The kids regularly head off to camp each summer and we are now chartering buses to bring Zion kids to Riverside and Okoboji.  Likewise, families from many different ethnicities are encouraged to attend Zion weeks at the camps.  Such weeks are always led by a Zion pastor who facilitates the fellowship and mixing of the groups together.  In such a way, we’ve built community within the church offsite at camp and it has become the backbone of our new, integrated church.  


Adoption and Fostering

Realizing that the world is an increasingly unsafe place for children and that the “traditional family” is hard pressed, a beautiful ministry develops at Zion to support and encourage adoption and foster parenting.  Many couples come to together to support each other in making a decision to foster or adopt and those couples encourage others to live out their faith by considering to foster or adopt.  Some churches have building drives, Zion is known for having adoption drives, and raising tens of thousands every year to help couples adopt locally and internationally.  As a church we understand that God values life and so should we, and that there are many, many children waiting for a home in which they can grow up loved and cherished.  We also understand that adoption and fostering are beautiful acts of love to Jesus, who loved the little children and it is also a beautiful act of evangelism and faith sharing as a child is received into a home where Jesus is Lord.  


Mission Trips

a.) We marked the 15th year of our sister church relationship with the Mhezi Lutheran Parish in Tanzania by sponsoring a delegation from Mhezi to come to Zion.  

b.) This year marked Zion’s first mission trip to Burma.  Led by eight Mizo members, another 10 Zion members made the trek to Burma and the Chin Hills to minister to people there.

c.)  Plans are under way for the first mission trip to Iraq.  It will be an interesting trip.  But the plan is to help various groups who are not receiving any help from anyone else.  We plan on going as soon as a few more security questions are answered.  

d.) Thanks to John Dovinh’s presence in Cambodia, we are able to send a yearly mission trip there as well.  

e.)  Shorter, cheaper trips have taken over the longer, larger trips as families in the church struggle with finances and time.   


Clerical Collar: Zion and the FBI

Clerical Collar:  Zion and the FBI


I’ve started a list of things that I never thought I’d see or do as a pastor.  Having the FBI come and visit is definitely on the list.   


Last week I was working in my office and a young man came and stood in the door and asked to see Pastor Kline.  Since most of my flock call me Pastor John, I figured he was a salesman.  (Believe it or not, pastors get a lot of sales calls.  It drives us crazy and it’s so disruptive).  He asked if he could see me and I was a bit short with him, telling him I only had a few minutes.  He introduced himself and gave me his card.  He’s from the FBI.  


I offered him coffee.  


He asked me if I’d spit in it.  


I kid you not.  


That struck me as odd.  Obviously he was joking.  But only sort of.   As he talked about why he was here, his initial defensiveness became understandable.  He was here because as he reached out to people who work with immigrants and refugees, Zion kept coming up.  Everywhere.  So he wanted to offer the FBI’s help with any civil right’s issues we might encounter.  Then I understood why he was defensive.  There’s a lot of tension around immigration issues in our country.  I think he thought that our level of involvement with immigrants might mean that we were radicalized politically.   Such a place would not be pleased to have the Feds around.     I explained we were just serving Jesus, our Master, who was a refugee himself.  


Then he asked what we did to help refugees.  I told him.  He asked to come back with his boss.  I assured him that the FBI was welcome.  


This week the man returned with his boss.  I was struck again by what I felt was a defensiveness from my guests.  Turns out, a lot of people, apparently, refer to these civil servants as “Jack Booted Thugs.”   I asked if the FBI would come and speak to the various immigrant communities we work with at Zion.  Yes, they would.  But...  We had to be polite.  They were pretty clear that while the FBI respected everybody, they also expected to be respected.  Oh.  Well, of course.  We’re a church.  We love everybody.  I guess that some of these meetings get out of hand.  Sad.  


So, we’re setting up an opportunity for the FBI to meet the community.  They will talk about civil rights, hate crimes and terrorism.  Sounds like a fine agenda.  So far, the community is responding very positively.  


What I’m hoping for is that God will use this coming together to build our community stronger and healthier.  It’s my prayer that this meeting will lead to peace and love and joy further breaking out in our city.  The various communities will hear how the FBI is here to serve them and the FBI will hear the fears and concerns and questions of the community.  And I’ll be in the back row, praying.  Praying that our city will be a bright light, a shining city on a hill.  I’d ask you to join me in this prayer.


The words of an Iraqi diplomat who visited our church last month still ring in my ears.  “If a church had reached out to our community in Detroit like yours has here, things would be so much better for us than they are today.”  


We’re called to be salt and light.  We’re called to be reconcilers.  Pray we stay the course and this newest opportunity to serve brings glory to God and peace to our city.  Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ 


Reflections from Pastor John


Reflections from Pastor John


Not preaching this weekend gave me a great opportunity to wander around Zion and observe what’s going on.  I have to tell you that I am so thankful to God for Zion Church and for those who choose to be a part of this ministry.  I’ve only been a pastor at Zion for seven years but I’m continually amazed by our ability to manage change and adapt.  In those seven years, for instance, we’ve implemented a new leadership structure which is radically different from what we had before; we’ve hired a pastor from a different denomination;  joined a new denomination; left a previous denomination; welcomed many new members, many of whom speak a different language; we’ve seen some long time members say “goodbye” and go to support other churches; we’ve launched a plethora of new ministries and been positioned by God to serve our community in a very unique way.  And I could go on and on.  I can’t think of a single area of our church that hasn’t been affected by major changes in the last seven years.


So, wandering around the church this weekend gave me an opportunity to reflect and I want to share some of those reflections with you:


Hurray for Sunday School!  

I’m so proud of our Sunday School and the great work that Denise Nahnsen and her team are doing.  It was really a balm to my soul to see all the little kids singing and jumping and praising the Lord.  My word, there are a lot of young kids at Zion!  There were way more kids than I ever imagined in Sunday School.  And then to wander down the halls and look in the classrooms of the older kids - again, wow.  So pleased to see so many junior and senior high school students with open Bibles. I’m especially proud of the racial integration we’ve witnessed in the last couple of years.  Changing dynamics significantly can lead to trouble and I’m so proud of how Zion has pulled together to welcome new faces.     


