We're offering this amazing class to go along with this sermon series: Mission Shift. Read about it at: http://www.stpaulsevlutheran.org/sum/missionshift/index.html
Vacation Bible School Reflections 2012
It was like a preview of heaven. There were all ages, all races, all abilities, all classes, and all educational levels worshipping God in spirit and truth. It was an amazing experience and one that I think will change our church forever. Years from now, I think we’ll look back and consider that Bible School 2012 was one of those significant events that defined who we are as a church and how we do ministry.
What made it so amazing, even miraculous? Well, the kids, of course. We had a lot of guests and that was great. We had a lot of kids whose parents regularly attend our church. We also had a lot of kids whose parents may not attend our church but the kids come on either Sundays or Wednesday nights and it was amazing to see them all together. It seemed like nearly every day the number of kids grew as they went out and invited their friends. I think it was the biggest Bible School we’ve ever had: 120 or more kids. The best thing for me was getting to see the kids interact with each other. Here they all are and they are the future of the church, especially this church. These are the future worshipers of God Most High and it was great to see them showing us what that worship will look like.
The volunteers were amazing as well. I’m so grateful to the many, many volunteers. We had perhaps the best response to any VBS we’ve ever done. This year we even had extra hands and it made everyone’s job so much easier. Thank you for serving, from the bottom of my heart. It was wonderful to watch the volunteers bond with the kids. Some of the volunteers had never experienced that kind of joint worship which we do on Wednesday nights with the “church” kids and the “neighborhood” kids. I think it really helped a lot of people to see where we’re headed as a church. It was a beautiful sight to see the volunteers interacting so well with all the kids. I think it helped us as a church create more relationships between adults and kids. Maybe in the fall, when the vans pull up and a swarm of neighborhood kids stream out, we’ll know each other better and see the individuals instead of the groups.
The leaders did a fantastic job. I’m so grateful to so many. Did you know that this year the team wrote their own curriculum? And it was among the best I’ve ever experienced. Thank you to the writers, the set designers, the graphic designers and the worship leaders. And the worship was amazing. This year we were treated to have an amazing team led by one of our amazing pastors, some amazing singers, and one of our returning college students and two of his friends from Nashville. Thank you. And the food! Wow. Thanks to the amazing kitchen crew who pulled off wonderful food and quickly. Thanks to the amazing skit actors who helped bring the Word of God alive.
I was also impressed to see so many junior and senior high school students helping. Thank you. You did a fantastic job with the kids. Thanks for doing a beautiful thing for Jesus.
I’m also extremely grateful to the Zion families that drove out to pick up kids they’ve “adopted” and that have moved out of the neighborhood and are living downtown at Oakridge. Thank you for sticking with these kids. Thank you for bringing them to VBS and to Wednesday nights. Thank you for being a stable and safe part of their lives.
I guess my overall sense about this year’s VBS is that love, peace, joy, patience, self control, faithfulness, kindness, broke out and were on full display for everyone to see. We showed the world what it means to love each other as Jesus loves us, and what it means to be One in Him. He was truly exalted. I love what I saw and I look forward to seeing even more of it as we continue on this journey together into God’s future.
Don’t forget our next opportunity to have fun together: Art Camp: July 16-20. Details on the website. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ
Wednesday nights during the school year, we have a joyous time offering Jesus and English language tutoring to a bunch of refugee kids and other kids who were born here. Some of our most challenging kids are from the Karenni people group. There are a bunch of them. They are overwhelmingly boys, through and through. They like to be up front during the worship time. They jump up and down to the music and then summersault off the stage. They like to climb the walls behind the stage. They frequently drive the volunteers and other dinner guests we might have at church to distraction. Which isn’t surprising. Most of them have no contact with our society outside of school and Wednesday night church.
But they have come so far. The teachers at the local elementary tell me that many of them have started to pray before they eat their lunch. And, in His Infinite Wisdom and Mercy, the Almighty has laid these kids on my heart. They need Jesus. They need discipline. They need someone to care about them.
Wednesday nights are over for the summer. So is Sunday School. The Wednesday and Sunday volunteers have done an amazing job soldiering on with ever increasing numbers of kids. I am very, very grateful. But what will happen to these Karenni kids over the summer. Sure we have a few outreaches. Sure we have Bible School and Art Camp. But I can’t help feeling we’ll lose some of the amazing growth we’ve seen if we don’t keep at it.
A few weeks ago at church I shared my concerns with a dear lady. She told me that God undoubtedly wanted us to continue. But how?, I asked. After all, our volunteers have done a heroic job and need a rest and frankly, we can’t field a relief team right now. There just aren’t enough of us. She was quite sure we had to keep at it.
Keep in mind, please, that the Karenni kids are more than likely to be recipients of our Back Pack Buddies program where we supply food for the weekend to kids identified by the school as being in need over the weekend. They need food, too.
So three weekends ago, a solution presented itself. We were having a joint worship service at the 10:30 service with Pastor Gakunzi’s church and a big lunch afterwards. Why not invite the Karenni kids? No one I talked to about this really thought they’d show up. But they did. About 10 boys. I put them in the front row at the 10:30 service. They joined the kids on the stage for worship in English and when the Swahili songs started they still danced. Then the preaching started and my wife, seated at the other end of the row, turned deathly pale. She knew what could happen next. Kids swinging from the chandeliers. Kids summersaulting off the stage. Kids climbing over the back of the pews. Yet more people getting fed up with ill behaved kids. I found one other person willing to help. The preaching was in Swahili and translated. We all thought I’d have to take the kids out. But I didn’t. God showed up. (In church, imagine that!). The kids watched the preacher. After a while they started to imitate (but not in a mean way) his hand gestures. It was as if they’d never realized that the hands could be used in talking. The little boy next to me picked up my hands and started to form them in similar gestures to Pastor Gakunzi’s. It worked. We all made it to lunch and everyone ate as much as they could and ran off to play on the playground. God is good. All the time.
