pj blog cover

Reflections from Pastor John


Reflections from Pastor John


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


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


Hurray for Sunday School!  

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


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



What language do you speak at home?

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



مرحبا بكم في كنيسة صهيون

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


We’ve Got New Wheels

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



The 65th Annual Chin National Day

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


The power of partnerships

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


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


Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ  


Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 4

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

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



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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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





Free voting citizens

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

Don't be like that, Jesus says. 


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Come = invitation

Go = challenge

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


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


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


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


High invite, low challenge  = cozy culture

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

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

Low invite, low challenge - Anglicans   Every ones bored.


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

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


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



Mike Breen bio from the LCMC website:

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


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


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

Three New Things Happening at Zion

What’s Happening at Zion:  Three New Things


Wanted to draw your attention to three new things we’re involved with this year.


1.)  Marriage Class:  How Do We Think?  Men, Women and Marriag
Everyone agrees that men and women just think differently-right? Emotions and decision making are part of a marriage-right? Know any “Christian” marriages that have grown apart?


Join Dr. Richard Newkirk as he presents an overview of just how the brain impacts our thought process - both men and women. Dr. Newkirk will discuss some of the common problems experienced in marriage as well as the importance of encouragement and communication. Learn how to keep your current or upcoming marriage strong and vibrant. This class is for all (not just those married) who desire to learn more about healthy relationships.

Dates: Sept. 12  and 19 2012
Time: 6:30 - 7:45 p.m.
Cost: None
Presenter: Dr. Richard Newkirk


We started this class last week on September 5.  The feedback has been amazing.  As a church we hope to offer more to our community about how to have a healthy, successful marriage.  When I think about what would really impact our community for good, strong marriages top the list.  Strong marriages produce healthy families and healthy families make our whole society better.  Feel free to come to the last two sessions.  You are most welcome.  


2.)  58: The Film

Coming to Zion September 23

5:00 potluck dinner, 6:00 showing

I’m really excited about showing you this film.  It shows followers of Jesus all over the world doing things that impact their communities for good.  I’m particularly fascinated by the suggestion that we could end extreme poverty globally in this generation.  When I see the how much the participation of the church in the AIDS crisis has done, I really do believe that this idea is more than pie in the sky.  Come and see the movie and find out.  


Here’s the promo information:  

58: THE FILM is the inspiring true story of the global Church in action. Witness bravery and determined faith in a journey from the slums of Kenya to the streets of
New York. Confront the brutality of extreme poverty and meet those who live out the True Fast of Isaiah 58 and create stunning new possibilities for the future.

Travel from the sun-scorched plains of rural Ethiopia to British shopping centers, from Brazilian ganglands and the enslaving quarries of India to western churches, businesses and conferences.

58: invites audiences to discover the incredible work of God through His people in our hurting world. Meet ordinary people, hear their stories, and see their struggles and their victories as 58: shows the relentlessly loving God at work through His Church bringing hope to the darkest challenges of our day. Experience eye-opening reasons to lift our expectations of the future.

Woven with Biblical truth, this film draws audiences into life-changing examples of the True Fast of Isaiah 58 - a young British woman prevailing over the pressures of consumer society, Ethiopian Christians working to restore their environment, an American business owner promoting Fair Trade coffee and connecting his local community with the work of ending poverty, a local pastor in India working to be a Good Samaritan to those enslaved by bonded labor, and the sacrificial generosity of New York youth giving up their own food for the sake of those with even less.
These impatient revolutionaries and ordinary prophets present viewers with an empowering vision of the Church rising up to its remarkable potential to end extreme poverty, by bringing God's words through Isaiah to life in our time, in our day.



3.)  Unpacking Atheism Seminar/Webcast

Coming to Zion October 14th at 6:00 p.m. 

Increasingly, our own neighborhood is becoming the mission field.  The days of counting on people to at least know their Bible stories or even what a church does are gone.  We need to train our congregations to be able to engage the world and people around them.  And increasingly, this means training them how to respond to those who believe there is no God.  I really hope that you’ll attend this seminar and that if you have teenagers, you’ll bring them along also.


Here’s the promo:

Join us as Lee Strobel, Mark Mittelberg and William Lane Craig as they offer a balanced and accurate assessment of Atheism through their own personal experience, interviews, and the riveting stories of Atheists that have converted to Christianity.

What could be more important than arming your congregation with clear and compelling answers to the questions of our times?

Atheism is on the rise! If you haven't been confronted by it, you will be! 


Your children are already being challenged by it. Here are some sobering facts:


• 1 in 4 Americans under 30 now describe their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular”

• young people are dropping out of church at 5-6 times the historic rate, often because of intellectual doubts

• books by the New Atheists have gone mainstream, many becoming international bestsellers


Even if you and your church have not yet run into militant atheism head-on, the effects of it are seeping into our culture and, increasingly, into the church. We must confront this challenge! We need to be ready — and help our church members become ready — to not only “give an answer” (1 Pet. 3:15), but also to “take every thought captive” for Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

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. 

Latest News

Twitter Facebook