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Our Understanding of Church

We understand that the Church is the followers of Jesus together. The Church is people of all nations, ethnicities, generations, abilities. It is a place where opposites are reconciled, where there is no longer any Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor

female, because we are all in Christ Jesus together and he is our new identity.

We understand that the Church is universal, triumphant and militant, that it exists in all

times and all places, both here on earth and in heaven, and that we are a part of

something that is so much bigger than we are.  (Galatians 3:26-29)

 

We understand that the Church is the banquet (Luke 14) and that Jesus is the host and

we are the messengers who are called to invite the world to the party and we are to

serve at that party so that those who were on the outside may become those on the

inside.  (Luke 14:16-24)

 

We understand that the Church is the 99 sheep who await with joy and gladness the

return of the shepherd and of the lost brother. We understand that we are the brother

who stayed with the Father and that we share in all that He has and that we are to

rejoice with him when our prodigal siblings return. We understand that we are to help

with the banquet to welcome home those who have been far away from God.  (Luke 15:3-7;11-32)

 

We understand that at different times we are all the lost brother and the sheep who went astray.  Therefore we are gracious and hospitable to those who are far from God in the hopes that they will come home to Him. 

 

We understand that the Church is to be a servant to all, that we are to wash the feet of

everyone as our Master taught us. By doing these simple acts of kindness, with great

love, we show the love of God to all and especially to our Lord Christ. We understand

that to love someone as Christ has loved us is not an abstract thing but rather that love

is expressed in concrete ways.  (John 13:13-17; Mt 25:35-40)

 

We understand that Church is sent on a mission.  Jesus says, “Go!”  Too often the Church sits and waits for people to come to her. Jesus told us to go and we believe him. Ministry is “out there.” Out there is where the one’s who need his light and love are waiting for Him to come to them. How can He go if we don’t take him with us?  (Matthew 28:19-20) 

 

We understand that the Church is organized according to spiritual gifts  that the Lord has given to us through the Holy Spirit in the same way that a body is organized into organs. Some are gifted to lead, some to teach, some to minister and so on. All these gifts work together in harmony so that His great Body might be made real in the here and now. We understand that such a way of being organized requires us to die to our selves, to submit to one another out of love, not lording it over one another but that we must become the least, the last and the servant of all. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

 

We understand that the Church, to be the real manifestation of Christ, must be

completely transparent and completely honest. Therefore, we must speak the truth in

love to one another, we must bear one another’s burdens, and we must reconcile with

each other and not allow any unresolved conflicts to fester. Failure to live in such a way

creates divisions and divisions keep the body from achieving unity and being a faithful

representative of Christ.  (Colossians 3:12-14)

 

As a church, a part of that greater Church, we want to do something beautiful for Jesus,

just like the woman in Matthew who anointed Jesus. We want every act of service, large or small, to be done with a great love that will somehow honor and minister to Jesus, our Lord King. (Matthew 26:6-10). 

Thanks for reading!  God bless you.  PJ

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The Changing Face of the Local Church

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 2

Reggie McNeal.  

(Reggie’s bio piece from the LCMC website is placed at the end of my report for your information).  

 

Out of the three keynote presentations, I unashamedly enjoyed Reggie’s the best.  If I had the money, I’d gladly pay the fee for Reggie McNeal to come to Des Moines and evaluate our ministry and help us move forward.  I know this isn’t the case with everyone.  I talked to one colleague who felt that Reggie is unfair to large churches and is unnecessarily cynical and caustic about the Church.  Full disclosure here:  I don’t think the Church in North America has must of a future in it’s current manifestation and so I agree with Reggie’s more “extreme” views.  This will definitely color my opinion of his presentation.  I apologize in advance if my interpretation of his remarks is not accurate.  Although it sounds like he’s used to being misquoted.  

 

Every church has problems.  But, “Healthy churches deal with a better set of problems.”

“We gotta get out of the church business and get into kingdom business.” 

If you want to be ambassadors, shouldn't you represent the home office well?

90+ times Jesus talks about the kingdom.  