This year, I believe, is also going to be the year that Sunday School goes year ‘round.  Last year we experimented with Karenni Sunday School and it worked.  This year, I really believe that we’ll be able to offer English language Sunday School for everyone.  I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am by this prospect.  It seems odd to me that in the past we’ve just “stopped” our programming for kids in the summer except for Bible School and Art Camp.  I think we thought that our volunteers needed a break, and perhaps they do, but others need to step up and help out.  Our kids need Jesus year ‘round, not just in the school year.  I’m pleased that so far, everyone I’ve talked to about helping out has agreed to help.  It will be a big effort, but I think it will yield amazing fruit. 



What language do you speak at home?

Our new data base, which we’re still learning to use, coupled with our growth in numbers lately and especially our numerical growth in people whose first language is not English, has left us scrambling to produce meaningful statistics.  But just in conversations during the 10:30 service I can share this with you:  we are a church that prays in 9 different languages.  Those languages are:  English, Mizo, Arabic, Karenni, Nuer, Vietnamese, Kunama, Bandi and Grebo.   Some of the language groups are quite small, perhaps one family.  Others are quite large, the Mizo, for instance, number close to 300.  Arabic speakers are growing in number, too.  We are now past 20 Arabic speakers who consider Zion to be their church.  I have to tell you that I’m really blown away by this.  Why?  Because, except for Arabic and Mizo, there are other immigrant churches in our city that worship in some of these languages.  Yet the families continue to regularly attend Zion and give and when I ask them, “What brought you to Zion?,” they continue to answer, “Because God said to come here.”  



مرحبا بكم في كنيسة صهيون

This means, “Welcome to Zion Church” in Arabic.  I’m very excited about the growing number of Arabic speakers coming to our church.  At a recent home visit with one of the families, an emphatic family patriarch grabbed my arm and said, “Zion is our Church, we belong to you!”  These are Christians who have endured terrible persecution since the war in Iraq.  They’ve lost their homes, businesses, and extended families.  Many of them do not have an evangelical understanding of our faith.  We’ve been trying to meet the needs of this community for the last two years.  Now God has brought us a wonderful man named Majed Bahidh and his family to help us.  Majed and his wife, Abeer, and their three children arrived in Ames in September.  We’ve been trying since January to get them to come to Zion and we’ve finally worked out the transportation issues and the weather has, at last, cooperated!  They are a family that is ready to serve the Lord at Zion by ministering to our Iraqi Christians and Muslims as well.  The entire circumstances of their coming to Zion brings tears to my eyes.  Majed and Abeer have been Christians since 2004.  Majed has served as a lay pastor in both Iraq and Syria.  We welcome him with open arms and he has graciously agreed to take over our Arabic language Sunday School class and to work tirelessly in the community that Zion has been reaching out to for the last two years.  Thank you, Jesus!    Majed gave his testimony recently at the 10:30 service and I’m sure that the other services will hear it soon.


We’ve Got New Wheels

I’m so proud to say that, as of today, we’ve been able to acquire another church van.  It’s a Chevy, 2007, and runs great.  We thank all our contributors for this special project, especially 100 Men in Mission and Stew Hanson Dealerships for their help in securing this new ride.  I expect it to be in service in time for Sunday’s Sunday School run.  We now have the ability to transport even more people to worship and education at Zion.  Now we just need more drivers!  Talk to me if you’re ready to volunteer!  We have a beautiful problem:  more people want to attend Zion on a Sunday than we can bring.  I’m so thankful to God for this and grateful to the congregation for making people feel welcome. 



The 65th Annual Chin National Day

The Mizo members at Zion are a part of the Chin people from Burma.  They come from Chin State in Myanmar.  Sunday I attended the 65th Annual Chin National Day Celebration, which was the third for Des Moines and I’m proud to say that Zion was represented at all three.  It was a celebration of song and dance and fashion and food.  A hearty congratulations to our Mizo dance team that performed three of four traditional dances in a “non-stop” format that wove music and dance together seamlessly.  The dance was a big hit with the packed house and I have to say it was, in my opinion, the best performance of the afternoon.  


The power of partnerships

I’m thankful to belong to a church that realizes it is a part of something greater than itself, that is, specifically, the body of Christ.  I’m grateful to the many partnerships we’ve enjoyed throughout these last years.  Freedom for Youth gave us our start in Whiz Kidz which this year became our very own STAR Kids program.  I’m thankful for the support of Meredith Drive Reformed Church which continues to loan us their van for taking kids to and from school and on field trips.  I’m thankful for our partnerships with others who are trying to serve the least of these with us.  I’m thankful for Stew Hanson Dealerships and their support of our new van and STAR Kids.  I’m grateful also to EMBARC, Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, for partnering with us on numerous projects, most recently, summer programming for the kids and summer camps as well.  


We live in a world of constant and unavoidable change.  But I’m so grateful that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Thank you for your partnership with us at Zion Church in the Gospel.  


Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ  


Sunday We Crossed A Line

Sunday, February 10, is a day that will stick out in my mind for the rest of my life.  I think it’s a date that I’ll remember as having cemented a change in who we are as a congregation.  


Sunday, February 10, is the day we crossed the line.


What line?  The line between talking about being a multi-ethnic congregation to showing the world that we actually are a multi-ethnic congregation.


Sure, we’ve worshipped with Kakunzi’s group before and prayed and worshipped in Swahili and English.  But this time, this particular Sunday, it was different.  A beautiful little girl named Jordyn Rose was baptized.  She was prayed for in English by me, in Swahili by Kakunzi, in Nuer by Jordan Long, and in Arabic by Majid.   Not only were the languages the pastors prayed in diverse, but so was the theological background of the pastors.  There were traditional Lutherans and low church Lutherans and Anglicans and Pentecostals.  It was amazing.  It was symbolic of the many becoming one people in Christ. 


