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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.



Five Years Hence: A Look At What Zion Church Will Look Like in 5 Years

Five Years Hence

A guess about what we’ll look like at Zion five years from now

By Pastor John


INTRODUCTION:  This is a simple attempt to paint a picture of where I think we’ll be as a church in five years.  God is in absolute control of everything and so this painting may look nothing at all like what our reality will be.  I felt moved to write it because without vision, we die.  What I’ve tried to do is simply take what we’re already doing and just draw out where that takes us in five years.  I offer this as a way of showing the church where I think all the wonderful things that God is doing here are going and where I think we’re heading.  It is offered to His glory. 



STAR Kids has been the driving force behind much of our mission activity as a church.  It is because of STAR Kids that we have a clothes closet, a furniture ministry, a relationship with the local schools, distribute food to 100 families a month and do many other things.  We are now beginning to experience the graduations of our first STAR kids.  There is a lot of celebrating.  Those who understand the intent of STAR kids and the amazing opportunities we’ve been given as a church to minister to these kids are  profoundly moved. These graduating kids make it clear to the entire church that together, we did something beautiful for Jesus.  Together we were able to keep kids away from drugs, gangs, and what is more, to help them have a future and a hope.  These first ones to graduate are the most difficult cases because they came to America as older kids and have been struggling to catch up with reading and English ever since.  We have done everything we can think of to love them, help them, and give them a reason to hope and keep going.  As they prepare to move to vocational school or college or into the workforce, we see why the decisions we’ve made have been the right ones and why, for the sake of the these kids, we inconvenienced ourselves and asked the entire congregation to die to itself.  Seeing these kids graduate and become productive members of society and good neighbors goes a long way in healing any wounds we’ve suffered along the way.  


Volunteers still come from all over the city to help us support, teach, advocate and reach  the kids.  This strong presence of people from all over the city makes Zion feels more and more like the community church we are trying to be.  


We are just starting to intentionally help other churches in the city begin STAR Kids programs.  We could do more if we had more staff, but we do what we can and offer our experiences as a testimony to what God can do.  The most difficult concept for the churches who want to do what we’re doing to grasp is grace.  It is so hard for people to love unconditionally without trying to control everything.  We are seen as an innovative leader among churches and a place that is unafraid to take risks and even fail.


This strong, community focused ministry leads us into amazing partnerships with various organizations and agencies.  Just as in the past God led us into partnerships with Hidden Hills Ranch, Meals from the Heartland and others, He continues to bring new relationships to us.  Because our Master taught us how to die to ourselves and because we don’t need to take credit for everything, Zion continues to influence policies and procedures affecting our kids and their families.  


Because of the intentional discipleship program we put in place as a part of STAR Kids, there are regular baptisms as a part of our time together.  



Five years hence, a lot of the perceived differences between regular WOW programming and STARS kids has been overcome.  God has provided us with the people and vision to move many of the STARS kids into WOW and they love it.  WOW attendance is now 300 and many details have had to change.  We’ve revamped the entire WOW program and have an intentional discipleship plan in place for every age group.  


The youth classes and groups are among the most popular activities on Wednesday nights.  Young people are trained to be Christian leaders in a multi-ethnic context and do fascinating and engaging service projects together.  Youth are being developed to be leaders and our special relationship with the Bible camps is making it possible for many of our best students to be counselors.  


Wednesday Night Meals

In five years, Wednesday night meals are still going strong.  Nearly 100% of our funding for this venture comes from outside of the church.  Two additional dining rooms have been opened and we are regularly feeding 500-600 meals.  In addition, two other preparation teams have been deployed.  Having three teams to prepare meals makes everything easier for everyone and has freed up Dave Schaeffer to focus his culinary skills on other events.  The new preparation teams are also ethnically diverse and offer a wide ranging variety of menus.  


Thursday Night Meals

Yes, in five years we’ve added “another Wednesday night.”  While smaller in attendance, kids from all over come for homework help, activities, food and teaching about Jesus.  Thursday night feels just like summer camp.  Sports are a major emphasis and our new part time youth ministry intern has his hands full running Thursday night programming.


Every Kid has an advocate and a life plan

In one of the most innovative and thoughtful plans unveiled at Zion, we have mobilized the congregation to provide every child who comes through our doors on any day of the week to be connected to an advocate - an adult who is in their corner and meets regularly with them to develop and implement a life plan.  The program begins around sixth grade and continues through high school.  The kids are encouraged to consider who they are, what they were made to do, and how to go about doing it.  Prayer is a major part of the program and every child in the program is prayed for every day by someone.