We need to learn to talk about Church as a verb, not a noun.  You don't go buy music at the record store any more.  Nor do you go to a bank.  You “bank.”  The Church needs to be known by what it does, not by it’s location or it’s building. 

 

The Church is important but it isn’t the goal or end of everything.  We’re not here to worship the Church, rather, the Lord of the Church. “We start the Bible in the garden with no church, we end in a city without a church.”   The Church is a vehicle that gets from place to place.  The Church is an avenue of blessing.  Our job as the people of God is to bless the world.  It’s a continuation of the covenant God made with Abraham in Gen 12.  (“By your name all the nations of the world will be blessed.”)  The wording is different than Genesis 12:  we are to be ambassadors, the light of the world, a city on a hill, the bringers of hope to the hopeless, etc.  It’s all about grace.  It’s all about blessing people.  

 

Reggie suggests that we regularly encourage our congregations to practice blessing people - “Go out and bless 3 people intentionally this week.  Not randomly.  But with intention.”  

 

He also encourages churches to keep track of and celebrate “God sightings” on a regular basis.  Where have you seen God at work this week?  

 

“How can we bless you?”, ought to be what every church asks of it’s members, neighborhood and what individual Christians ought to ask of people they meet.

 

What is the Church?  “Airports are connectors, not destinations.   But without them you don't get to where you need to go.”  The job of the Church is to connect people to Jesus and to mission.  Mission is not so much programmatic,(although it may be expressed programmatically),  as it is 

 

“We are doing more and more stuff at the church house while these kids are going to hell.”  To hell with more programming.  Near almost every church there is a school with kids who are struggling.  Maybe it’s an under-resourced school.  Maybe there are kids with broken families or special needs.  But there are enough schools for churches to ask them, “How can we serve you?”  Reggie told the story of one Episcopal priest who talked to the local principal and said, “How can I bless you.”   She thought she was nuts.  She was advised by others to test him.  So she asked him to be the crossing guard.  He did it.  And there began a beautiful relationship between the local church and the local school.  The school calls the church for everything.  The church is a blessing to the school.  

 

 Ask yourselves this question:  “Is our city any better because we're here?”  Has the church made any difference in the life of your community?  If it hasn’t, aren’t we doing the Master of the Church a dis-service?  

 

Reggie says that some react negatively to the concept of the church blessing the people of the world  He says they ask:  “What about the Word?”  In other words, what about evangelization.   Reggie responds:  “The Word is a whom.   So, be doers of the Word.”  What did Jesus say in John 13:   “Behold I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done.” (Wash feet).  And, “By this, all men will know that you are my disciples:  by the way you love one another.”  

 

Be doers of the word.  What did the early church in the Roman world do?  There were a tremendous number of girl babies left to die because they were not boys.  The early Christians took them home and raised them as Christians.  Years later, when all the Roman boys were looking for wives, who did they marry?  Christians.  

 

And again, in Rome, when the plague came through town.  Who stayed and tried to minister?  The Christians.  Many died.  But those who were ministered to and survived could not help themselves but to become followers of Christ.  They had been shown a very great and beautiful love. 

 

“The church needs to move from an internal to an external focus;  from a program driven to a people development culture.”  Programs are useful in that they help to develop people.  Which is the goal.  Perhaps we’ve lost sight of the goal here.  Perhaps we’ve become a program driven church which values having programs more than the end of the program:  the development (transformation of people).  

 

For instance, why do we evaluate, even within families, on the basis of participation instead of result.  Example:  Most people think that having a God conversation with your kid goes like this:  “How was Sunday School today?  Are you going to Youth Group on Friday night?”  

 

A youth director in the Twin Cities said that he no longer started at the point of saying “What kind of program do I want to have?”  Rather, he asked,  “What kind of kids do I want to send into the world?”  It’s about mentoring.  And also about mentoring mentors.  Turns out, mentors grow because kids ask questions.  We need to ask more questions in church.  

 

How can we get churches to ask the right kinds of questions?  Just expose them to the virus.  For instance, for your sermon, interview the principal at the local school.   Ask, “How can the church bless you?”  Then people want to help.