So the next week we invited them back. There was a guest preacher from South Sudan. He didn’t mind if I missed the 10:30 service so I could talk about Jesus with a bunch of kids. After all, his job is planting new churches. Miraculously, previously that week, during a board meeting, I discovered seven minute Bible studies online in the Kayah language. We sent the van. It came back with five kids and five adults for Sunday School. We stayed with the big group until the offering and then left when the Arabic Alpha folks leave for their Arabic teaching. We went to the cafeteria and watched a Bible Study in the Kayah Li language on the big screen. Then we talked about it. The adults asked for ESL classes. The kids heard about Adam and Eve and sin. One young boy, Tawh Rey, said, “Pastor John, Everything was good. Adam and Eve ate the apple and everything changed. It became bad. Can it ever be good again?” Oh. Let me tell you the Gospel. Thank you, Jesus. And they listened.
Last week they came back. Ten kids and 3 adults and one helper from the 1:00 Mizo service. Pastor Tina is preaching for the next three weeks so I’m free at 10:30. Let me tell you about that helper, Zuali, a young lady in High School, and my helper in this Sunday School venture. She is so good with the kids.
I am so pleased to tell you that we have ESL classes for the adults. The teacher would even like to go every day with the adults during the summer. The ten kids watched another lesson and then we did the salvation message with them. I know that later this summer there will be some baptisms. I’m so pleased, so amazed, so thankful. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Zuali. Thank you, Zion. Thank you, for your patience. Thank you for letting your pastor do missionary work over the summer. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ
For more about the Karenni people, please see: http://www.karennirefugees.com/
P.S. Would you like to help? I’m taking volunteers!
This week Zion received a major gift of $10,300 from a local philanthropic group called 100+ Men on a Mission.
100+ Men on a Mission, as it’s name implies, is a group of 100+ men in our community who meet quarterly. Each man pledges $100 each quarter to a charity that the majority of men vote to support. The names of three charities are drawn from a hat at each meeting. Those three charities are permitted to make their case. Then the men vote. The winner receives $100 from each man. It’s a great concept and you can read more about it on their website: www.100menonamission.com
Matt Lenaghan, one of the guys in our church, spoke eloquently on our behalf at the 100+ meeting. We’re thankful to 100+ Men, to Matt, and to God for his provision in this unique way.
Zion received the funds this week during an ice cream social at Douglas Terrace Apartments. Douglas Terrace was a good location for the event because that’s where Zion’s latest outreach efforts to our community started two years ago this month. It was a moving experience to be with the kids we met back in those early days and with the new kids who have moved in recently. We took the opportunity to register kids for Bible School and Art Camp this summer.
So how will the money be used? It is our intention to use part of the gift as a challenge grant for another van. We intend to challenge the congregation this summer to raise $5,000 which will all be used to purchase a badly needed second van. The response to our outreach efforts continues to be amazing. But we need more transportation capacity to get people to Zion. This spring we started renting a second van and it’s expensive. Even with two vans it takes 2 hours to get everyone to church on Wednesday nights. Sunday mornings we’re running our van twice, having a second van will certainly make things easier.
Some of the money will be used to purchase some supplies and furniture that are needed for our Wednesday night tutoring program.
Some of the money will be used to purchase some beds for needy people in our community. It seems that not a day goes by without at least one request from Zion for a bed. Hopefully we can meet our current need for beds (about 12) and have a few extra for the coming months. We’ve been so blessed to receive so many gently used beds from people. Right now, the demand is far exceeding our supply so it will be a wonderful gift to be able to get caught up.
Some of the money will be used to prepare for fall when we resume Wednesday night community meals and the Back Pack Buddies program that supplies kids identified by the local school with meals on the weekends.
We are very thankful and very blessed. One of the best blessings is the joy that comes when someone from the outside sees what you’re doing as important; important enough to give $10,000 toward. That’s been a big boost at the end of the school year to us and motivates us to prepare with diligence for the fall.
And our outreaches continue this summer. Remember the almost weekly activities for kids as well as Bible School and Art Camp and our two scheduled outreaches to Douglas Terrace on July 1 and August 26.
Please keep Zion in your prayers. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ
And Now For Some Good News...
This past Thursday afternoon I was privileged to be invited to come to the United Way offices in Des Moines for an extraordinary meeting. Pastor Al Perez and a group working with former Des Moines mayor Tom Urban assembled a group of pastors, ministry leaders and representatives of various community non-profits to talk about the challenges facing our city as we seek to minister to those who live in our city’s urban core. The urban core, our city’s inner core, is really a crossroads where you can literally meet people from every tongue, tribe and nation.
Tom Urban shared about how that core is composed of the following demographics:
25% African American
x% African (No one is really sure yet what the percentage of those coming directly from Africa will be but all agree they are a different demographic from African Americans).
30 % Anglo
Mr. Urban continued his presentation by saying that because of years of study and research, we already know how to do everything that needs to be done, and, that there are no more new problems in the urban core. They’ve all been identified. We’ve studied them, analyzed them, even come up with solutions for most of them.
So why do we still see people in such dramatic need in the urban core of our city? Why haven’t the solutions been put into place to solve all the problems we’ve identified over the last four decades?
His honor concludes that the problems haven’t yet been solved because of limited funds. There just isn’t enough money in the world to solve all the issues that need to be solved. He believes that we must achieve both scalability and persistency in our efforts. I’m not sure what scalability and persistency are but I believe him. New efforts to solve problems are launched but only have funding for a few years. Then they fold and we’re back to square one.
I’ll stop here and interject my own comments. Mr. Urban has devoted much of his life to solving problems in the city of Des Moines. We all owe him a debt of gratitude because of those of us who approach these issues today stand on his, and others, shoulders. He comes from a solid Quaker upbringing and loves people very, very much. But I think our problem is bigger than money. I think every pastor at the meeting would say that ultimately the urban core is dysfunctional because of human sin and the very real fact that we live in a fallen creation. In that way, the problem is bigger than the urban core itself. It extends to the suburbs and even to the countryside. It’s everywhere.