We’ve come to the understanding together that telling children they “can do anything” isn’t productive.  But understanding who they are and who God made them to be and helping them become that person is very helpful.  As each child begins to understand the course of his or her life, mentors, internships and experiences are brought to bear on their life so that they will be supported and prepared for the future.


Sunday School

Sunday School looks more and more like Wednesday nights - big, fun and joyous.  We struggle to find room for the openings and the small group times.  Vans go out into the neighborhoods and bring in kids.  Way more van trips than ever before.  This integration causes us to grow in new ways intellectually and spiritually, forcing us to think more and more out of the box and to exemplify more of the fruit of the Spirit, especially, love, peace, joy, patience and self control.  


We now have a summer session of Sunday School as well.  We learned that not all the kids we minister to go away for the summer.  So we were blessed with a group of people who agreed to form a JV team to make sure Sunday School kept on through out the year. 


The Mizo

The Mizo speaking pastor has arrived!  Pastor Ringa’s coming in the spring on 2014 has really helped us overcome much of what divides us from the Mizo.  Pastor Ringa regularly preaches at the other services and music groups journey back and forth between the various services.  While we continue to have a Mizo language service and Sunday School, more and more we’re seeing participation from this group in the English language Sunday School and the “late service.”


Pastor Ringa’s presence has allowed us to go to family camp together as a church with our Mizo families and we have also grown in working together and completing mission projects together.  


Zion began contributing to missionaries the 1:00 service already supports back home in Burma.  


The Karenni

A new Karenni micro church has started at Zion.  It is made up of the families of the kids  who regularly come to Sunday School and their parents who have been attending ESL classes regularly at Zion.  Working with Pastor Ringa and internet resources, we do our best to meet the spiritual needs of this growing group within the congregation.





The Iraqis

We continue to host Iraqi community events and welcome this group to our community.  Thanks to Majed Bahidh joining our staff, we are sometimes known as the “Iraqi Church.”  Some Iraqi families have converted and now follow Jesus.  But because these conversions have taken place in an attitude of absolute humility and grace, the Iraqi community continues to look to us to help them and they continue to feel quite at home in our building.  Arabic language adult Bible Study is a Sunday morning favorite.  


Pastor Gakunzi’s Group: Bethseda Evangelical Church

It’s taken a long time and we’ve moved slowly, but Gakunzi’s group is now incorporated into greater Zion.  Gakunzi has joined our staff and ministers to the congregation as a whole.  Boaz is an integral part of our worship team.  There is a Swahili language service each Sunday and we continue to seek ways to integrate 45 new children into Sunday School. 


Vietnamese Outreach Mission

John Dovinh’s arrival at Zion five years ago and the subsequent beginning of the Lutheran Asian Mission Society really tied together a number of things for people at Zion.  People were stirred up for mission by this dear, grandfatherly man with a passion for Jesus and evangelism.  They also began to see how strange and wonderful the world is.  They began to appreciate more and more the plight of their persecuted brothers and sisters around the world and saw how they themselves could help to establish churches in a far away land.  They also began to understand how “micro-polity” is a global phenomenon: that there could be Vietnamese speaking people who needed to be evangelized in Khmer speaking Cambodia was a real eye opener and helped us all understand the plight of other ethnic and language minorities in our own neighborhood.  


The New Picture Directory that Changed Everything

After Pastor Ringa arrived and got settled, we were able to finally get all the information from all the families at church and pictures as well.  The new picture directory shows the world what we have become - people who are red, yellow, black and white, young and old.  We are a beautiful mosaic for Jesus.  The publication of this directory has an incredibly powerful effect on the entire membership and helps to create a new feeling of unity and excitement. 