 

We also need to learn to change what we celebrate in the church.  Instead of celebrating what we did in church, how many people we had or how much money we raised, why not celebrate what we do in community?

 

Regularly ask your congregation these kind of questions:

What are you learning?

What are you experiencing?

How are you growing?

What did you learn about God?

 

It’s time for pastors to move from being institutional managers to a movement leaders.

 

Consider that your congregation is already deployed in the world in various industries and sectors for mission.  

Release business leaders into the marketplace. 

Release artists into the society. 

Release teachers into the classroom and school.  

Keep asking people, “How can you bless?”

Teach your flock “How to be a person of blessing.”

How do we serve our community?

 

It’s time for a new scorecard.  Our old scorecard evaluated us on how much money and how many people we brought in.  It’s time for something different. 

 

Begin by asking what kind of resources the church already has = prayer, people, time, facilities, money.

 

Figure out how to deploy what you have.  For instance.  If your church is a church of prayer, why not follow the example of one church and put up a prayer booth at your next local fair?  Or go to teachers/schools, police and fire stations.  Tell them you’re praying for them and take requests.  Tell them simply, “We’re asking God to bless you.”  If you need a standard of evaluation, why not ask your membership to self report their community service hours?  Or ask, “Is your marriage better this year than last? “  Or, “Is your relationship with your children better than before?”  This kinds of transformative experiences are the things we should be evaluating.  It’s in these kind of things that people’s lives are changed.  

 

“Every hour you spend at church is taking you away from your primary mission field.”  These are hard words for a pastor to hear.  But if we’re serious about the Great Commission, I think we have to realize that our job is to equip our people to be missionaries.  And their mission fields are as diverse as our people.  

 

Imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have to financially support church structures?  We could give our offerings away.  Reggie suggests we find a way to give money away.  Take an extra offering, even $1 per person.  Decide who in the community needs it.  Report out.  He tells the story of one man who gave $1000 tip to a waitress at a Waffle House.  He said that both the waitress and the giver cried and cried.  It’s the kind of thing that changes people’s lives.  Shouldn’t our goal in teaching people to give be to grow generous people who will give to what's important?

 

At that point, time ran out and the session ended.  I followed up by going to Reggie’s breakout session.  Twenty three registered for the session (including myself).  But over 50 showed up.  There were people sitting on the floor all around the walls and up and down the aisles.  Proof, I think, that people were intrigued by his remarks. 

 

Breakout:

Question:  Isn’t it true that once you do something more than once it becomes a program?  

Answer:  Yes.  So what we’re really saying is to customize your programming for each person.  Intentionally suggest to people what kind of classes or programs will benefit them and why.  

 

Be sure to follow up with people.  If you ask, “what do you want God to do in your life?”  You are obligated to go back and ask people, “how it's going?”

Question:  How do you keep the kind of outreach you’re talking about from becoming “just another community service project.”  

 

Answer:  Keep the people development piece, that's what keeps it from being only a community service piece ...   Help people develop a response.,.. I’m doing this because Jesus loves the kids, or because I've been blessed.”  Also, we need  to train people on whether this environment is a seedbed or an open door.  In other words, are we building a relationship so we can tell them about Jesus or is it time to tell them about Jesus now?  

 

Always try to keep your outreach projects inter generational.  Send the seniors and the high school kids out on a project together.  They will come back best friends.  

 

Question:  What kind of leaders do we need in the church today? 

Answer: To be part of the Apostolic ministry, leaders need to be genuinely spiritual.  They also need to be entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks and fail.  And they must have a Kingdom vision (a vision bigger than their own congregation).  

 

Contrary to things that I’ve seen recently, Reggie insists that the development of the vision belongs to only a few people because only a few people can turn the wheel on a ship.  Where you want masses of people to be involved is in implementation.  Implementation is where you  want 100s of people to be on board.  Not in the development of the vision itself.  

 

Why is vision making left to the few?   Because in vision making with many there will be the necessity of some kind of vote.  Because as pastors we are in the job of creating winners.  And every time you take a vote you create losers. You lead a spiritual movement by listening to the Holy Spirit, not to the crowd. 

