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
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?"
Some people have approached us about the idea of spinning off some of our more successful ministries as separate 501C3s. They argue that it would be easier for us to raise money for these ministries if they weren’t associated directly with a church.
I understand the point. It’s just that we believe our call to ministry in this city is supposed to be associated with the church. Our church, your church, and all the other churches that make up the Body of Christ in our community. Our ministry, the Spirit has told us, is a witness that gives glory to Jesus Christ. We don’t want to diminish that glory by forming a non-church corporation, even if doing so would make it easier to raise money and our lives that much less complicated.
Personally, I struggle with the idea that any aspect of our ministry is somehow diminished because it is funded by, housed in, or inspired by Zion Lutheran Church. But the conversations keep happening.
The foundational objections to supporting ministries that are identified with individual congregations seem to fall into the following categories:
1.) “If I’m going to give to a church, I’m going to give to my own church.” Christians don’t want to support a church’s ministry that isn’t their own church. Pick your denomination, Baptist, Catholic, Free, it doesn’t seem to matter. Christians, from what I’m told, don’t want to support the ministry of our congregation because we don’t belong to their particular denomination or congregation. Really? Seriously? I makes me sad. Are we really that competitive? Do Christians subscribe to a some zero-sum idea about ministry and money that says, “If you have a successful ministry, it must somehow diminish the ministry of my group”? Or, worse, “If I give to the good you’re doing, it means I have less to give to the good my own church is doing.” Ouch! Does our Lord not have cattle on a thousand hills and are we not One Body? Apparently not.
There must be other reasons, too. Perhaps other theological traditions think we’re not really Christians because we bear the name Lutheran. Ouch! But that has historically been the case.
I think that other churches worry that if they support ministry in other churches, somehow they might loose people to those churches. At Zion we have a lot of volunteers who come from other churches. They help us, some of them decide to worship with us regularly, but not many. In fact, very, very few. We are a peculiar church. But it makes me sad that we can’t work together because of fear.
There is a great deal of irony in this situation. As congregations we’re happy to partner with congregations on the other side of the globe but we’re hesitant to do so on the other side of town. This is a bizarre and inconsistent behavior.
So I ask myself the question: what ministries through other churches do we support? The answer turns out to be very, very few. So perhaps before I critique others, I better get my house in order. We need to find a way to support others in what they’re doing. We need to find a way to bless what God is doing in other congregations. We have very few ideas about how to do this, but it will take some doing to implement them. Why? Because we’re guilty of the same mindset as everybody else.
2.) “I can’t give to the good ministry your church is doing because you might ask them to become Christians.” This excuse isn’t limited to just non-believers. Even some Christians are nervous about the idea of sharing the faith. We are not shy to present the gospel to people we serve when we believe the Holy Spirit presents the opportunity. We are not ashamed of the gospel.
Our primary mission is that we serve people who can’t serve us back and thereby serve our Master, Jesus Christ. We serve to honor him first and foremost. If people want to become his followers because of that service, that’s an act of God and His work through His Holy Spirit. We don’t do what we do for people so that we can grow our church. That would mean we were serving people who could give us something, their membership, in return. We serve according to the paradigm of Luke 14: when you give a banquet, don’t invite your friends and rich neighbors because they can pay you back. Rather, invite the poor, the lame, the blind, the widows, the orphans, the forgotten. Those who cannot pay you back.
The irony with this excuse is extreme. Consider this: You support the good we are doing, which we are doing because we are Christians. But you don’t want to make any more Christians who might, in turn, help us do even more good things?
It reminds me of a family that left our church more than a year ago. They left because they wanted a church that was less structured around service and more structured around youth. So I simply asked, “You plan to leave this church, which you admit is doing beautiful things for Jesus, in order to go to a church which will focus more on your child in the hopes that he will grow up to be the kind of man who does the things we’re doing here?” Yes. I got it right. Amazing. Why wouldn’t you want to support an organization that does good things and has the potential to teach more people to do good things? Ultimately, wouldn’t the world be a better place?
So, I’m still trying to figure out how people think we must present the gospel. “Convert or die?” Simply at a loss as to why you wouldn’t want to create more followers of a global movement that has self sacrifice and service and love and justice and charity at it’s core. We must really have a bad reputation out there.
3.) “I am willing to support any ministry you do, but I will not support the church itself or help to pay it’s bills.” We call this, “designated giving.” I think I understand the point here. It must be that people separate what we do for others, the service part, from what we do for ourselves, which must be the worship part. I suppose people think that church services are for insiders. But not in this church. The church service itself is supposed to be a service of proclamation. The gospel is supposed to be presented. This is the place you invite your unchurched, de-churched, unbelieving friends to come and hear the Good News. Worship is also mission.