To keep pace with the sense of “fusion” we have at Zion where it seems everything is being mixed together all the time, preaching styles have changed a bit too.  While we still have a traditional sermon or message many weeks, more frequently gospel messages may be delivered in the context of a team of preachers, taking into account each one’s own identity as a particular generation or ethnicity or gender.  Sermons are thus more challenging, more interactive, and really seem to be hitting home.  There are also weeks where members of our community might be interviewed about how they are living out their faith and some weekends when the message might rely heavily on videos.  The most important thing for us is to get the point (the Word) across.  Some weeks there are segments of the service geared to keep the congregation current with things happening in the city or the world that concern Christ and his church.  Segments such as, “What in the World is God Up to?”, “Bullfighting,” and “Global Church Report.”  We are also certain to include at least two Sundays a year where the message is very specific to who we are and where we are in the vision God has given us.  These sermons are followed by Q and A sessions to be sure that everyone has the opportunity to get the information they want.  The one thing you can count on is that you won’t be bored.  We try and make our members the most globally aware and locally active church members in town.  We also try to instill in our attenders something we call a “biblical imagination.”  In other words, we try to help them see Jesus and his teachings in the things that are going on in their world and in their own lives and relationships.  


A path of intentional discipleship for the whole church

We don’t want to formalize or programmatize the Gospel.  We do believe that there are certain things every follower of Jesus should know and understand.  We want to make certain that those things are being taught in an age appropriate way to all age levels within the church.  The list is still being developed and implementation will be a huge undertaking. But they are essential, we believe, to understanding the nature of God’s kingdom.  We want everyone at Zion to have a knowledge of Scripture and we want to teach it to them with a focused approach.   We believe that the job of the spiritual leadership of Zion is to present everyone at Zion as fully mature in Christ by proclaiming, admonishing and teaching all wisdom about Jesus. (Col 1:28). 


We’re mastering videos

Better late than never, we’re figuring out how to effectively use videos in church.  We have interested volunteers who don’t mind coming early and staying late.  They don’t mind spending hours in production to get just the right effect.  So, at many services the announcements are done by video.  We’re also able to show video highlights of things that happened in the life of Zion that week.  Videos now enhance the Zion website. Videos also aid us in our fundraising, making it easy to show what kinds of ministry we do and to what effect.  And, Pastor John finally has a video blog.  


Evangelism and Outreaches

We’re really well known for our outreaches.  Once people see our “beautiful garden” of unity, they want to know how it came to be.  Then they want to know how to do a Luke 14 outreach.  We keep doing them.  Every year we pick a new complex to add to our list.  We’ve got the method down so well that we can do two on the same day.  It helps to have some trailers and pre-packed equipment at the ready. 


In our neighborhood we’ve put together some materials and a small campaign called, “We want to be your church” where we invite the community to utilize our facilities and services.  People are encouraged to have their gatherings, funerals, weddings, family events at Zion.  A crew of building hosts and hostesses make this possible.






The wifi works everywhere in the building and the various networks are secure.  It didn’t take much money, just a consult with an expert and now we have a solid connection everywhere in the building and our ability to share information just got so much easier. 


The Basement 

The basement is finally finished.  We bit the bullet and did a fund raiser and finished off the flooring, got the classrooms equipped and the coffee station put in.  Mission accomplished!  It only took 15 years to get it done! 


Barn and Playground

The “younging” of the congregation highlights the need for a new playground.  WEE preschool needs a separate play area for kids under 5.  Through an outreach to the entire community, we are able to raise $100,000 for two new playgrounds, one for 2-5 year olds, one large one for 5-12 year olds.  Between the two play areas is a basketball court which serves as a driveway for a new barn near the bell tower which houses the 3 Zion vans with their new, very distinctive logos, lawn care equipment, our furniture ministry, and clothes closet storage and sorting and industrial driers.  The barn also has plenty of room for sports equipment for WEE and Zion.  In the winter, you can pull the vans out into the parking lot and play basketball inside.   Many seasonal items now stored in the church building can be moved out to the barn.


Campus Plan

The necessity of building the barn and new playground area forced us to develop a “campus plan” for the rest of the property.  We now understand how our future ministry will impact our property.  We know where we can build and how much we can build, we see how it relates to the gardens and our future parking needs.


Dreaming about a gym

The number of kids and activities we have pushes us to be in internal conversations about how much we really need a gym.  


Thinking Green

As we gain confidence in our ability as a church to succeed by the grace of God, we begin to explore ways to save money.  Thermal energy seemed the right way to go and we’ll shortly begin a campaign to raise money to install a thermal system in the front yard.  The expected savings are staggering.  



People want to intern at Zion.  Because of the uniqueness of our ministry and because we’re way out in front of most churches in turning toward intentional integration and mission, we have a good crop of available interns to help us with different projects.  The benefit to us is amazing and helps us keep our staffing levels down.  The benefit to the interns is equally as amazing and helps to build up the kingdom of God. 