I’m sure it’s a controversial opinion to hold, but I’d say that the failure of non-profit groups like the United Way is that they simply can’t call the problem what it is: sin. But we’re preachers, calling out sin is our stock and trade. Now I completely understand why they can’t call sin, sin. It’s for purposes of funding and to a create a broader unity in finding solutions. They believe they must embrace a more secular approach in which Jesus is seen as someone who divides instead of unites. The irony is that if the problem is sin, Jesus is the only solution. He’s the only one who takes away the sin of the world. He’s the only one who can make all things new.
During our meeting there was a real demonstration of this which proves my point entirely. Tom Urban shared with us that if a third grade student can’t read at grade level, there is an extremely high probability that they will go to prison. In fact, the State of Texas plans it’s future prison cell needs based upon third grade reading statistics. I guess they plan on building a future cell for every kid who can’t read. One pastor was sharing how he and his church were working to address this problem with a new curriculum to teach students to read at grade level. Another pastor got up and said, basically, “You forgot one thing - God.” And then that pastor went on to share how he and his family have taken in 19 young men who were bound (according to the statistics) to prison and how these young men are on target to graduate from either high school or college. This pastor reminded all of us that God is the one who transforms the sinner to a saint, through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that Jesus still changes the lives of even hardened criminals and young people on the wrong track. Even atheists come to know Jesus and are changed.
So, I guess you could say that the result of the meeting will be an attempt by a whole bunch of pastors and churches and ministries to work together with more secular non-profits in order to teach kids to read, meet the needs of our community, and by so doing, show our city Jesus so that he might transform all of us.
Pastor Perez says we’ll have some more meetings shortly in smaller groups so we can identify what needs to be done in our area and figure out how to do it. And, for the more cynical among my readers: don’t worry. There isn’t any money in this.
I have to tell you that I’m really, really excited about this. One of the things we’ve been dreaming about at Zion is how people could come together from every center of influence in our community and work together to solve our city’s problems. Here it comes. Watch out, Devil, here we come. We’re coming together across racial lines, denominational lines, cultural lines, and we’ve even got those who aren’t supposed to say the name of Jesus on board. We are united. We have a common goal. This is what Paul talked about in Ephesians. This is uniting all things in Christ to put all things under his feet.
Here are a few random observations from the two hour meeting:
One of the reasons I was asked to be there was because of the work Zion Church is already doing. With several other ministries, I was asked to share the story of what God is doing in us and through us in Lower Beaver. Al Perez held up Zion as an example for others. He introduced me by saying that when you walk into our lobby, the first thing you see is mattresses and furniture, ready for giving away to those in need. He said that’s one way you know that Zion is really serious about serving people. As pastor, I’m really, really honored that our ministry together might be seen as being where it needs to be: on the front lines of what God is doing in our city. To God be all the glory, forever and ever. Amen. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ
I want to talk about authority. What you believe makes you who you are. Example: If you believe that the world exists to serve your needs, you will become a greedy, opportunistic, self serving ego-maniac. If you believe that it is important to help people in need, you will become a more generous and caring person.
But whatever you believe, you believe on the authority of someone else. Example: If you believe that because you’ve trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are going to heaven when you die, you believe that because Jesus said it.
If you believe that two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule makes water, chances are you believe that because your chemistry teacher told you so.
Graduation from high school is a one of life’s passages. It usually means that you are leaving the shelter of home and the certainty of Mom and Dad and striking out on your own to pursue your own career or further education. I think graduation represents a change in your life because it is a natural changing point for what and who has authority over you in your life.
C.S. Lewis, a famous Christian writer of the last century said this: “Don't be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you've been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I haven't seen it myself. I couldn't prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority -because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”
So, who has authority in your life?
We are defined by who has authority over us - whom we give authority over us. Because we believe what they tell us.
Hopefully, right now, your parents and your family have authority in your life. You are now stepping out into a new stage in life and there is a high probability you will put much of what they taught you to the test. In some things you will choose to accept their authority and continue to live according to what they taught you. In other areas, you will choose to test whether or not what they taught you has authority in your life or not. In the end, you will own what your parents worked so hard to teach you or not.
Who will be the new sources of authority in life beyond high school? There are many. Make wise choices in whom you grant authority in your life. Here’s a brief list:
1. Roommates/peers. You are about to enter experiences in which you will make friends that last a lifetime. The college years tend to be like that. The friends you make now might well be the friends you keep for the rest of your life. So choose wisely. Don’t try to impress other people. True friends are impressed with who you are already and don’t want you to be something else. Don’t try to fit in, just be yourself. True friends will find you where you are. For some strange reason I find it also true that some of the friends you meet your first year you will try to get rid of your second year. I’m not sure why that is, but true friends will make that “first year cut” so to speak.
2. Girl/boy friends. You may very well meet your future husband or wife in college. There does tend to be a lot of pairing up in college. So stay pure. Don’t date anyone you haven’t gotten to know as a friend first. Ask yourself before you date, “Would I consider spending the rest of my life with this person?” If not, don’t date that person. It only causes misunderstandings and hurt feelings down the road. It is always better to be alone than to be together with the wrong person. Don't commit to a relationship with someone before you answer the authority question in your life (who will have authority in my life?). It’s unfair to your husband or wife to be under one person’s authority one day and another’s the next. Be sure the person you’re committing to has also resolved that authority question as well, and that together, you are submitting to the same authority. Otherwise, you’ll have issues down the road.
3. Mentors. College years provide the opportunity to meet significant people who can help to shape you as a person and possibly open doors for your in your future. It is a real gift to have someone who is older and wiser and who is interested in helping you as you struggle with the authority question and find out who you truly are and what you truly believe. Always be looking for a mentor. Get more than one if you can. However, if you can't find one, become one for someone else one day. The world is suffering from a lack of people willing to invest in other people for their good.
4. Professors. Your college professors will have an incredible amount of influence over you. Some of them will seek to indoctrinate you. They will try to make you disciples of themselves or Keynes or Hayek (if you study economics, for instance), liberal or conservative. You will go through a period of time over the next several years where you try on many different hats and try out many philosophies. Guard your heart. So many of the things that are so important during this time of growth and testing during college will turn out not to be so important later on.
