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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?"

More Than Just Another Non-Profit

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

Looking Back, Looking Forward


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



Mt 5:43-48

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


Luke 14:12-14

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




We’ve developed some philosophies:

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


What can we look forward to in 2013?

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





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




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


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


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


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

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


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


Thanks for reading.  God bless.








Posted by John Kline with

Resolution Passes! Next: A Continuous Forward Motion in Joy

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?


  • Biblical Faithfulness.  God will be honored by calling a Burmese pastor.  The mystery of the Gospel Paul says in Ephesians 3:6, is that the Gentiles are now co-heirs with the Jews in God’s salvation plan.  That means that every nation is invited to enter the Kingdom of God.  Heaven will not have a Jewish section and a Gentile section, an African section or and Asian section, we’ll all be there together, falling down and worshipping the Lamb together.  When we worship here on earth as we will in heaven, we show the world and ourselves that Jesus is Lord (John 17) and that the Gospel is our new community which tears down the things that have formerly divided us (see Ephesians 2 and 3).  It is God’s intention to unite all things in Christ, and that includes the races.  See the miraculous story of the spread of the Church in Acts:  it spread across the world, uniting groups formerly divided by race, origin, belief, age, income, education, ability, etc.  When we open our hearts and our church to those who are different from ourselves and share our love of Jesus the Savior, we bring a smile to His face and do something beautiful for Jesus.
  • Authenticity in our Neighborhood.  If we wanted to remain a white, mostly suburban church, we should have sold the building by now and moved away.  But we are committed to stay in this neighborhood.  If we are to minister to this neighborhood with integrity, we need to look like the neighborhood.  The neighborhood to our immediate east is defined by Zion on the West and Thai Village and the Vietnamese Community Center on the east.  All the statistics we have indicate that Asians will be a major part of our immediate neighborhood for the next generation.  Having an Asian pastor helps us reflect to the neighborhood that we are serious about welcoming them to Zion and to the kingdom of God.  
  • Consistency for Our Membership.  I asked the Friday morning men’s group  a year ago how they thought people in our church would react to being a multi-ethnic church family.  They all responded the same way:  “Why should our church be any different than our kid’s school or our workplace?”  And they’re right.  Twenty five percent of our city is non-white, why wouldn’t our church reflect that?  I personally wonder if the segregation of most churches is a reason that our young people think we’ve failed to accurately reflect Jesus in our churches.  Having a Burmese pastor shows our membership and our world that we are serious about ministering to the people we serve.
  • Spiritual Growth.  The most exciting benefit to being a multi-ethnic church is that we will all grow spiritually.  Why?  Two BIG reasons.  1.)  When you teach, you grow.  There are things that the Mizo members can teach us and things we can teach them.  We will grow together in Christ because we’ll be teaching each other what we believe and that will stretch us.  None of us is perfect, we’re all human.  All of us are sinners.  But our experiences of God in our various contexts will serve as a curriculum that will help us share the great and glorious Gospel with each other.  2.)  Because we’re different, we’ll have to stretch together and learn how to live out the Gospel of forgiveness and grace.  We’ll actually have to do what the Bible says:  bear with each other; speak the truth in love; forgive as the Lord has forgiven us; be patient, be quick to reconcile.  We’ll learn all these things.  We’ll have to have a relationship that is open and honest and full of integrity.  Our leadership will have to be completely transparent.  And we’ll have to learn how to communicate as Jesus loving people across different cultural platforms.  All of us will.  And this will help us grow immensely.  We’ll have to live what it is that we believe every time we come together.  As a pastor, I can’t think of a better exercise to make us practice what it is that we preach.  
  • We will grow our future membership.  What I mean by this is simply that there are many people in this city, both believers and those we are still considering the reality of Christ, that are waiting for the kingdom to be realized in this particular way.  They will respond positively to a church that seeks to bring the nations together under Christ.  I forecast that many are tired of being segregated and are longing to worship God with brothers and sisters from all over the earth.  Calling a Burmese pastor will help us grow the church numerically as well.
  • A Preview of Heaven.  When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together we call it a “fore-taste of the feast to come,” meaning that we will celebrate it all together when we reach the bright shores of Heaven and are One with Him who is One with us and with the Father.  How better to celebrate this feast together as people from every tribe and race, tongue and nation.  This visual will be a powerful reminder for us all at Zion that our true home is in Heaven and we shall be there together.  
  • Ability to Teach Other Churches.  Not a month goes by when we don’t get an inquiry from a pastor or a church about what we’re doing.  We even get donations to help us!  Other churches want to know how to do the things that we’re doing.  It is God who does them, not us.  What we have to share is a testimony about how great our God is, and how faithful He is, and about how, if you surrender to Him, He will come and show every church how to do mission and how to integrate with others who are different. 


What are the Benefits of another pastor?