 

Reggie says to dream big.  How would our community be different if the church did this one thing?

 

Question:  What is a missional community?

Answer:  Missional community- not house church.  Under 2 dozen.    A micro church, no governance they see themselves as missionaries to their community. 

There are two models:  1.)  They may move to poor side of town together.  The get to know people, just be there and be apart of the community.  Then they teach their members how to create intentional spiritual conversations.  

 

Or

2.) A community of missionaries that lean on each other for resources and ideas about how to reach the community.

 

Both may: 

Worship maybe once a month

Meet together based on the rhythm of the constituents

Be connected to a network

Be trained by established churches

 

They exist to help people get trained and get deployed in their community as missionaries.  

 

Final comments:  You're not going to meet a soul where God isn't at work in his life.  Find out how to partner with God to bless that person. Introduce that person to Jesus and see where Jesus goes next in that persons life.  That's what is so much fun, to watch Jesus and what he does with people. 

 

Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ  

 

Rev. Reggie McNeal

Dr. Reggie McNeal enjoys helping people, leaders, and Christian organizations pursue more intentional lives. He currently serves as the Missional Leadership Specialist for Leadership Network of Dallas, TX.

Reggie’s past experience involves over a decade as a denominational executive and leadership development coach. He also served in local congregational leadership for over twenty years, including being the founding pastor of a new church. Reggie has lectured or taught as adjunct faculty for multiple seminaries, including Fuller Theological (Pasadena, CA), Southwestern Baptist (Ft. Worth, TX), Golden Gate Baptist (San Francisco, CA), Trinity Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), Columbia International (Columbia, SC), and Seminary of the Southwest (Austin TX), . In addition, he has served as a consultant to local church, denomination, and para-church leadership teams, as well as seminar developer and presenter for thousands of church leaders across North America. He has also resourced the United States Army Chief of Chaplains Office (the Pentagon), The Chaplains’ Training School (Ft. Jackson), Air Force chaplains, and the Air Force Education and Training Command. Reggie’s work also extends to the business sector, including The Gallup Organization.

Reggie has contributed to numerous publications and church leadership journals. His books include Revolution in Leadership (Abingdon Press, 1998), A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders (Jossey-Bass, 2000), The Present Future (Jossey-Bass, 2003), Practicing Greatness (Jossey-Bass, 2006), Get A Life! (Broadman & Holman, 2007), Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (Jossey-Bass, 2009), and Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Reggie’s education includes a B.A. degree from the University of South Carolina and the M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees both from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Reggie and his wife Cathy make their home in Columbia, South Carolina.

 

A Plan to Meet Some of Our Neighborhood's Needs

This blog might not make sense until you read my previous blog which tells the story of Zion Church.
http://pastorjohnsthoughts.blogspot.com/2012/01/our-story.html

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.

Children:

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. 

Families:

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. 

Community:

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



Suggested Resources: 
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. Greg Ogden's two presentations at LCMC's National Gathering, October 2011



Rev. T.J. Anderson's presentation at LCMC's National Gathering, October 2011
http://www.lcmc.net/annual-gathering-presentations/rev-tj-anderson/a199.html

Rev. Elisa Ashley's presentation at LCMC's National Gathering, October 2011
http://www.lcmc.net/annual-gathering-presentations/rev-elisa-ashley/a189.html

Rev. Gemchis Buba
http://www.lcmc.net/annual-gathering-presentations/rev-dr-gemechis-d-buba/a190.html

Read the book Ethnic Blends by Mark DeYmaz:
http://markdeymaz.com/books/

I want to restate last week's suggested resources as well:

Suggested Reading:  The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons.
http://nextchristians.com/book.aspx

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

Our Story


This story began with a question: “If our church closed, would anyone miss us?” We asked our board to consider the question. The answer they all reached was, “no.” After all, our members would simply go to other churches. It seemed a shame that we were so unconnected with our neighborhood that no one would miss us if we weren’t here. It seemed that maybe Jesus Himself would want his church to have a better relationship with those around us. 