5. Jesus. Some of you will have classes in the religion department at your schools. Be very careful of what they tell you about what you believe. Professors are usually given a lot of authority by their students. But when it comes to faith, many professors misuse that authority in order to destroy what you’ve been taught in church. They do this by going after the Bible. They try to discredit it. They treat it as if it were just another piece of literature, like a book by Dicken’s, and not as God’s holy word. One favorite technique to try to make the Bible unscientific. We tend to give scientists more authority than anyone else. The Bible doesn’t ask you to disbelieve science. But frequently science is used to make you disbelieve the Bible. Some professors will teach you that apostle Paul was uninformed about modern research into the nature of human sexual activity. But remember, God has been around since before any of his critics and He will be around long after they have passed. When presented with a choice between human reason and God’s will, choose God’s will. It has survived. Religion professors tend to be very intelligent. But most of them lack any experience. What your pastors have taught you comes from seeing God’s word in action in the lives of real people every day. The professors will tell you that people don’t get miraculously healed and that people can’t change. I can tell you that people are healed and changed every day by the word of God. Because Jesus is alive. He is risen. And the world has never been the same since Easter.
Jesus says, “Follow me.” So now he’s leading you into another great adventure as you go off to college with him. You're leaving home and have all sorts of choices now. In the end, his authority trumps all the other authorities that will lay claim on your life. The Bible tells us all other authorities will be brought under his authority. Remember what Jesus says at the end of Matthew? He says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...” My prayer is that Jesus will always be the final authority in your life and that you will involve him in every decision you make.
Here are five things I’d encourage you to do as you move on to college:
1. Learn history. I don’t believe there are any new ideas. Throughout history we have asked all the questions and considered a variety of different answers. These times we live in are not so different from other times that people who have gone before us have lived in . As a race, we have faced similar problems before and great minds have provided answers. Find those answers. Consider the struggles of past generations as you seek your answers for the future.
2. Find a young, vibrant, Bible believing church that loves and accepts students like you and attend regularly. Don't go to a denominational campus ministry. Why? Because you come from a rather young, vibrant, Bible believing church and you need to continue being nurtured in the way you have been brought up. Denominations are dying because they no longer teach what they profess to believe. They have exchanged the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ for a lie and there is no life in most of them. As a believer, you are meant to be part of a church. Seek your friendships and your relationships there among people who share your beliefs.
3. Seek out quality. Keep the best forever. Seek out the best people to be your friends. Not the most popular or richest, but the one’s that have the best character, the greatest loyalty, and who hold themselves and you as their friend, to the highest standards. Seek out the best ideas, the best thoughts, the soundest theories. Paul writes in Philippians 4:8, “...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
5. Read your Bible and pray every day.
Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ
Part I: Quick Overview
Look at all the exciting things that God is doing at Zion Church!
Part 2: Benefits to Zion of Being a Multi-Ethnic Church:
Part 3: The Benefits of a Burmese Pastor
Part 4: The Details.
Conclusion: The Future of the 10:30 Service.
We didn’t feel called to be a land lord. We didn’t want to rule over our 1:00 service. So when they came to us asking for help over a year ago, we asked them to simply join the church. We continue to believe that God doesn’t want another ethnically specific church in Des Moines. We believe He wants to make us one. Zion was a German speaking congregation for 60 years. We nearly died. In order to do mission in our world, we need to speak the language of the culture. The Mizo kids are learning English quickly. Our Wednesday night neighborhood kids, too. Where will they worship? Probably not in the language of their parents. Who will they marry? Probably not someone who speaks their dialect. We have a unique opportunity to provide these kids and their future families a place to worship together in English. So we’re offering the 10:30 service to become more “global” in it’s style. Call it the World Beat Service, perhaps. We already worship monthly with Pastor Gakunze’s Swahili speaking congregation. Why not add everyone in the neighborhood into that mix. The songs will be in English and other languages, the sermons, too. But we’ll be one. Worshipping together the One God. And this, I believe, will be something beautiful for Jesus. Thanks for reading. PJ
You'll forgive me, I hope, for sharing some thoughts that may not be fully formed. These thoughts have dominated what clear thoughts I've been able to have lately and it's time to submit them to public scrutiny.
When we left our former denomination and joined LCMC, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, which is more a movement than a denomination, I told people that now, out of the denominational bubble we had lived in, we would have to "do mission or die."
I'd like to amend that phrase. I think that based on what we see at Zion Church these days, it must be said that we have learned that we must "do mission and die." To be fully devoted to mission means the death of self. To be fully devoted to mission is the summation of what Jesus said about following him, "You must deny yourself daily (die to self), pick up your cross, and follow me." To live in mission is to everyday give up your life for the sake of making disciples.
What does this mean for a church? It means a daily dying by everyone in the church to comfort, stability, preferences, procedures, etc. I means living in a state of risk, maybe even danger (emotional or physical) for the sake of the mission. It means learning to love and be patient with others, even and especially those who may be different than yourself.
This is a great challenge. Imagine that all your life you've gone to church with your friends. They are people who look like you, talk like you, have similar incomes and schooling. Now, suddenly, we're doing mission and here come people and their kids who have a different education, perhaps a different language, perhaps different child raising philosophies, perhaps a different skin color and for certain, a different life experience. It's scary. It's risky. It's messy. Mission is messy. Following Jesus is messy. You have to leave things, even comforts, in order to "go" and follow.
It occurs to me that there is an enormous different between being a congregation "for" mission and "in" mission. Here's what I mean. A lot of churches have great mission programs. You go as a group and fly in to some place and then after ten days or two weeks you fly home again. You are changed by the experience and you begin to see that the world is a bigger place and that God has plans and is busy all over the planet. But at the end of the day you get to come home. To safety. To the "normal." To comfort.
It's like my favorite police dramas on TV. Here are guys who, because they are public servants, don't make much money. They work hard, are consumed by their profession and catching the bad guy. But at the end of the show, they go home to this gorgeous house and drive an amazing car. It just isn't that way in the real world. Work follows you home and if you're serving full time plus, you probably have a small place that hardly ever get's cleaned and a beater car.