Adult Education:

Zion is known throughout the community for it’s seminars and classes.  We feature an amazing line up of speakers and teachers and people want to come and be taught.  We have very basic seminars to help teach the community how to parent, be married, and take care of the many responsibilities of life.  We have Bible classes that are challenging and life changing.  We offer a variety of seminars and classes in various languages as well.  The arrival of Dr. Richard Newkirk some years ago helped us focus on meeting the needs of the church and community by bringing great classes on parenting and marriage and other important skills.  He is helping us think through a strategy of what the neighborhood really needs.  His ability to counsel also helped us really strengthen marriages within our church and community.



Prayer groups continue to sprout up everywhere.  Prayer is one of the things we do best.  After years of struggling with how to have a prayer ministry, the answer we’ve been given is that every person at Zion is to be a prayer warrior and is to pray at all times and in all places.  Our first response as a congregation to any task or opportunity is to pray.  


Redeemer Lutheran

We have a very close relationship with our sister congregation, Redeemer, on University Avenue. Redeemer became the first church to ask us to import our unique ministry philosophy to their location.  We have been helping fill their pulpit and provide them with other help on a regular basis.  We’ve now taken the bold step of sending them pastoral leadership and a bunch of people to help them restart their ministry with better demographics.  Redeemer is now beginning to thrive and is our close partner in ministry.  


A strong emphasis on Bible Camps

As a church we’ve learned that some of the best times are had at camp together.  The kids regularly head off to camp each summer and we are now chartering buses to bring Zion kids to Riverside and Okoboji.  Likewise, families from many different ethnicities are encouraged to attend Zion weeks at the camps.  Such weeks are always led by a Zion pastor who facilitates the fellowship and mixing of the groups together.  In such a way, we’ve built community within the church offsite at camp and it has become the backbone of our new, integrated church.  


Adoption and Fostering

Realizing that the world is an increasingly unsafe place for children and that the “traditional family” is hard pressed, a beautiful ministry develops at Zion to support and encourage adoption and foster parenting.  Many couples come to together to support each other in making a decision to foster or adopt and those couples encourage others to live out their faith by considering to foster or adopt.  Some churches have building drives, Zion is known for having adoption drives, and raising tens of thousands every year to help couples adopt locally and internationally.  As a church we understand that God values life and so should we, and that there are many, many children waiting for a home in which they can grow up loved and cherished.  We also understand that adoption and fostering are beautiful acts of love to Jesus, who loved the little children and it is also a beautiful act of evangelism and faith sharing as a child is received into a home where Jesus is Lord.  


Mission Trips

a.) We marked the 15th year of our sister church relationship with the Mhezi Lutheran Parish in Tanzania by sponsoring a delegation from Mhezi to come to Zion.  

b.) This year marked Zion’s first mission trip to Burma.  Led by eight Mizo members, another 10 Zion members made the trek to Burma and the Chin Hills to minister to people there.

c.)  Plans are under way for the first mission trip to Iraq.  It will be an interesting trip.  But the plan is to help various groups who are not receiving any help from anyone else.  We plan on going as soon as a few more security questions are answered.  

d.) Thanks to John Dovinh’s presence in Cambodia, we are able to send a yearly mission trip there as well.  

e.)  Shorter, cheaper trips have taken over the longer, larger trips as families in the church struggle with finances and time.   


Giving Up On Excellence

I am a product of the Church Growth movement.  I went to a denominational seminary and at the time they didn’t teach us anything useful about evangelism or about growing churches.  I’m serious.  We were taught that people would just come because they were Lutheran.  Our job was to minister to the needs of our flock.  I didn’t buy that then, and I certainly don’t buy that now.  


So, early on in my seminary career, I started to go to conferences and read books to supplement my education.  My first call as a pastor was to be the second full time staff member at a church with 600 members that became a mega church very quickly.  My whole professional life has been about church growth.  When we lived and taught in Eastern Europe, I taught church growth principals to my students.  I’ve been sold on the movement for a long time as the hope for the future of the Church.  


One of the tenants of the Church Growth movement is the pursuit of excellence for the sake of God.  In other words, what we in the movement saw in North American churches was that no one cared enough to give their best.  Especially pastors.  We felt that God wanted our very, very best and that our services, especially, but all things we did as a church, should pursue excellent.  It was the same kind of idea that was big, at the time, in business culture and also becoming to be a big idea in aspects of education and school administration.  