So we embarked on a project. Our lead pastor would visit every neighbor who lived around the church. He would try to meet them, ask them how we could bless them, find out if we were being a good neighbor, and give them information about the church and a gift card to a new local restaurant. He visited 30 some houses. People were polite, impressed with the gift, but really didn’t have much to say about how the church could bless them. 

We broadened the project to include local businesses and institutions. The pastor went to the local mall. “How can the church bless you?”, he asked the general manager. Short of being willing to work together, there wasn’t anything we could do. Then he went to the VA Hospital down the street. “How can the church bless you?,” he asked. They wanted volunteers. Of course, since they are a federal institution, the application process is a bit hard. We advertised the need but we are still waiting for our first volunteer from the church. 

A prayer changed everything. One evening, sitting in the backyard and reading the Bible, our pastor cried out to the Lord in frustration. “What kind of a church do you want us to be?” “Banquet.” Came the reply, clear as a bell. “What kind of banquet?” “Like Luke 14,” he heard. And then his mind was filled with images of a local apartment complex. 

Turning to Luke 14 we find the parable of the great banquet. There are three things that leap out at you immediately when you read this chapter. 
1.) Jesus says, “When you give a banquet, don’t invite those who can invite you back. Invite those who can never repay you.” So we determined that Jesus wanted us to focus first on the very least, those who couldn’t repay us in any way for serving them. 2.) The guests who were invited, the intended recipients of God’s favor, didn’t come and sent their excuses. We believe that many in the church today don’t realize that they are saved for a purpose. That purpose is to serve the Lord who saved us by serving others. 3.) God instructs his servants to go to the alleyways and the country roads and compel the poor and the lame and the lost to come to the banquet. We understand this to mean that the church is to go out and seek, not stay home and wait for people to come to us. 

So we packed up a luncheon feast for 150 people, some games and crafts for the kids and went to the Douglas Terrace Apartments. We met a lot of kids and found out that most of the people living in this complex were recent refugees. Mostly from Burma. We came back monthly for four months, bringing food, games, bounce houses, whatever we could think of, and we began learning names and building relationships. 

By the fall it began to occur to us that perhaps we could invite these kids to our Wednesday night tutoring program. That program had 4 kids in it. Overnight it multiplied to 40. Then we needed to find more innovative ways to transport kids, feed kids, and provide the tutoring they needed in a fun atmosphere. 

Next stop for us was the local elementary school. “How can the church bless you?” Naturally, we expected a polite “no thank you.” But we were surprised. The school was having trouble getting new immigrants to come to school in the cold weather. The kids lived at the very edge of the busing zone and didn’t qualify to ride the bus. Could the church help? We asked the congregation and ten people volunteered to drive vans borrowed from local churches and ministries. Each school day we began transporting 14 children to school and back. The congregation stepped forward and we bought our first van. The local school asked the local church for help and, praise God, we worked together to meet the need and the get the kids to school. Turns out that the kids who needed rides lived in the apartment complexes we were doing outreaches. 

Next, we went to some local restaurants. “How can the church bless you?” The Muslim owner of restaurant was well connected with his Iraqi refugee community. “We need furniture,” he replied. The call went out to the church and furniture started to fill the lobby. Just as quickly it went out to families from Iraq, Burma, and other places. Friendships were made. Jesus was honored. The church became the go to place for help with everything from job applications to utilities to translation and even resolving disputes. Furniture now comes from all over the city as word about the need gets out. 

The interest in Jesus by some of our neighborhood friends has caused us to start an Arabic language Alpha Course on Sundays. 

Our visits took us to the local mosque. Now our pastor and the imam regularly meet for coffee and conversation and we are committed to working together. The imam and some of his congregation joined us this year at church for Christmas Eve dinner. 

As Christmas approached, people in the church wanted to bless our new friends in the community with Christmas presents and food and scarves and gloves. So current ministries like Angel Tree and Christmas food baskets were expanded to meet the growing needs. 

There was a growing need for clothes among the children and parents and that were coming to the church for help. So a clothes closet was started. 