We worshipped in English and Swahili.  That was also amazing.  Especially when you looked around the room and realized that this isn’t just a cross cultural experience for the white participants, but also for the Sudanese and Iraqi and Vietnamese participants as well.  


We then had a presentation by Pastor Jordan Long, president of the Lutheran Church of South Sudan, about ministry in that new nation.  It helped to remind us that we followers of Jesus are everywhere and find ourselves in a variety of situations.  And it helped us to remember that we are a part of a kingdom that is greater than any other here on earth.  We are part of the kingdom of God which knows no boundaries.  


The message that day was from Matthew 14, about Jesus walking on the water and Peter wanting Jesus to call him to come out and walk on the waves with him.  Each day at Zion we endeavor to get out of the boat and walk on the waves with our Savior.  We believe that he has called us out of the boat and to come to him and be a church where many nations are reconciled and welcomed, and where all the children grow up in Christ to understand that the Church is the place where the many become one people, united in him who is the head.  


I’m so excited to continue along this path of becoming a congregation that worships the Lord in a diversity of languages and music and styles.  I’m so excited that one day, when this fully becomes a part of who we are as a congregation, that people from within and outside the church, might experience something of what heaven must be like as we worship the Lamb as people from every race and tribe and tongue and nation.  

South Sudan, Same Sex and the Future of the Church

South Sudan, Same Sex and the Future of the Church
On June 3, we had a special guest at Zion.  He is the Rev. Jordan Long, president of the Lutheran Church of south Sudan.  he was in the  U.S. for three months to consider an affiliation with our association, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, and to raise funds for the work of building churches and leaders in South Sudan.
South Sudan is the world’s newest country.  The Lutheran Church of South Sudan may be the world’s newest church.  It has about 5,000 members, about 32 congregations, 18 pastors and 32 evangelists.  And one president.  Pastor Long came to the U.S. about 20 years ago as a refugee.  He eventually finished college and seminary and became pastor of a special outreach to African immigrants called the Nile Lutheran Mission.  In August of 2009, when the ELCA, of which Pastor Long was a part, approved same sex marriage and the ordination of practicing gay and lesbian clergy, Pastor Long and his congregation exited the ELCA.  Along with us.  
Pastor Long wept over the ELCA’s decision.  So did we.  Feeling a call to mission, he returned to Sudan and began preaching.  His family history is an interesting one.  He grew up in a Christian family.  The only Christian family in their village.  His mother started a church.  It quickly grew to over 100 people.  
Eventually, there was a refurendom on independence.  Pastor Long joined the happy throngs welcoming a new and independant South Sudan.  
It was an interesting visit.  We opened it up for questions after the sermon and at the 8:00 a.m. service we nearly used up all our time with questions and answers and had to go into “extra innings” for communion.  At the 9:30 service people lined up to ask him questions.  I’m not sure what happened at 10:30 because I wasn’t able to be there.  Even people who couldn’t understand him thought he was brilliant and wanted to support his work.  We had the second largest exit offering we’ve ever had.  Nearly $1500 went to aid the church in South Sudan.  And Pastor Long never asked for dime.
I had several observations about the visit and Pastor Long’s testimony which I’ll share with you now.
  1. I think Pastor Long exemplifies what God is doing in the Church and among the Church’s leaders today.  Here is a man who knew terrible suffering.  Who had to flee his home country and suffer terrible things in order to survive.  A man who lived for years in a refugee camp, surrounded by barbed wire, with barely enough food to live.  Here is a man who was given a new life in the U.S. and who willingly, gave it all up and went back in order to serve those who need the gospel of Christ.  I’m awed by what Pastor Long has given up:  retirement accounts, a regular pay check, internet access, reliable transportation, air conditioning, running water.  Yet I see the Lord calling his servants to abandon their former ways of life, their creature comforts and most of all, their certainty, and follow him into ventures unknown.  And I see leaders following Pastor Long’s example and I see God providing.  I see God doing amazing and wonderful things through them and producing much fruit.  It’s like we’ve been called to go back to New Testament times.  Like Jesus has called us to “go,” and not take an extra tunic or walking stick or wallet or extra sandals.  Instead, as leaders, we are to rely more and more upon him and him only.  And he is glorified in the “sacrifice.”  We are learning this way to be a church in mission.  His mission.  And he will take care of his own.  Not with worldly comforts, but with fruits of repentance and salvation.  I’m awed and amazed.  I have to admit, I see lesser but no less keen suffering in most of my colleagues.  I begin to wonder if you’re not suffering now as a servant of Christ, are you really doing his work?
  2. Pastor Long talked about the relationships that other African churches have with the ELCA.  One thing that has always worked in the ELCA’s favor was that it had money to give away.  This led other Lutheran churches throughout the world to affiliate with them.   One of the biggest affiliations with with the EECMY, the Evangelical Ethiopian Church Mekene Yesus, a celebrated church in Africa which does amazing mission work and which is now training the evangelists and pastors of the Lutheran Church of South Sudan.  Pastor Long says that they are reconsidering their association with the ELCA over the same sex marriage and clergy issue.  If the EECMY un-affiliates from the ELCA, I expect the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania will do the same.  Money, for the churches of the developing world, is no longer as important as sound, biblical doctrine.  This means that the churches of the Third World may well be last defense of historic, apostolic Christianity.   You see this not only in the Lutheran Church but also in the Anglican Communion, where African and Asian Churches are in open opposition to the Church in the West.  We may very well be on the verge of another historic split:  Not East and West, like in .... But this time, North and South, which we can also call developed versus developing. 
  3. Which leads me very nicely to my third point.  Churches like Zion, which hold to historic, apostolic Christianity despite enormous societal pressure to amend our faith, may begin to look more toward Africa for fellowship and theological grounding than Europe.  For the entire history of the U.S., we have looked for theological grounding to Europe, especially Germany and Scotland.  I do not think it unlikely, nor does Pastor Long, that soon, American Lutheran pastors who love the Bible and who are missional in their theology will attend schools and conferences in places like Addis Abba, Ethiopia,  Dodoma or Arusha, Tanzania and perhaps even Juba, South Sudan.  Next month, Pastor Gakunzi will leave for a month in Burundi and Rwanda for a theologocial conference.  Why?  Because who can trust what the American Church is teaching.  And I agree.  
  4. I know that some of my dear readers will consider this the rantings of a crazy man.  But remember, I’ve lived and worked in Europe.  I know what’s happening in the great  and historic centers of Christianity.  And it isn’t good for mission. And what is the Christian Church without mission?  What good is a church that doesn’t do what Jesus tells it to do?  Frankly, if I had the money, I’d ask that Zion pay for an evangelist from the EECMY to come here to Des Moines, Iowa.  Why?  Because as a Church in North America, so many of us don’t know how to make converts, let along disciples.  And they do.  And, don’t forget, that because of globalization, we have a growing population of Eritrean (formerly Ethiopian) people.  And Sudanese.  Even at Zion we have members from Sudan and Liberia.  Soon to be Eritrea and Iraq.  Why?  Because we preach the historic Christian faith and because we’re ready to receive them.  It’s so very odd, I admit, to consider that our future might be South and East instead of North and West.  But there you have it.
Please pray for our ministry at Zion.  Please pray that we might be faithful.  The times are confusing and may not look much like the past at all.  Please pray that we might follow Jesus into the glorious future he has prepare for us.  God bless you.
Posted by John Kline with