Like all my peers in the movement, I bought into the necessity to pursue excellence for the sake of evangelism.   After all, why would unchurched people trust us with their kids in Sunday School or Bible School if we didn’t look like we were excellent?  Why would any unchurched person come to a church that looked like it didn’t know what it was doing?  Why would any unchurched person go to a place whose publications were below the ability of most desk top publishing programs? 


Excellence has pursued me and haunted me all during my tenure at Zion where I currently pastor.  For several years I ran into stiff opposition to the pursuit of excellence.  Why would we want to spend money on having everything look so “professional?”  “What we’ve been using for years is good enough, pastor.”  “We don’t need new signs, pastor.  Our people know where things are.”  When we introduced new ideas into worship (that is, we introduced Church Growth ideas) we also met opposition.  The worship was said to be “too professional.”   I admit I was frustrated.  


But now, thankfully, I can tell you that I’m done with excellence for the time being.  Why?  Because our current ministry is simply too vibrant for excellence.  What do I mean by that?  Well, simply put, we’re so busy trying to keep up with the needs of the people we serve that we don’t have time to be excellent.  The image in my head is one of a rescue ship that comes upon a wrecked vessel.  You have to get people out of the water as quickly as possible.  There simply isn’t time to be orderly or excellent.  There is confusion and chaos, but people are being saved.   And that’s where we are as a church.  We simply have so many opportunities to witness to Christ at any given moment, we don’t have the time to pursue excellence.


I think our focus has shifted as well.  Instead of our focus being on what we do in worship or care, our focus has shifted to serving.  Instead of spending hours trying to figure out the perfect transitions in worship and pursuing the latest and greatest worship songs and making sure that every word on the power point is spelled correctly and so on, we’re praying with people, helping out at the local school, delivering groceries, teaching people English, and tutoring kids, all the while sharing the Gospel as living sacrifices.  It isn’t that we don’t care about what happens on Sunday, it’s just that we’ve moved beyond Sunday and our focus is on the rest of the week where faith has to be lived out to be real and to be seen by a world that increasingly doesn’t attend church.


This blog won’t be published right away so let me say this:  Tomorrow night I have a board meeting.  It’s really important that I be there.  We have a lot of things to discuss as the leadership of the church.  But that night, at the same time, is also the school board meeting and I’ve been invited by a board member to come and speak and explain how our church “buses” 30+ kids to and from school every school day and how a simple change in their policy will lead to a major benefit for 100s of kids.  I think I have to be at the school board meeting.  I think the love of Christ compels us to go.  Jesus said, “Go!”  And when we go we can’t stay and take care of our own business.  Our Master is on the move and we must follow him and help him take care of his great business.  Because the world won’t come to church because it should.  It will only come to faith when the church goes out and shows the world what the love of Christ is all about.  


So, for the sake of the love of Christ, we have changed our opinion about excellence.  What was once the pursuit of excellence in service to those who came to us is now the pursuit of excellence in service to those who have no idea who our Lord Jesus is yet but will hopefully come to faith in him through our meager efforts.  


We aren’t even excellent in what we can do for others because there are so many of them in need.  But I take comfort in this:  What we do we do for Him, our Audience of One.  And also, that in a great darkness, even a weak light shines very brightly.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ


Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 4

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

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



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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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





Free voting citizens

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

Don't be like that, Jesus says. 


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Come = invitation

Go = challenge

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


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


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


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


High invite, low challenge  = cozy culture

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

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

Low invite, low challenge - Anglicans   Every ones bored.


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

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


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



Mike Breen bio from the LCMC website:

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


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


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

Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 3

Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 3

Gemechis Buba

(a bio of the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba from the LCMC website is found at the end of this report).  


Gemechis Buba is a favorite speaker at LCMC events.  He is always very Biblical and very Christ centered and a joy to listen to.  He prays powerfully and is a man full of the Spirit and truth.  In my mind, Dr. Gemechis Buba sets the theological agenda and gives us the Scripture, the other speakers come along and tell us how to implement what he said.


Dr. Buba began by bemoaning the loss of many seminaries and Christian higher education schools to liberal theology.  Liberal theology, which believes that all people will be saved regardless of their commitment to Christ or how they respond to his call to, “Follow me,” kills mission.  If everyone is saved there is no incentive for the Church to “Go into all the world and make disciples.”  Liberal theology is now being exported to other countries in the world and it represents a great danger to our historic faith.  