In the midst of all this activity, the church was approached by the Mizo, an ethnic group from Burma who wanted a church and a pastor to help them. Zion obliged and today the 1:00 Mizo service is vibrant and growing and our Mizo brothers and sisters work side by side with us cleaning the church, exchanging preachers and choirs, sharing meals and going through life together as one church. 

Sunday School is now an integrated experience, with Mizo kids and kids from the neighborhood joining us weekly to learn about Jesus. A whole team of people joined together to provide transportation and to receive the kids when they arrive and depart. 

Our congregation caught the spirit of what God was doing and things like our Street Outreach, which delivers meals to the city’s homeless, began to grown. Invited Inn, a ministry that turns the church building into a shelter for homeless families four times a year came into existence. 

We had a long tradition of Wednesday night meals at our church. Now those meals feed four times the people and have provided an avenue for people from our community to come and eat for free and stay for worship afterwards. 

We’ve learned so much over the last 18 months. We’ve learned that the church can become essential to the neighborhood simply by going out into the community and finding a way to serve people who can’t ever pay you back. Simply put, Jesus told us to “go.” When we are obedient and go, the way the world looks at the church changes.

We’ve also learned that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Some of the things we’ve been led to do would never have happened without the help of other churches and ministries and even secular organizations. What we learned was that when we work with others, Jesus gets the glory and miraculous things are done in his name. 

We’ve learned that we don’t have to be afraid to simply ask, “How can the church bless you?” Sure, some will send us away, but others are dying for our help. They are looking for Christ but how will he come to them if, his body, don’t bring him? We never thought the local school would consider partnering with us. After all, there is a lot of talk these days about separation between church and government. But there are wonderful partnerships to be made out there if we are willing to humble ourselves and serve on terms other than our own. 

We also want everyone to understand a few things.
We believe that Jesus has called us to minister everywhere, wherever we are, not just in this neighborhood. But you have to start somewhere. And we encourage all our members to be open to the ministry that Jesus is calling you to right where you are. 
We believe that our ministry is to everyone, not just immigrants, but that’s how it started for us and that’s what Jesus has put in front of us today. A few years from now, as our immigrant friends become part of our neighborhood, our ministry focus will undoubtedly change as Jesus calls us forward into new adventures. 
We believe that our ministry is not just local. In other words, we still care about the rest of the world. We still seek to support the people and things that God is doing globally. 


Eighteen months after beginning our project, the results, to us, are nothing short of miraculous. We believe that we have found the ministry Jesus wants for us in this place at this time. And, amazingly, new opportunities keep on presenting themselves.

The local middle school and high school are now asking for help in transporting students. The local elementary has asked us to double our student transportation. We were able to provide over 500 books to the elementary school, one for every student, just before Christmas. The parents of the children, regardless of their ability to pay for books themselves, have expressed gratitude that the local church cares about their children. The school has also asked us to provide weekend meals for students that the school is concerned have no food when they are not at school. We are currently providing 22 students with food each weekend. 

This spring, we’re turning extra land on our campus into community gardens, especially for immigrants who miss being on the land and working the soil. The idea came about at a neighborhood meeting and will involve a partnership between the city, the church and Lutheran Services, a social service organization. 

Life skills classes will begin shortly for the 1:00 service. This is a pilot program for us and if it is successful, we hope to open it to the community at large. The classes include things like “how to manage money,” “how to go to the pharmacy and what medicines to buy when your children are sick.” These classes will again be an opportunity for partnership between the church and other members of our community.

We are beginning training now on an Iowa Career Access Point computer. This means that the church will host a computer with available jobs. We’ll provide volunteers from the congregation to help people use it. 

What’s next? Only God knows. We continue to pray we will be faithful in responding to his call. What’s next for you? Will you find your story in our story? We invite you to come along and be part of the adventure. 

Suggested Reading:  The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons. 
http://nextchristians.com/book.aspx

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

Can a church add value to it’s community beyond care of poor and Biblical/moral teaching?