The whole point of the gospel is that those who were outsiders are now insiders with God through Jesus Christ. Sunday School is a mission field. It’s where you bring all the kids in your neighborhood on Sunday morning who aren’t going someplace else.
I know that some folks believe it is more righteous to buy us the text books we need to teach English than to give money to “the church.” But where are the English classes held? In the church. Who organizes the volunteers who teach and help and work and serve? Church staff. I’m not sure you can separate what is “church” from what is “ministry.” Especially in our case, where the building is leveraged for mission as much as humanly possible. There isn’t much idle time here, we’re truly a community church. And we don’t charge for that normally. So if people want us to be able to do the things we’re doing, they need to support “the church,” because “the church” is essential to what’s happening.
I suppose there is no glamour in paying the mortgage. But there is glamour in supporting the program that get’s people jobs. But without the building, that program has nowhere to meet, no a/c or heat, no electric lights, no bathrooms, no kitchen for coffee, no internet access, no computers for applying for work. Supporting the church for the sake of the work of the church isn’t glamorous, but it’s essential.
We could not do any of the mission we do without our staff, building, etc. Our church has become a home for many people. A place to sit and have dinner, to worship, to fellowship, to work and to play.
Recently, we spent three weeks as a church studying about giving. The main point was simply this: The New Testament is emphatic that “the church” is the body of Christ. When you persecute “the church” you are persecuting Jesus Himself. When you bless “the church” you are blessing Jesus himself. Giving shouldn’t be about what makes you feel good or about what’s hip or glamorous. Giving should be about you giving abundantly and blissfully to the person of Jesus Himself. I’ve come to the conclusion that if we can’t do that, we probably shouldn’t give at all.
One final thought: people love to see fruit on the trees of the church. They love to see success. I’ve seen people only want to give to that success. But this is the funny thing about fruit: it doesn’t just appear. It has to grow. If a nice big juicy fruit is what success is, let’s not forget that it begins with fertilizing the tree, watering the tree, pruning the tree, etc. All these tedious things the gardeners have to do if we expect to see fruit. When you give only to the fruit, you forget what it really takes to have fruit, gardeners, trees, orchards, etc. It’s all part of the big picture that gives the fruit. So we need to give to the “whole” process. Not just to the end. Or there will be no fruit. And, let’s not forget that even with all the giving in the world, there is no fruit and no tree without the God who created seeds, sunshine, water, and all the other things that make the fruit grow.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Two teachings of Jesus that are extremely relevant to the Church today:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Are we to destroy our enemies? No. Rather we are to love them. It is counter cultural and counter intuitive. This is part of Jesus’ Kingdom Jujitsu, you keep evil off balance by not “resisting” but by loving. The answer to violence isn’t violence, it’s love. The answer to hate isn’t more hate, it’s love.
When you’re persecuted or beat up - pray. When they strike you on one cheek, offer them the other. When they rob you for your coat, give them your shirt as well.
Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies isn’t abstract, it is concrete. For Jesus love isn’t ever abstract. We might think that loving our enemies can be done in the abstract. “Let’s think nice thoughts about them.” But it can’t. Jesus’ kind of love is physical and concrete and requires us to actually touch our enemies.
John 13: On the night he was betrayed, Jesus washed Judas’s feet, knowing full well what was to happen. But he did it anyway and then Jesus said that he had set an example and that his followers should follow his example. He told us that he gave us a new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” That is, wash feet. Don’t love abstractly, love concretely. People will know you are my followers, he said, when you love this way.
The love of Jesus requires us to go beyond the normal. Normal is loving those who love you. Friends and family. Or to love people who can do something in return for you, like a rich neighbor or even simply make you feel good about yourself. Jesus says that we are to intentionally love people who don’t love us. Intentionally means on purpose. We are to greet or welcome those whom we wouldn’t normally greet or welcome.
When we hold a banquet, we don’t invite friends and families and rich neighbors. Why? They can pay us back. Instead, we are told to invite those who can never pay us back. It’s counter cultural. It’s counter intuitive. It’s Jesus.
I have a very great concern. There is a lot of circling the wagons around our family going on these days. People are staying home more than ever and in the face of great darkness and uncertainty in our world, they are clinging to their own families. Families are good. We understand them to be the building blocks of society. But when your family is more important than all the other families and your family’s welfare is more important than all other families, we call that Mafia.
Now apply it to the Church. In North America we’ve been taking care of our own. We’ve been having banquets for ourselves and our “church family.” We’ve welcomed and greeted those who could benefit us by joining our church and paying our bills. We’ve forgotten to go out to the highways and byways and alleyways and country roads and invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, the widowed, the orphaned, the hopeless.