  • The first is obvious:  calling a Burmese pastor will helps us minister to a people group that is now as much as 25% of our church membership.
  • Calling a Burmese pastor will help us increase communication across our entire church.  Right now our situation is this:  for nearly 300 Burmese members, we have only 2 translators.  Those translators work full time, have growing families, and also have to translate for everyone who has to fill out paperwork, receives mail, or wants to buy a car or register something in their ethnic community.  They are so busy that communication across the entire church suffers.  I can’t make a home visit or go to a meeting without a translator.  If we really need them, they have to drop everything and come and help.  Having a pastor on staff will allow us to have a translator available to us full time.  Translation is important.  It’s a major deal to invite the 1:00 service to come to a meal or event.  Everything has to be translated at this stage.  Sometimes, we’re not able to get it done in a timely matter and we are all deprived of each other’s company as a result.  We need a full time pastor to help us bridge the communication divide.
  • Integration.  We need to be one church, not two.  Think about all the things we could do together:  mission work, church suppers, Family Camp, family exchanges, prayer requests, celebrations, picture directories...etc.  The list is endless.  But we need help, full time help, to bridge the language and cultural divides.  Having a Burmese pastor on staff will help us bridge these gaps, and help us all get educated in cross cultural relationships so we can figure out how to work with our members from Liberia, Sudan and other places.
  • Neighborhood Outreach.  The pastor we will call will speak Mizo, our particular dialect, but also English and Burmese.  Our Burmese refugees are made up of many different ethnic groups and if they speak a common language, it’s Burmese.  That means that with the help of the new pastor, we might be able to communicate to many more families at Samuelson School and within our Wednesday night programming as well.  Imagine our frustration when some of the neighborhood kids who come on Wednesdays are asking about baptism and we can’t communicate with their parents!  Having a Burmese speaking pastor might help us breach this gap in many, many cases.
  • For the edification of the entire congregation.  Imagine what it will be like to learn from a pastor who grew up and ministered across the planet from us.  Imagine what his testimony is like, living and preaching in a country that does not acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but actively persecutes the Church!  How much we have to learn and how we will all be built up and edified together as a church with his teaching!   


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 

An Extraordinary Year

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.

Pastor John


  • Art Camp for over 90 kids.  
  • Summit Serve youth service trip to CO.
  • South Africa Mission Trip
  • Camperships for neighborhood kids to go to Bible Camp. 
  • Transporting neighborhood kids to swimming lessons for LSI
  • 300 backpacks for FFY
  • Zion hosts Camp Child Serve (June-Aug) for third year. 
  • Summer Outreaches to DTA
  • WEE becomes a part of the Zion family. 
  • Church cleaning day with Mizo
  • Pastor Brent’s call and ordination
  • Beaverdale Parade and Z-Fest/food and fun.
  • DMOM sale
  • Care Team goes into high gear.
  • Started ESL classes
  • Started bringing neighborhood kids to Sunday School 
  • LCMC National Gathering/Zion hosted the New Ministries Seminar
  • Zion pastors asked to Negotiate settlement between two Muslims in dispute
  • Oktoberfest
  • Church establishes pre-paid Funeral/Plots pricing for all members with Merle Hay funeral home.  
  • New Carpet in Lobby
  • Angel Tree/Dove Tree/Xmas Baskets
  • Christmas Eve Dinner, including the local Imam and Muslim guests.
  • New Fellowship Hall wall
  • Mhezi Mission Trip to Tanzania
  • Arabic Alpha starts for Arabic speakers.
  • Camp In 
  • Dominican Republic Mission Trip
  • Narcotics Anonymous starts at Zion.
  • Awaken comes and does performance
  • Began Monthly worship starts with Gakunzi’s church at 10:30 service
  • Staffed Samuelson Family Fun Night
  • Sent 3 tutors into Samuelson Elementary
  • Pharmacy/First Aid Seminar for Mizo
  • New Men’s Breakfast does Quest for Authentic Manhood
  • New website
  • Financial Seminar for Mizo
  • New sound board, equipment
  • Dispensed 72 paris of shoes given as a donation by Wildwood Hills Camp for refugee kids.  
  • Community Gardens open at Zion! 
  • Finished our first phase 3 of ChristLife
  • Clothes Closet expansion
  • Whiz Kidz ends with 184 kids
  • Began running 2 vans with Samuelson Express
  • New bulletins/newsletters
  • ACS - new Zion data base
  • Alcoholics Anonymous group starts
  • Vacation Bible School with 150 kids! 
  • Wednesday Afternoon Outreaches
  • Zion became a Polk County emergency shelter and part of the Counties emergency plans. 
  • Iowa Workforce Development gave us an ICAP computer to help people find jobs.
  • Backpack buddies provides meals on weekend for 24 kids in need.  
  • New Rain Garden
  • Provided Furniture for more than 50 families new to our area.  
  • Assisted with rent, food and utilities for 30 families in need.
  • The usual:  weddings/funerals/baptisms/confirmations/first communions
  • Invited Inn
  • Street Outreach provided prayer, food, supplies, 
  • Quilts made with love for needy families.
  • Wednesday pm Meals serves a record number of hot meals
  • Another successful year of WOW, Sunday School
  • New Members
  • Sierre Leone mission trip 

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.

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

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

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
Posted by John Kline with

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. 

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.

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