When my family and I were abroad as missionaries, we were full time in mission. We were always watched. We stood out. We knew that we were always on stage for Jesus. We lived in a culture that was very much different from our own. There wasn't any going home.
When you're "in" mission, you are continually on stage for Jesus. We aren't asking our church to go and fly in for a while and do great ministry, we're asking the church to be "in" ministry 24/7. We're saying, "Look, our neighbors need Jesus, move over, let them sit in the pew next to you, let them eat your food, share your space. Let's do life together with our neighborhood so that, as our Master says, ‘People will see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'" We're not asking you to fly in and fly out. We're asking you to live mission. To be missionaries. We're asking you to give up your seat, perhaps pay for someone else's kid's dinner, volunteer for some extra hours, and agree to go through life with people who are different than you are.
Most successful churches in the US are built on a subtle idea that is so normal for us we don't even think about it. It's called the Homogenous Unit Principle. The idea behind HUP is simply this: to grow a church big and fast, get people who are the same together. It works. The trouble is, it leads to a church that is more than likely to be "for," rather than "in," mission. Because everyone is similar in the church (education, income, race, experience), it's hard for "different" people to come and feel comfortable. So in order to do mission, the church has to fly in and fly out, either around the world or across town.
Our situation is different, therefore our call from the Lord is different. We must be "in" mission. We must find a way to welcome our changing neighborhood into our building and we must, because of the Great Commission, find a way to meet people who are different form ourselves with the Gospel. It's an amazing, beautiful, exciting, thrilling adventure. But it requires of us to be "in" mission. All the time. 24/7. There is no leaving and flying back home. We live here already.
No doubt all this change is very hard. For generations, we had a common understanding about how church was done in our society. Church is where you went to hear the Gospel. You heard it and then you went home to hopefully live it. Because of the death of mainline Protestantism, Globalization, and other factors, we have to do church differently than before. One of the biggest changes must be that in church you don't just hear the Gospel, you also have to live it out right there, because the church, the local congregation, is the frontline of mission in our society.
People like mission "neat." They like to go do it and then go home to what they think is reality. We're asking you to change your reality. We're asking you to live mission, be "in mission," to let mission be our new reality together. There is no going home, we're already there.
What would Jesus have us do? What would he say? When we see the hundreds of kids hungry for a meal and for the Gospel, how can we not change everything? And the amazing thing is that as we change for their sake, our Master will change us for His sake. We will grow in spiritual maturity, in wisdom and in Christlikeness. What more could you ask from your church?
Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ
I’ve been silent for a long, long time. In fact, I’ve had trouble blogging, even posting anything to FaceBook or Twitter for the last six months. Why? Because I lost my nerve. Around twelve families left our church during these six months and the one thing that all of them had in common was that they blamed me for their departure in some form or fashion. I did something wrong to them or didn’t do what they needed. Simply put, they didn’t see Jesus in me. It sort of took the wind out of my sails, as you can well imagine. Every pastor’s nightmare is that people will leave the church and maybe even lose their faith and stop believing in Jesus because of him. None of us want to give our Master a black eye. So when a group decides to leave it’s a big deal. The onus is on the pastor. How can I interpret these events in any other way than “I failed?”
And because I failed, I stopped speaking. My thinking went like this: “If I’m so offensive, maybe nothing I say is worth hearing.” It caused me to question everything. It caused me to stop and over-think everything I said and did so that I could hardly utter a word in confidence. “How will this be interpreted by people?” I’m emerging, like a ground hog, from six months of self examination and reflection.
Pastors deal with the dying every day, no matter how big your church is. Because we’re all dying. Some of us just haven’t realized it yet. Most pastors know that they are dying, too. They know that one day, sooner than we think, we’re going to stand before our Master and he’s going to pass sentence on us. Either our Master will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or, “Depart from me, I know you not.” When a pastor says, “Because God says,” on a Sunday morning, we realize that we will have to answer if we’re wrong. It’s why we pray so much. I’m not sure most people realize that pastors take eternity and judgement and salvation very, very seriously. Because we know what’s coming, most pastors would never lead a church down a path they didn’t think the Lord of the Church was calling us to go down.
My Dad, a retired pastor of over 50 years, wonders what the Lord will say to him for some of the weddings he wasn’t sure about but did anyway and which later failed. There is so much pressure to give people what they want. And there is such a high price to be paid when you don’t.
People have become so quick to turn their backs on churches and pastors these days and walk away. Every pastor I’ve talked to in our city has seen a surge of solid, long time members get angry about seemingly small things and then leave. There is a real restlessness out there. Things that a decade or two ago would have been quickly forgiven and forgotten are now causes for separation. It’s almost as if people are looking for reasons to be offended. They also report an increase in hostility toward pastors and a general loss of respect for the office.
I wonder if we’ve been trying to please people too much and not our Master?
It is an awesome task to stand in front of people week after week and speak the word of God. Our Savior told us that the world would hate us because of him. I think most of us pastor types just assumed the attitude of the church would be different.
I commend to you the following blog from a pastor’s kid who gave up on the church. I think a lot of people do give up. They see the way we quarrel and bicker in the church and they are just turned off. There are consequences in failing to hang together, be patient, speak the truth and being willing to change. Our inability to maintain community no matter what sends the world a message that we don’t practice what we preach. Please know that if you have been wounded by a pastor, a church, or church people, I apologize to you from the bottom of my heart on behalf of the entire Church of Jesus Christ in all times and all places. But don’t give up. If you believe then you belong in Church.
Anyway, I’m back now. I’m still hurting, I’m still wondering how things could’ve been different, I’m still sorry for the mess, but I also realize that my role is not to make people happy. It’s to live out my life as a leader in the Church before an audience of just one, the One. To be faithful to him above all else, no matter what the cost. At the end of the day, it’s his opinion that matters. At the end of the day, when I look around our congregation, I don’t see destruction and devastation. I see trees loaded with fruit. For six months I’ve been consumed with destruction and have totally missed the fruit in front of me. Please forgive me. From now on, let’s talk about the fruit. Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ
Easter is a celebration about the triumph of Jesus over sin, death and the devil.He was absolutely obedient to the Father and was raised from the dead by the power of the Father. Jesus was the pioneer. The promise for those of us who follow him and have been spiritually united with him is that we, too, will be raised from the dead to live with the Father and the Son and the Spirit in eternity forever.