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward


Two teachings of Jesus that are extremely relevant to the Church today:



Mt 5:43-48

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.   46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”


Luke 14:12-14

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”


Are we to destroy our enemies?   No.  Rather we are to love them.   It is counter cultural and counter intuitive.  This is part of Jesus’ Kingdom Jujitsu, you keep evil off balance by not “resisting” but by loving.  The answer to violence isn’t violence, it’s love.  The answer to hate isn’t more hate, it’s love.  


When you’re persecuted or beat up - pray.  When they strike you on one cheek, offer them the other.  When they rob you for your coat, give them your shirt as well.  


Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies isn’t abstract, it is concrete.  For Jesus love isn’t ever abstract.  We might think that loving our enemies can be done in the abstract.  “Let’s think nice thoughts about them.”  But it can’t.  Jesus’ kind of love is physical and concrete and requires us to actually touch our enemies.  


John 13:  On the night he was betrayed, Jesus washed Judas’s feet, knowing full well what was to happen.  But he did it anyway and then Jesus said that he had set an example and that his followers should follow his example.  He told us that he gave us a new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.”  That is, wash feet.  Don’t love abstractly, love concretely.  People will know you are my followers, he said, when you love this way.  


The love of Jesus requires us to go beyond the normal.  Normal is loving those who love you.  Friends and family.  Or to love people who can do something in return for you, like a rich neighbor or even simply make you feel good about yourself.  Jesus says that we are to intentionally love people who don’t love us.  Intentionally means on purpose.   We are to greet or welcome those whom we wouldn’t normally greet or welcome.  


When we hold a banquet, we don’t invite friends and families and rich neighbors.  Why?  They can pay us back.  Instead, we are told to invite those who can never pay us back.  It’s counter cultural.  It’s counter intuitive.  It’s Jesus.  


I have a very great concern.  There is a lot of circling the wagons around our family going on these days.   People are staying home more than ever and in the face of great darkness and uncertainty in our world, they are clinging to their own families.  Families are good.  We understand them to be the building blocks of society.  But when your family is more important than all the other families and your family’s welfare is more important than all other families, we call that Mafia.  


Now apply it to the Church.  In North America we’ve been taking care of our own.  We’ve been having banquets for ourselves and our “church family.”  We’ve welcomed and greeted those who could benefit us by joining our church and paying our bills.  We’ve forgotten to go out to the highways and byways and alleyways and country roads and invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, the widowed, the orphaned, the hopeless.  


As a nation I worry that we’ve made family into a kind of idol.  Please don’t misunderstand me, family is good.  It’s the fundamental building block of society according to the Bible.  But when family becomes the first and only priority in our lives something terrible happens.  We start to see the success of our family in opposition to other families.  Our family must triumph, even at the expense of other families.  This is what the Mafia is.  A type of family that exults itself at the expense of other families.  That is not what God had in mind.  


Community is groups of families working together.   They work together to overcome shared obstacles and obtain shared success.  In community, what happens to your family matters to my family and so we’re all watching out and helping each other.  As Christians we also understand ourselves to be part of a greater family - the family of God.  We call it church.  


The trend I’m worried about in the church that is that you quit working with kids because yours have grown up.  “I helped out at church until my kids were grown.  Now it’s someone else’s turn.”  But what about everybody else’s kids?  We live in an age when, demographically, the traditional family is decreasing in churches.  How will we be able to minister to all the kids who need to be at church if we only rely on people with kids in the system?  We have to be concerned about everyone’s kids.  We have to pull together and minister to them.  It’s counter-intuitive.  It’s counter cultural.  It’s Jesus.


Our congregation has a unique situation:  other people’s kids love to come here.  We have a magnificent opportunity to influence those kids.  By investing in them we may see them succeed, prosper and ultimately, be saved.  When I look behind us I don’t see anyone else willing to commit to these kids.  So I think we have to commit to them.  For the sake of the kids and for the sake of our community, and ultimately, for the sake of our families.  


Two and a half years ago we began a journey together, a journey that was counter-intuitive and counter cultural.  A journey that has shaped us and given us a new identity.  A journey framed around Luke 14 and characterized by the phrases, “Jesus says go!” and “Let’s do something beautiful for Jesus.”  


We began with a question:  Would anyone in our community miss us if we closed?  At the time, the answer was “not really.”   What about today?   Today, I believe the neighborhood would really miss us.  How did this turn around happen so quickly?  Because we made a conscious choice to bless those who couldn’t bless us back and found ways to intentionally love those who were not our friends, families or rich neighbors.  This approach has fundamentally changed who we are as a church.