 

This continuing conversation will make more sense if you read my previous blog at: http://www.pastorjohnsthoughts.blogspot.com/2012/01/plan-to-meet-some-of-our-neighborhoods.html
 
Can a church add value to it’s community beyond care of poor and Biblical/moral teaching?
 
If you read the neighborhood plan put forward in the last blog, you’ll see that we want to do at Zion is more than feed the hungry and house the homeless, we want to be a positive and innovative witness within our community that helps the neighborhood become the best place to live this side of heaven.  We want to see the kingdom of God manifest in our neighborhood.  We not only want to address the issues of people not having enough, we want to better the lives of those who have plenty.  What we desire is nothing less then the redemption of our community as a whole.  We want to help people not only get established, but enhance the quality of life for those already here.  We don’t want just the refugee or underprivileged children to get career counseling, we want every child to have assistance discovering what they are good at and getting help developing a plan to “become” what they are good at in life.
 
The idea that the local congregation exists as an outpost of heaven for the benefit of all within the community is an old one.  I think it’s most common manifestation was in what was called “the Parish Model.”  My favorite example of this model comes from 17th and 18th century England where geographic areas were divided into “parishes.”  Each parish had a church which was responsible to call people to the worship of God and prayer on Sundays and other holy days and when necessary for special prayers on behalf of the king and nation.  It was responsible for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and all the rest, and also for the care of the poor.   The parish church might be a large edifice which was used for many kinds of community activities, including concerts and meetings.  It was a very public sort of “community room.”  Frequently, the “parish council,” the local government met at the church.  The council frequently included the “parish pastor” who was responsible for the spiritual needs of the community.  In such a way, the government, the church and others worked hand in hand for the benefit of the entire community.  
 
What w’ere talking about at Zion is to effectively put this model of ministry into use in our relationship with our community.  We imagine being able to convene various groups and organizations together to solve various problems in the neighborhood but to also work together to form a plan for the future.  Every group we’ve spoken to thus far has been very open to such meetings.  We believe that our local community has the opportunity to be one of the most vibrant, diverse and exciting neighborhoods in the city and that the church should be a part of that vitality, diversity and excitement.  We believe that by modeling the kingdom of God and showing how things could be, that we can help the entire community bring “could be” into reality.  
 
Another hallmark of the old parish model is that every resident of the geographic area of the parish was a de facto member of the church.  Now of course in England, where there is a state church and so you are a member of this state church simply by being born, this makes sense.  But what would it be like for our church to simply acknowledge that every person within our geographic area was also a de facto member of church, able to use the building and receive various services from the church?  In other words, what if we erased the lines between church and neighborhood and earnestly sought to integrate the church and the neighborhood, the neighborhood and the church?   No doubt such a church would be a place that would provide more to the community than help with the poor and Biblical/moral teaching.  No doubt such a church would be the center of activity within the community, the place to go to for everything, not just help.  
 
Here’s an example of how this thinking might play out:  A certain world famous artist lives in our area, he is a refugee from a certain country.  What if Zion provided our space for a showing of his art?  His entire ethnic community would attend the opening  and it would give us a chance to show hospitality to this group.  The whole community would be invited and for many, it would be the first time that they had ever been to our church, or even in a church.  Later, with the art still in view, we could invite the entire community to a round table discussion about the refugee experience in our own city.  In such a way we provide public space for art, for the education of the community, and for fellowship between the various ethnic groups, generations and economic groups within our neighborhood.  And it all happens in God’s house, under the cross.  Redemption, reconciliation and peace result within our community and our Lord Jesus is glorified.  And people who were far from the church come near to experience our common life together.  
 
Barna Group has done some research on this approach.  You can read about it at 
 I think there is no doubt that the church can add value to the community beyond it's traditional role.  I think that some might ask, "But should it?"  I would answer with another question:  "Will so doing make our Master smile?"  I think it would.  I think he intended for his church to be the way forward for the world.  
Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ 

Ramblings about God, the Church and Everything.

  • after Jesus’ own heart, 
  • with relevant, Bible based teaching,
  • with passionate and authentic worship,
  • of prayer,
  • with a heart for our city and the world,
  • where the love of our Lord is evident in the way we live and minister together. 

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