This is an amazing promise and ought to fill us with hope, joy, love, peace and an overwhelming desire to love God and our neighbor and share this good news in every word and deed. It is the kind of news that captivates your imagination, changes your life, and gives you meaning and purpose.
But so many Christians and so many churches seem so hopeless. It’s like they’ve lost the power of the resurrection. It’s like they are uncaptivated by the excitement of eternal life later and new life now.
What if the followers of Jesus lived in the power of the resurrection? What if....?
What if the Church wasn’t afraid?
a. We wouldn’t be afraid of what people would say to us - we could preach the Gospel without fear and with joyWe wouldn’t be afraid to share our faith and we wouldn’t be afraid of being rejected by the world or by our friends.We wouldn’t spend so much time worrying about money but would trust God to provide.We wouldn’t be afraid of losing everything and even dying for what God wants.
What if the people who went to church strove to be genuine and real?
a. There would be no “posers” trying to project to everyone that they were better than they really were. No false humility, false piety, just real people struggling with real sin in light of a real savior. People would speak differently: there would be no passive aggressiveness, no gossip, no lies. They would say what they mean and mean what they said.They would seek to help each other in their spiritual struggles and bear one another’s burdens.
What if the church always thought long term?
a. It would be like planting a garden that would be enjoyed by future generations and not just us.
What if the church thought more about what was good for the kingdom than what was good for the congregation? We would always be thinking God sized thoughts that were bigger than ourselves. We would always think about developing future leaders. We could be free to “tithe” members to new churches that were starting. We’d be more interested in multiplying churches and leaders than in keeping the doors open. We’d be free at last to lose ourselves in pursuing a greater goal than just our own survival.
What if the church learned to listen to God?
a. We’d have amazing prayer times together. We would know the direction God wanted us to go and could stop struggling internally for power and pride. We might experience times of “inaction” as we waited for the Holy Spirit to reveal his course for us.
What if the church were all about Jesus Christ and not about us?
a. We would put Jesus and his Gospel first, last and always. We would learn how to separate our preferences and personal piety from what Jesus called us to do.
What if the church thought about thriving and not just surviving? Then 10% of the congregation would no longer give 50% of the budget - we’d all up our stake in what God was doing here.
What if church were fun - full of celebration, innovation, and creativity?
a.We’d all invite our friends because we couldn’t wait to show them how much fun it was to worship Jesus and follow him together.Our kids couldn’t wait to get here each week and wanted to come even when nothing was going on. We’d all experience a great sense of freedom - the sense of obligation to be here would be gone.
What if the church really believed that people could be changed by Jesus?
a. We’d always have to believe the best about people because God wasn’t finished working on them yet. We’d stop being so judgmental. We’d start seeing miracles every week.
What if the church were an environment in which all these things could happen?
a. Why can’t it be?
Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ
This blog might not make sense until you read my previous blog which tells the story of Zion Church.
Our desire all along has been to do something beautiful for Jesus. To serve him. When we serve others we are motivated by our great love for Jesus. Mother Theresa but it this way, “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of God.” We do what we do because we love Jesus.
Here is a draft of things we've been doing/thinking about that involves a great deal of collaboration with various groups, institutions and individuals in our community.
Let’s Do Something Beautiful for Jesus
What follows is a very rough draft of where I think Zion could lead our neighborhood. It is simply the result of prayer and watching where God has led us this far.
Vision: That Zion lead the way in our community to God’s brighter future. This is accomplished by getting to know our neighborhood, analyzing it’s needs, and finding innovative and faithful ways of meeting them.
Who is our community?: Our community is roughly defined as the Lower Beaver, Beaver and Meredith Drive neighborhoods. Our immediate activities focus primarily on the Lower Beaver neighborhood with the intention of expanding our ministry work from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout the city as God leads.
Goal: That Zion Lutheran Church will fully engage with it’s community as a force for God’s redemption through Jesus Christ.
Imagine living in a community where the church led the way in truly knowing and loving our neighbor. Imagine living in a neighborhood, for instance, where every child was intentionally offered pre-college career counseling; college admissions counseling and help finding a job while a student. Imagine a neighborhood where there were people who wanted to coach you on how to handle your money, buy a house or a car, or even learn how to cook economically and nutritionally. Imagine a community where the major businesses and institutions regularly sat down to consider neighborhood issues and how to help solve local problems. Imagine a community where every child was offered a chance to attend camp and where each child was individually known and valued and their future was the top priority of the whole neighborhood. Imagine a community where there was help for those who couldn’t afford their medications and there was emergency help available to solve the kinds of problems that systematic programs cannot address. Imagine a community that united around the concept of education and found ways to provide quality education for all it’s children and supported it’s teachers and made itself available to ensure the best present and future possible for it’s children. Such a community would be a community that had been redeemed, a community where all things were possible, a community that could help other communities unite to bring redemption and hope in other parts of town. This doesn’t have to be a dream. We believe that such things are possible if the church leads the way.
Why is the church uniquely suited to accomplish this task? Because of Jesus. Jesus, the founder and Lord of the church showed us that all people are our neighbors. He encouraged us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him into a life of sacrifice and service. Jesus desires the daily death of the church to itself as it pours his life into the world around it. The church, when it is truly the church, is the last altruistic establishment in our society. The church is capable, when it is truly the church, of uniting disparate groups within our neighborhood to work for good. Finally, the church is the only institution in the world that was founded to sacrifice itself for the good of others. It’s founder set the mark very high. To bring redemption, the church is willing to lay down it’s life and die.
One big value we have is to open as many opportunities as possible for other churches and organizations to partner with us. We realize that we can’t do this alone. We realize that this is a miraculous opportunity for the church in Des Moines to truly be One.