Here are some of the things I think we’ve learned together:


  • We’re learning that radical dependance upon Jesus to get things done is the best way to run a church.   Simply put into action what he taught us and trust him to handle the bills and the details.  We should have crashed or gone broke by now  but we haven’t.  God provides.  


  • We’ve learned that worship is more than singing, surviving the sermon and taking the sacraments.  


Romans 12:1  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”


James 1:27  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”


If worship doesn’t lead to intentional acts motivated by the love of Christ, what has it accomplished?  


Worship leads to service and devotion which, in turn, lead to worship.  And if that isn’t happening, perhaps we’re doing it wrong.  


Liturgy (liturgia) is “the work of the people.”  Worship is our work.  We worship him by serving others.


So we switched our focus as a church.  Instead of focusing our attention every week on a worship service that lasts 60 minutes, we focused on the results of that worship - the other 167 hours of the week. 


  • Turns out, serving people in the love of Jesus is an amazing avenue for spiritual growth.  We see this particularly among the young.  Putting their faith into action, making connections with others, many of whom are less fortunate than themselves, dealing with cross cultural issues, needing to make sacrifices for others.  This is making faith real, not abstract.  This summer, a couple young people are going to do some camps for the neighborhood kids.  It was their idea.  They’ll do the work.  They are motivated to put their faith into action and serve.  I’m looking forward to it. 




We’ve developed some philosophies:

  • About donations:  Clothes and furniture specifically:  Take it all.  Don’t make too many rules.  The more rules their are about drop offs and what we’ll take, the harder it is for people to give.  The harder it is to give, the less likely people are to give and the more people without clothes and furniture there will be.  


  • Err on the side of grace.  Don’t make too many rules.  Having many groups use our space challenges us to grow spiritually:  to be patient, kind, loving, and forces us to work through conflict - and grow because of it - rather than avoid conflict.  We want to bring that church wide - no more church politics, no more factions, no more passive aggressive behavior - bring your issues into the open to staff or boards or let them go. 


  • That even though some ministries are rather larger - collect more money, take up more calendar time and space, (like STAR kids, Street Outreach, Mhezi, for example) we don’t want to define our entire ministry as just one ministry.  We don’t want to be known as the church that does “this or that.”  We want to go out of business in all our ministries because we met the need and their are no more hungry people or people who need furniture or clothing or anything else.  Rather, we want to be known as the church that does whatever Jesus shows us needs doing.  We want to be able to re-calibrate ourselves at a moment’s notice to please Him.  


  • That everything we do would be open to everyone - regardless of age, race, creed or color or membership.   If you’re in need, you’re in need.   


  • Publicity.  Jesus says that when you do your acts of charity or give alms, don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.  Hard to balance that as a non-profit looking for ways to market ourselves so we can get more donations.  Why does money always dictate what we can and cannot do?  If they notice, we’ll talk to them.  If not, no, we won’t seek it. In the meantime, Jesus has provided and we trust he will continue to do so.  


  • We can do a lot of things without money, space and equipment.  But we can’t do anything without leaders (volunteers).


  • The job of the staff is to empower people to serve.  Sometimes by backing them up and sometimes by creating opportunities for them to serve.  The job of boards is to provide accountability.  


  • Fairness is not a biblical concept.  Who do we help?  The one who needs it.  We don’t help everyone the same way.  


  • Care.  It used to be only pastors went and visited the sick and home-bound.  Now, more people involved.  Pastors are still trying to be regular in visiting. The greatest challenge is time.  Some will say it’s not fair.  Most of our shut ins, though, make it to doctor, grocery store, have really good family systems.  But we have wonderful volunteers who are filling in many of the gaps.  Thank you!


  • The Church in general needs a new scorecard.  Not numbers and money.  What would that score card look like?  
    • Are lives being changed?  How many people did you feed this week, serve this week, clothe this week?   
      • Has Zion inspired you to become more involved in your community/neighborhood?
      • How many volunteer hours do you give per week?
      • Has your marriage improved?
      • Has your relationship with your kids, teenagers improved?  


What can we look forward to in 2013?

  • Pastor Ringa, the Mizo speaking pastor we’ve called will arrive and bring closer collaboration with the 1:00 service. 
  • Community Gardens Expansion.  So many want to garden.  
  • Baptisms.  We’ve spent years building relationships.  I think this might be the year we see kids and parents want to be baptized.  
  • Muslims.  Continued expansion of Arabic Sunday School.  
  • Summer - VBS, Art Camp, Swimming lessons, sports camps,  Bible Camp.
  • New relationships:  EMBARC, Transformation Group, Hoover and Meredith.   
  • Emphases:  Kids.  Growing cross cultural friendships.  Parenting and marriage.  Prayer.  





  • We really need 3 vans for transportation.  
  • We need a growing dependance upon prayer
  • We need to step it up.  When holidays or summer come around we end our programming.  The people we normally bring to church don’t come.  We don’t send the vans.  Why do we stop on holidays?  We also need to add transport to 15th Street.  




Analyzing long term trends:  in ten years every church is going to be doing what we are.    


We’ve had our share of upheaval.  Some of the changes we’ve made haven’t been easy.  But each challenged we’ve faced we’ve done so with a radical dependance upon Jesus.  We must stay the course.  It isn’t what we do that defines us.  It’s who we are.  People bought for a price.  Redeemed to be useful to God.  


Perhaps you’re worried we’ll get a big head and get puffed up.  Christmas helps to keep us humble.  


One of the lessons of Christmas to me is simply this:

“If my God and king became a baby and a carpenter, what must I become to serve him?”  Thinking like that won’t give you a big head.  It will make you just the right size for God to use you.  


Oswald Chambers puts it this way:  “Beware of becoming a profound person.  God became a baby.” 


Thanks for reading.  God bless.








Posted by John Kline with

Giving Up On Excellence

I am a product of the Church Growth movement.  I went to a denominational seminary and at the time they didn’t teach us anything useful about evangelism or about growing churches.  I’m serious.  We were taught that people would just come because they were Lutheran.  Our job was to minister to the needs of our flock.  I didn’t buy that then, and I certainly don’t buy that now.  