As a nation I worry that we’ve made family into a kind of idol. Please don’t misunderstand me, family is good. It’s the fundamental building block of society according to the Bible. But when family becomes the first and only priority in our lives something terrible happens. We start to see the success of our family in opposition to other families. Our family must triumph, even at the expense of other families. This is what the Mafia is. A type of family that exults itself at the expense of other families. That is not what God had in mind.
Community is groups of families working together. They work together to overcome shared obstacles and obtain shared success. In community, what happens to your family matters to my family and so we’re all watching out and helping each other. As Christians we also understand ourselves to be part of a greater family - the family of God. We call it church.
The trend I’m worried about in the church that is that you quit working with kids because yours have grown up. “I helped out at church until my kids were grown. Now it’s someone else’s turn.” But what about everybody else’s kids? We live in an age when, demographically, the traditional family is decreasing in churches. How will we be able to minister to all the kids who need to be at church if we only rely on people with kids in the system? We have to be concerned about everyone’s kids. We have to pull together and minister to them. It’s counter-intuitive. It’s counter cultural. It’s Jesus.
Our congregation has a unique situation: other people’s kids love to come here. We have a magnificent opportunity to influence those kids. By investing in them we may see them succeed, prosper and ultimately, be saved. When I look behind us I don’t see anyone else willing to commit to these kids. So I think we have to commit to them. For the sake of the kids and for the sake of our community, and ultimately, for the sake of our families.
Two and a half years ago we began a journey together, a journey that was counter-intuitive and counter cultural. A journey that has shaped us and given us a new identity. A journey framed around Luke 14 and characterized by the phrases, “Jesus says go!” and “Let’s do something beautiful for Jesus.”
We began with a question: Would anyone in our community miss us if we closed? At the time, the answer was “not really.” What about today? Today, I believe the neighborhood would really miss us. How did this turn around happen so quickly? Because we made a conscious choice to bless those who couldn’t bless us back and found ways to intentionally love those who were not our friends, families or rich neighbors. This approach has fundamentally changed who we are as a church.
Here are some of the things I think we’ve learned together:
Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”
James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
If worship doesn’t lead to intentional acts motivated by the love of Christ, what has it accomplished?
Worship leads to service and devotion which, in turn, lead to worship. And if that isn’t happening, perhaps we’re doing it wrong.
Liturgy (liturgia) is “the work of the people.” Worship is our work. We worship him by serving others.
So we switched our focus as a church. Instead of focusing our attention every week on a worship service that lasts 60 minutes, we focused on the results of that worship - the other 167 hours of the week.
We’ve developed some philosophies:
What can we look forward to in 2013?
Analyzing long term trends: in ten years every church is going to be doing what we are.
We’ve had our share of upheaval. Some of the changes we’ve made haven’t been easy. But each challenged we’ve faced we’ve done so with a radical dependance upon Jesus. We must stay the course. It isn’t what we do that defines us. It’s who we are. People bought for a price. Redeemed to be useful to God.
Perhaps you’re worried we’ll get a big head and get puffed up. Christmas helps to keep us humble.
One of the lessons of Christmas to me is simply this:
“If my God and king became a baby and a carpenter, what must I become to serve him?” Thinking like that won’t give you a big head. It will make you just the right size for God to use you.
Oswald Chambers puts it this way: “Beware of becoming a profound person. God became a baby.”
Thanks for reading. God bless.
Today Zion Church did something historic and faithful. We voted unanimously to call a Mizo and English speaking pastor. Here is the resolution:
WHEREAS Zion Lutheran Church desires to meet the needs of our Mizo members for Pastoral Care in their native language, have a staff position to act as community and cultural liaison within our ethnic neighborhood, and provide cultural guidance to programs at Zion; RESOLVED that Zion create a position of Associate Pastor to fill the duties above, and in line with the job description for this position.
We have a strong candidate in Myanmar (Burma) that I’ll tell you about later. Our next step is to interview and then formerly call the pastor at a special congregational meeting scheduled for September.
Why do want to take this extraordinary step as a church?
What are the Benefits of another pastor?
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 Mizo 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 nation. The Mizo kids are learning English quickly. Our Wednesday night neighborhood kids, too. Where will they worship? Probably not in the church that only uses the anguage 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
To God be the glory!
Here is a list of many of the amazing things that Zion did together as a congregation during our fiscal year July 1, 2011- June 30, 2012. This list is a testimony presented to you so that you can celebrate and give glory to God for his faithfulness. There is no way that the list is complete, so if you see something that got left off, don’t take offense, just please let us know so that we can add it and celebrate it.
I know it seems amazing that our congregation could be used to do so much in just a year. But with Christ all things are possible. I’m so excited to share this list with you. My prayer is that the next ministry year will be just as amazing. To God be all the glory. Thanks for your support, your prayers, your patience, and your participation.
Peace, Joy, Love.
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