Those who have agreed to be in partnership with us in our community so far: Freedom for Youth, Merle Hay Mall, VA hospital, Broadlawns, various local ethnic restaurants, Wunder Years Academy, Meredith Drive Reformed Church, Lutheran Services of Iowa, International House of Prayer - Iowa, Samuelson Elementary,
Change is coming to the Lower Beaver Neighborhood. The neighborhood is composed of single family and multi-family dwellings built after the second world war. The neighborhood is a great place for a starter or first time home. Prices are reasonable and quality is good. Local apartment complexes have also found recent immigrants to America who are being resettled here through federal partnerships, to be excellent renters. As the immigrants establish themselves, they are purchasing homes in the neighborhood. With the addition of the Thai Village Complex on MLK, which anchors the eastern part of the neighborhood, immigrants are likely to continue to move into the neighborhood. Immigrants have different needs than other minority groups. These needs are tantamount in our consideration as our plans continue.
Below are a series of projects that we believe would help in the redemption of our neighborhood. Some are in progress and could expand, Some are yet to be started. A list of needed resources is also provided for each project. The projects are divided by category: Children, Family and Community. Projects which have already been started are listed first under each category. The rest of the projects are listed in priority order. Sponsorship or availability of resources can and will affect the priority of projects.
School transportation for ELL students living 1.7 miles from the school. Because of a very busy street and the distance from school (especially in the winter), Zion is currently providing transportation for 14 students each school day. The current students have been selected by the school. Different groups, living in the same apartment complexes as the students, are now petitioning the church through Lutheran Services of Iowa to increase our activity to include their children as well. There is definitely an identified need here for expansion. Needed resources: Another van or larger bus. Drivers. Gas. Maintenance of vehicle. Vehicle insurance.
Whiz Kidz Tutoring Program (in affiliation with Freedom for Youth). Currently, as many as 55 kids participate on Wednesday nights (Sept - May). With 15 tutors, we are hard pressed to provide one-one tutoring but consider the fact that the kids keep coming (and bringing friends) to be justification to continue. The environment is safe and the atmosphere fun. Dinner is also provided. Needed resources: educational supplies, furniture, tutors, transportation, drivers.
Art Camp: Creativity is an important aspect of human life and as we seek to provide opportunities for kids in our neighborhood we don’t want to forget to foster their creative and innovative spirit. Beginning in July, 2011, Zion will host a week long summer art camp for kids 3rd - 6th grade. The week long camp, which begins with a meal, will expose the kids to various artistic media and allow them to express themselves in a productive way. Needs: about $25 per child; supplies.
Vacation Bible School: Looks like we’ll be having a lot more kids this year from the neighborhood. Having successfully brought them to church for Wednesday nights, we’re confident they’ll come in the summer for things like VBS.
Partnership with Samuelson Elementary: Samuelson probably already has a corporate partner and we don’t know who that is yet or what they do. But our brothers and sisters at Meredith Drive have been doing such a good job at Moulton Elementary, having monthly birthday events for the kids, writing encouraging words to the teachers, and trying to supply needs in the classroom, that we thought we ought to at least try something like this for Samuelson.
After School program: In the next 18 months, we hope to develop an after school program for the neighborhood that would provide education, food, Jesus, and a safe environment for all.
Comprehensive Neighborhood Education Strategy: Everyone agrees that our local teachers are doing a wonderful job working with the ELL students. There is a volume problem, however. The school’s resources are overwhelmed and in a season of cutbacks, it’s probably naive to look for help from the district. But perhaps we could work with other districts and even parochial schools to spread the joy and intentionally open enroll some of the children into other schools with more current capacity.
Soccer team: The local apartment complexes are full of young kids with nothing to do. In order to provide structure and discipline, we propose starting a soccer team. The kids would help to raise some of their own support and the church would help with the rest. Soccer is universally played by the kids and this would serve as a way of bringing them together in a positive activity. We would either join a league or find a way to enter into competition with other clubs. Needs: Uniforms, equipment, any fees associated with being part of a league; travel expenses?
Music Camp. We propose sponsoring a music camp in the summer. There are many musicians in the church happy to teach and these musicians have friends in the community who could help. The camp could run for a week or be a weekly activity, depending upon the response from musicians. We would seek to find instruments for the kids to play. A small guitar, for instance, runs about $100. We could borrow rhythm instruments from local schools. A few more electronic keyboards and maybe another drum set would help as well. The next challenge would be how to find instruments the kids could afford if they proved to have a desire to continue with their musical studies. The music camp experience would conclude with community concert.
Camperships: This year, our dream is to send about 28 kids to Riverside Camp. We think the camping experience will be formative in the lives of our neighborhood kids. We’d like to be able to offer scholarships to every child in the neighborhood and church. We’ve found an amazing partner in Riverside Camp who will work with us to accommodate our children. We believe it would be best for the children to earn some of the money themselves through fund raisers or through doing various jobs at church or in the neighborhood. Needs: money for scholarships. A selection process. Someone to oversee the project, especially helping the kids to raise their part of the expense.
Career and education counseling: There are so many opportunities open to kids you wonder how come any of them would fail to take advantage. But while there are many opportunities, there are very few people in the lives of the kids telling them what they’re good at. Kids are attracted to the things that high salaries can buy, but may not have the right set of aptitudes to succeed in a particular field. However, they may have amazing aptitudes in another field. The idea for this project is to offer counseling by professionals to help the kids determine where they are gifted and in what kinds of things they are interested in or even good at. When a field of interest is selected, it should be possible for the kids to shadow or observe that profession. Finally, a course of study and direction can be lined out for the kids to follow as they seek to achieve their goals. The desire of the program is to give intentionality to the process of deciding “what do I want to be when I grow up?” Without a future to dream about, the present often seems bleak. Perhaps the best way to describe this process is to say that the goal is to help the child choose a target, take aim, and hit the target. Needs: counselors and their fees; a way to market the program.
College/Vo-Tech Scholarship program: We hope to find individuals and corporations that would consider contributing to a neighborhood scholarship fund. This is one way we could celebrate as a neighborhood the graduation of our local children. It would unite the community in showing our kids that they do matter and that they are known.