So, early on in my seminary career, I started to go to conferences and read books to supplement my education.  My first call as a pastor was to be the second full time staff member at a church with 600 members that became a mega church very quickly.  My whole professional life has been about church growth.  When we lived and taught in Eastern Europe, I taught church growth principals to my students.  I’ve been sold on the movement for a long time as the hope for the future of the Church.  


One of the tenants of the Church Growth movement is the pursuit of excellence for the sake of God.  In other words, what we in the movement saw in North American churches was that no one cared enough to give their best.  Especially pastors.  We felt that God wanted our very, very best and that our services, especially, but all things we did as a church, should pursue excellent.  It was the same kind of idea that was big, at the time, in business culture and also becoming to be a big idea in aspects of education and school administration.  


Like all my peers in the movement, I bought into the necessity to pursue excellence for the sake of evangelism.   After all, why would unchurched people trust us with their kids in Sunday School or Bible School if we didn’t look like we were excellent?  Why would any unchurched person come to a church that looked like it didn’t know what it was doing?  Why would any unchurched person go to a place whose publications were below the ability of most desk top publishing programs? 


Excellence has pursued me and haunted me all during my tenure at Zion where I currently pastor.  For several years I ran into stiff opposition to the pursuit of excellence.  Why would we want to spend money on having everything look so “professional?”  “What we’ve been using for years is good enough, pastor.”  “We don’t need new signs, pastor.  Our people know where things are.”  When we introduced new ideas into worship (that is, we introduced Church Growth ideas) we also met opposition.  The worship was said to be “too professional.”   I admit I was frustrated.  


But now, thankfully, I can tell you that I’m done with excellence for the time being.  Why?  Because our current ministry is simply too vibrant for excellence.  What do I mean by that?  Well, simply put, we’re so busy trying to keep up with the needs of the people we serve that we don’t have time to be excellent.  The image in my head is one of a rescue ship that comes upon a wrecked vessel.  You have to get people out of the water as quickly as possible.  There simply isn’t time to be orderly or excellent.  There is confusion and chaos, but people are being saved.   And that’s where we are as a church.  We simply have so many opportunities to witness to Christ at any given moment, we don’t have the time to pursue excellence.


I think our focus has shifted as well.  Instead of our focus being on what we do in worship or care, our focus has shifted to serving.  Instead of spending hours trying to figure out the perfect transitions in worship and pursuing the latest and greatest worship songs and making sure that every word on the power point is spelled correctly and so on, we’re praying with people, helping out at the local school, delivering groceries, teaching people English, and tutoring kids, all the while sharing the Gospel as living sacrifices.  It isn’t that we don’t care about what happens on Sunday, it’s just that we’ve moved beyond Sunday and our focus is on the rest of the week where faith has to be lived out to be real and to be seen by a world that increasingly doesn’t attend church.


This blog won’t be published right away so let me say this:  Tomorrow night I have a board meeting.  It’s really important that I be there.  We have a lot of things to discuss as the leadership of the church.  But that night, at the same time, is also the school board meeting and I’ve been invited by a board member to come and speak and explain how our church “buses” 30+ kids to and from school every school day and how a simple change in their policy will lead to a major benefit for 100s of kids.  I think I have to be at the school board meeting.  I think the love of Christ compels us to go.  Jesus said, “Go!”  And when we go we can’t stay and take care of our own business.  Our Master is on the move and we must follow him and help him take care of his great business.  Because the world won’t come to church because it should.  It will only come to faith when the church goes out and shows the world what the love of Christ is all about.  


So, for the sake of the love of Christ, we have changed our opinion about excellence.  What was once the pursuit of excellence in service to those who came to us is now the pursuit of excellence in service to those who have no idea who our Lord Jesus is yet but will hopefully come to faith in him through our meager efforts.  


We aren’t even excellent in what we can do for others because there are so many of them in need.  But I take comfort in this:  What we do we do for Him, our Audience of One.  And also, that in a great darkness, even a weak light shines very brightly.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ


Where Are We With That? Catching up on some projects at Zion...

We’ve been talking a lot about various projects and maybe you’re wondering where we are with them.  Here’s a quick update.  If you need more information about a specific project not mentioned here or even one that is, please contact me and let me know and I’ll be happy to let you know what’s happening.  


Pastor Van Lal Ringa, our Mizo speaking pastor. 

Pastor Ringa and I are in communication weekly.  He has applied for his passport and is waiting on that document to come to him.  After he has his passport and we have that information from him, we can then proceed with finishing the paperwork we need to do to complete the application for the R-1 Religious Workers Visa we need for him to enter and stay in the US.  To help with this involved and complicated process, we have hired Ta-Yu Yang, a noted immigration attorney, with funds provided especially from the 1:00 service.  Mr. Yang intends to donate 50% of his fee back to Zion as a gift.  We’re grateful for his generosity and for his wisdom in guiding us through this process.  So we hope to welcome Pastor Ringa sometime in the spring of 2013. 


Buying another church van.

We received half the money we needed for the van as a stock donation.  We are very grateful.  It took much longer than we expected to get the stock sold and for the check to arrive.  Now, with the increase in activity at church because of Christmas and all the events and good works associated with it, it may be the first of the year before the van actually appears in our parking lot.  But don’t give up!  It will get here!  Until then, we continue to borrow a van from Meredith Drive Reformed Church for our weekly needs.

The new van will be especially useful to us when we can’t borrow the Meredith Drive van, like on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.  We’re so happy so many people want to come to Zion and we will be so relieved to be able to double our capacity for people to come.  


The Great Mosque Food Challenge.

Our friends at the Bosniak Mosque challenged our congregation and our youth to collect food items for the needy.  So far, Zion has collected over 1,000 food items for this challenge.  We’ll have a full report to share with you once we combine our items with those the mosque collected.  



Thanks for reading!  God bless you.  PJ 



Thanksgiving: Why We Need to Be Grateful and Not Expect Others to Be Grateful to Us

Contrary to popular mythology, I’m not made of stone.  My feelings get hurt from time to time same as everyone else. 


Today I was transporting a young man with some severe behavioral problems to and from an outpatient treatment program.  He’s rather young, under 12.  He’s been in this country just two years.  Our church has gone to extraordinary measures to help this boy and his whole family.  I won’t elaborate on the extraordinary efforts, but just know that I mean way, way, way beyond some food and clothes and a smile.  I mean extraordinary. 


The boy and his sibling weren’t in church on Sunday.  I wasn’t too concerned as I knew that the family that brings them and has pretty much adopted them was out of town.   So we’re leaving the hospital together, the boy and I, on our way to get some ice cream as a reward for having survived his first day of treatment.  Then he tells me that he and his sibling went to a different church on Sunday with a friend.  The other church has a big bus that comes to your house.  This is where that whole “I’m not made of stone” comment comes in.  


OK.  Did you enjoy it?  He did.  My stoney facade cracked more.  


What made it enjoyable?  Well, turns out they played a game where they chased a man who had money stuck all over him around the yard.  If they grabbed money, they got to keep it.  He got $4. 


How am I supposed to compete with that?  All our money runs out the door, too, but it isn’t a game.  It’s just reality.  I crack some more. 


What was the lesson?  What did you learn?  He doesn’t know.  


So now I’m getting ugly on the inside.  I’m actually feeling smug because while the game was fun, it failed to convey a message.  I say to myself:  we may not be fun or have money, but surely we get our point across.  Then I remember how many people we’ve lost because they didn’t get the point of the ministry we’ve been called to do.  And I remember people saying I didn’t communicate the point well enough.  


I feel terrible inside.  I know I’m sinning like crazy.  I know that I’m making it about us and about me and it isn’t.  It’s all about Him.  


It’s been tough lately.  We’re being refined.  Our Master is testing what we’re made of.  Lately there’s been a lot in the paper about a particular apartment complex where we do a lot, a lot of ministry.  No mention of our church.  Some of our folks are frustrated by that.  They see others, who do less, being celebrated.  But hey, we aren’t doing what we’re doing for anyone else.  We’re not doing it to be recognized.  We’re not doing it to be rewarded.  We’re not doing it to be celebrated.  We’re not doing it to be liked.  We’re not doing it to be famous.  We’re not doing it even for the people we’re doing it for.  We’re doing it for Jesus.  And He knows we’re doing it and that’s all that matters.  We do what we do not for the praise of men, but for the praise and glory of our Master. 


I’ve been sad lately.  A long time friend at our church simply quit coming.  When I called to find out why, she hung up on me.  It stung.  It stung because I had personally invested so much in this family, their trials and tribulations with their kids, their worries about extended family members, the whole thing.  But at the end of the day they’re gone.  No explanation, no goodbye, no chance to reconcile or even explain anything.  They’ve packed up and gone to a different church.  It’s probably more fun.  I’ll bet they can even get their point across.  At least that’s my prayer.  Because I’ve been reminded of two things this Thanksgiving Season:  1.)  We do what we do for an audience of One.  What other people think of us ultimately doesn’t matter.  We are called to serve the One, not to be liked or admired or fussed over.  And, 2.)  We’re a part of something bigger than we are.  If people are happier or get the point at other churches, that’s OK.  We have a unique role to play within that greater body.  Turns out we can do what others can’t, and they can do what we can’t.  It’s glorious.  And I’m grateful for both of these things.


So I’m having ice cream with my young friend before we go home.  And out of the blue he says: “Pastor John:  If I can chose where I go to church, I’ll go with you.”  Thank you, God.  Thank you for the opportunity to serve those who are different from us in so many ways but reflect your beauty and your holiness in such awesome ways.  Thank you, Lord, that we are a part of your amazing body, the Church, which has so many different parts and reasons for being.  Thank you, Christ, for reminding us whom it is whom we serve, namely, your great Self.  And thank you, Holy Spirit, for accompanying us along the way.  Thanks for reading.  PJ

Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 4

Report from the LCMC National Gathering, Part 4:  Mike Breen, 3DM discipleship movement

(A bio on Mike Breen from the LCMC website follows this report)



I really enjoyed Mike Breen’s presentation.  He was specifically asked by Mark Vander Tuig  to give us a talk Mark had heard once before, a talk about feudalism in the church.  I will do my best to condense Breen’s excellent one hour lecture on history from the Roman Empire to today into a few short paragraphs.  It was amazing.  If you have the opportunity to ever hear it, be sure to listen to it.  


Mike grew up in a military family where he learned that the last thing the commander says is the first thing you do.  So as a Christian he takes Jesus’ parting words to his disciples in MT 28 very seriously.  Making disciples is the essence of his faith.  


The Gospel is simple and hard.  It is not easy.  But it is not complicated.  

So is making disciples.  It is a simple reality, but hard to embrace.   Either Jesus is worthy of following or not.  Simple.  But living out your life as a disciple is hard.  Jesus says to make disciples.  We believe we should.  Easy.  But doing it is hard.


What Mike said about his early success in ministry in the Church of England really struck me.  He said that he had an amazing ministry, won the acclaim of the hierarchy, got to be on TV and celebrated, but now, what he started is almost all gone.  He thought long and hard about why that was.  He realized that he himself could draw people to himself but that unless he taught them how to make disciples themselves, it wouldn’t be sustainable.  In the church we didn't work out how to make a disciple that could make a disciple.  So many of our “successful” churches growth It depended on their influence


His last assignment grew to be the largest church in England.  But since he taught them how to make disciples, they’ve gone on without him.  The church has doubled since he left.  Instead of counting how many people attend church on a Sunday or how much they give, this church now counts how many people are in intentional discipleship groups. That is how they measure their success. 


Anyone can make a disciple - people want to be like you.  But what we want is a disciple who can make a disciple who can make a disciple.  