Toys/hobbies: We hope to put in some little money into some “hobby” projects for the kids that they could build or work on at church. For instance, building a model race track, a train layout, etc. This helps in teaching the kids to work together, to be part of something larger than themselves, and helps to work on English. Not to mention the fact it is an excellent way to bring hobby enthusiasts and the kids together.
Neighborhood Emergency Fund: The idea is to establish a fund, replenished on a regular basis; that would be available to aid families in our neighborhood in an intentional but non-recurring way. Examples would be, helping with a special, one time project or emergency need (car repair). Special counselors would administer the fund and would meet with each applicant to determine how needs could best be addressed. Needs: money for fund
Prescription Assistance Fund: A special fund would be established and made available to help people in the neighborhood who are having trouble filling their medications. The fund could be accessed only at the request of a local pharmacist. Needs: money for fund
ESL classes for parents: Much of the work so far has focused on children. But it is very important that learning English doesn’t isolate parents from their children. Parents need to learn English as well. We proposed hosting ESL classes at the church taught by volunteers from inside and outside the church. Classes would be held at times convenient for the parents work schedules, perhaps on weekends or Wednesday evenings.
Furniture and clothing for immigrant families. New immigrants being resettled in Des Moines will number about 100 persons per year in 2011. That’s down from over 300 per year three years previously. The decrease in new immigrants comes about because sponsoring organizations no longer felt they could do a good job in light of budget cuts and many of the supporting systems, like education, were already overwhelmed. Des Moines is now becoming a secondary settlement site, however, as families move here now after having been settled in other areas of the country, to be close to family and friends and also because Iowa has a good job market. The Chin people and Iraqis are now coming to Des Moines in “second migrations.” Zion is well connected in the local refugee community and we are consistently asked to help new families establish themselves in apartments with donations of furniture or clothing.
Establish a neighborhood employment network: On the westside, Lutheran Church of Hope has Hope@work, a successful ministry dedicated to helping people find employment and pursue their goals. While Hope@work is much more than an employment agency, we have no equivalent in our neighborhood for far less skilled positions. What if we could partner with Hope@work to start a northside version of the ministry that would focus on jobs that were open to new immigrants or less educated people. The goal would be to help new immigrants and others to find local employment with good wages so that they wouldn’t have to travel so far for work and be away from their families for so long (see previous). Hope@work also helps people prepare resumes and determine the steps necessary to advance their careers. Need: cooperation from Hope@work and some people with a passion for this.
Parenting Seminars: with translation... In many refugee families both mother and father are working very long hours. Since many are working in meat packing plants an hour or more away, they are gone from home much of the time. This has led to some discipline problems as parents are too tired to raise their children. Compounded by the fact that the children are learning English at school faster than their parents are at work, inequities and imbalances are developing in the traditional roles of parents and children. Parenting skills are now in serious need of being taught given the new reality of families. We understand that not many will want to attend these sessions but we also know that these sessions are critically important. Needs: presenters. presenter fees?
Life skills training: We live in a world of fractured families, and often times that means that information doesn’t get passed down from one generation to another. Holes develop, and critical information doesn’t get passed along. This project would seek to plug some of those holes, as well as train people who are new to our culture who may never have developed the skills necessary to manipulate the systems we take for granted. Topics include bill paying, budgeting, house and car purchasing, cooking/menu planning. Needs: There are plenty of realtors, car salesmen and financial planners in the church we can rely on. Home economics people, maybe money for demonstrations.
Local Outreaches: Our involvement in the community started with these outreaches and they seem the best way to get to know the kids and invite them to church. We have four planned at Redeemer Lutheran Church and plans are underway for a joint event in our neighborhood with Wunder Years Academy. We plan to return to Douglas Terrace as well.
Community Garden: Using available land at Zion that is currently not in use, the idea is to create garden plots that would be available to immigrant families. Some small percentage of plots would be made available to families in the church. The plots would follow basic guidelines established by the City of Des Moines in their community gardening program. Applications would be taken from immigrant families and then a lottery would be used to choose which would receive the plots. Lutheran Services of Iowa would be our partner in this. Needs: fence, ultimately, a water line, monthly water charge.
Establish a neighborhood round table: Basically to continue what we’re doing in terms of networking local businesses, institutions, schools, churches, apartment complexes, home owner associations, etc, together for future planning, co-operation and collective response to neighborhood needs.
Establish a Des Moines area refugee resettlement and assimilation round table: Referencing the beginning paragraphs of this document, Des Moines was once proud to welcome over 300 new refugees a year. Currently, many regard our resettlement efforts as being broken. The schools and social services seem overwhelmed, as do the resettlement agencies themselves. Perhaps during this “lull in the action,” we should strive to bring together city, county, school, resettlement agencies, employers, churches and others and establish a round table group to plan the way forward. Perhaps by creating space for people and institutions to work together, we might establish a united approach to welcoming new refugees to our city.
Partnerships with Local Apartment management: Keeping good relationships with the apartment managers and owners allows us to advocate on behalf of the tenants. For instance, when bed bugs are a problem, some managers are reluctant to spray. If the managers trusted the church as a positive force in their properties, perhaps the church could accomplish things on behalf of the tenants to keep the apartments healthy and habitable. Helping the managers make small improvements to their properties while raising the quality of life for the tenants might be one way to build relationships and trust. Such things as building and installing picnic tables, charcoal grills, outdoor seating areas, even helping with routine cleaning or maintenance are ideas. Needs: money for supplies.
Community education experiences about the refugee community: Offer short seminars on what it’s like to be a refugee, the history and individual stories of the people in our neighborhood, maybe some role playing and some ideas on how individuals and organizations can help.
Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ
At our denomination's National Gathering, speakers urged participants to get their churches involved in their communities. Here is a sampling of those presentations:
Rev. T.J. Anderson's presentation at LCMC's National Gathering, October 2011
Rev. Elisa Ashley's presentation at LCMC's National Gathering, October 2011
Rev. Gemchis Buba
Read the book Ethnic Blends by Mark DeYmaz:
I want to restate last week's suggested resources as well:
Suggested Reading: The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons.
We're offering this amazing class to go along with this sermon series: Mission Shift. Read about it at: http://www.stpaulsevlutheran.org/sum/missionshift/index.html