In our culture, success means bigger, faster, stronger.  In the Bible, fruitfulness is the concept that is used.  Fruitfulness means reproduction.  It is a kingdom principle.  In making disciples, you celebrate what God has done in you reproduced in another person.  Fruitfulness is to have lots of children.  In making disciples it is to have lots of spiritual children who go on to have lots of spiritual children.  


In the world it is commonly understood that it is better to have healthy family than a successful business.  In the Church we need to understand that it is better to make disciples than draw big crowds


During the last supper in Luke 22, Jesus is having quality time with his disciples.  The disciples are beginning to brag a bit over brandy and cigars.  They ask, “Which of us will be the greatest in your kingdom?”  They don’t understand that they are co-heirs of a kingdom given by covenant.  They don't understand that they aren’t to function as world leaders.  In the world, Leaders = power and provision.  They have power and they are expected to provide for their constituents.  That’s how the world works.  In the Roman world it was:





Free voting citizens

The mobility - mob - slaves = 50% of the population.

Don't be like that, Jesus says. 


Edict of Milan 313, 270 years after Pentecost or so.  Constantine declares Christianity the religion of the Empire.  Before this the Church was brutally persecuted.  To be found out to be a leader of the Church was to be executed.  But it was during these years that the Church grew from 120 to 50% of the population.


How?  The Church before 313 had no buildings.  No public leadership structure.  


After the fall of Rome and the onset of the Dark Ages, the Church preserves culture.  There was a hierarchy:  Nobility and Serfs.  It was a social contract called feudalism  but it was the same old system.  The nobles had the power and they were expected to feed and protect their people.  


What ended the Dark Ages?  Famine and war and urbanization.  Things began to change.  Feudalism ends with French Revolution in France after 3 years of failed harvests.  It ends in England after WW I.  Fight for king and country. 100,000s of men die.  


What happened to the world system then?  Feudalism didn’t really end.  It took on a new form:  Marxism.  Marx replaces the aristocracy with the government / State, but the State still has all the power and it is still expected to provide for it’s people.  Socialism is reignited feudalism.


In America, Breen says, we tried a different experiment.  In the Colony days we started out feudal (land grants/slavery).  But then things changed.  New ideas.  

No taxation without representation.  Life, liberty and freedom.  Every one responsible for their own.  Build your own.  


What emerged was the most powerful, generous and collectively compassionate people the world has ever known.  And a system where people didn’t lord it over one another.  


But a virus was maintained in churches, especially European import churches to the U.S.  Feudalism.  What does he mean?  Look at how we measure the success of the Church?  How many peasants (attendees/congregants) do you have?   How much tax (offerings) do they pay?


The clergy are then expected to provide for people.  To feed them, spiritually speaking.  Drive past a church on a Sunday morning and listen in on a conversation in the parking lot:  One congregant asks another, “Did you like the sermon today?  The music?  Are you getting fed?  I’m going to go where I’m being fed.”


This is the same mentally that serfs have.  They aren’t responsible for their own provision.  There exists a poverty mentality within feudalism, “we don’t have enough food!”  The leaders are seen as the providers.  We don’t make disciples.  We just feed one person at a time.  The system prevents us from production - from fruitfulness - from making disciples who make disciples.  Our current structure for doing church is like a condom that keeps us from having spiritual children.  


Instead, we should make disciples the way Jesus did it.  He had a tension between invitation and challenge: 

Come = invitation

Go = challenge

Throughout the three years he spent with his disciples, you saw an increasing calibration of both.


Invitation or challenge?  Which comes easiest to you?  To your congregation?


At this moment in the presentation, I took a moment and texted Pastor Tina.  She concurred with me:  Zion is a low invitation, high challenge church.   We are in the proverbial “valley of the shadow of death” according to Breen.  But we are very near the border of High Invitation, High Challenge and we have to keep going.  Where we are is necessary for our future together.  


Then Breen went on to use a graph to demonstrate the various combinations of invitation and challenge.  In the upper right is Jesus.  High invitation (relationships), high challenge culture.  To the upper left, high invitation low challenge.  To the lower left, low invitation, low challenge.  In the lower right, low invitation, high challenge.  


High invite, low challenge  = cozy culture

Low invite, high challenge -  Feel stressed, discouraged.  Only as good as last week. So you go on retreat, to reset the invite/relational piece.  But you’re doing amazing ministry.  

High challenge, high invite - Jesus builds toward this.  This is the goal.  

Low invite, low challenge - Anglicans   Every ones bored.


Increasing challenge, "I'm not responsible for making disciples, or your kids, either.  You are."

The journey toward the Church that Jesus wants is the withdrawal of invite and the move to high challenge.  The invitation comes back as we accept His challenge.  


The Jesus model of Church, to Breen, looks like America.  Everyone  is expected to stake a claim, to participate, to work on their own spiritual development and on making disciples who make disciples.  Such a church is free from feudalism in all it’s forms.  It is new.  Thanks for reading.  PJ 



Mike Breen bio from the LCMC website:

Mike Breen has been an innovator in leading missional churches throughout Europe and the United States for more than 25 years. In his time at St. Thomas Sheffield in the UK, he created and pioneered Missional Communities, mid-sized groups of 20-50 people on mission together. The result, less than 6 years later, was the largest church in England, and ultimately, one of the largest and now fastest growing churches in all of Europe. In 2006, Mike was approached by Leadership Network to lead an initiative into church planting. Through this partnership, more than 725 churches were planted in Europe in just three years.


Today, Mike lives in South Carolina, leading 3DM, a movement/organization that is helping hundreds of established churches and church planters move into this discipling and missional way of being the church. Mike is the Senior Guardian of The Order of Mission (TOM), a global covenant community of networked missional leaders. He has authored numerous books, including Launching Missional Communities, Building a Discipling Culture and Covenant and Kingdom.


Mike has been married to Sally for over 30 years and they have 3 grown-up children. Mike’s passions include contemporary design and architecture, travel, movies, cycling, golf, fine wine and food...though not necessarily in that order.


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