In the Church, we need more leaders faster.  Our future depends on how many leaders we are training today.


We need to put more boots on the ground for Jesus.   Gemechis’s father was a pastor, a district president, in prison for his faith in Ethiopia during the brutal communist regime.   At that time, the church was in retreat.  Property was seized.  People were jailed or killed.  The communist government looked like it would last forever.  But his father never stopped developing leaders so that when things changed, the church would be ready.  It was people like Gemechis’s father that built leaders for the church, who God used to fan the explosive growth of the church today.  Leaders make leaders.  Leaders grow churches.   


Today, churches are “scared of the magnitude of the mission field.”  We must overcome our fears and move forward in faith.  Why should we be different than the Ethiopian?  We aren’t even in prison yet.  We must make leaders.  We must advance the kingdom and build the Church.  We must get ready for the future that God has in store for it will surely come.  


The theme of the Gathering was “Ambassadors for Christ” based on Paul’s concept found in 2 Corinthians 5.  


An ambassador, per the diplomatic websites, is a “chief of mission.”  


An ambassador is a master at building relationships.  An Ambassador for Christ must be a master of building relationships with:

With God.

With Host Culture.  This means we must understand where we are.  Protocols.

With colleagues 


How do I become an ambassador?   I must make an absolute commitment to the discipline of learning.  Ambassador’s learn - furociously.  Our primary teacher is Jesus.  “Learn from me.” (MT 11). 


An ambassador must have absolute confidence in his king and in his kingdom.  We do not merely compare religions like the liberal theologians, we promote our own.  We do what we do so that people meet Jesus.  We don’t want to be a “center for cultural Christianity.” Ambassadors need to be able to explain what their mission believes.


An ambassador must have an absolute obedience to the Scriptures, especially in times of trial.  Mt 4:1.  The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. He relied upon the Scriptures during his trials.  “Ambassadors are not to change/debate His policy.  We are here to implement his policy.”  “Thus sayeth the Lord.”  


An ambassador is ready to lay down his life for the mission.  The ambassador communicates the mission faithfully, even in dangerous environments.  Our mission is not to please the world, it is to please Jesus.


Jesus said, “the workers are few, harvest plentiful.”

As world population expands - 7 billion today - did we increase the number of ambassadors?  No.  We need to be like farmers - use combines.  We need to maximize our capacity for mission.  Look at the growth of the Church in China, India, Indonesia.  It isn’t the clergy.  It’s disciples making disciples.  


We’ve lost the thrill, art, ability of discipleship.  Where is the thrill in the church about discipleship?  What do we do at Zion with new believers?  We don’t know how to make disciples.  And when someone does come to Christ, we’re so quiet about our joy.  

The churches have gone to courses about discipleship but we don’t know how to do it.  We are living in a major discipleship crisis in the church today.  Teach us, Lord, how to do it.  We must pray the Lord of the harvest.  


Ambassadors have betrayed Him in the mission field.  Sometimes we believe we are smarter than the king.  We’re more educated than a 1st century carpenter.  Our scholars think they know more than the Bible.  Here we go back to where we started.  The future of the faith is not in liberal theology.  It is in preparing our people to make disciples of Jesus and releasing them to go and make disciples.  Thanks for reading.  PJ  


he Rev. Dr. Gemechis D. Buba is currently serving as the Missions Director of the North American Lutheran Church. He is originally from East Africa, Ethiopia and is currently living in Columbus OH with his wife Nassisse Baro Tumsa and Labsi Gemechis.

Dr. Buba received a Bachelor of Theology with high distinction from Mekane Yesus Theological Seminary, where he served as a Professor for two years. After working on his Masters of Theology in Church History in the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, he moved to the United States for further studies. In 2003 he received a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Christian Education from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. In 2006, Dr. Buba earned a Doctorate Degree from Columbia Theological Seminary, specializing in Missional Leadership.

Ordained in 2001, he has served as a Seminary professor, mission developer, Senior Pastor, Vice President of Southeastern Black Lutheran Pastors’ Conference, an assistant to the Bishop of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, two term president of the world wide union of Oromo Evangelical Churches Inc., founder and president of Leadership Development Systems Inc.

Dr. Buba has led, chaired and lectured on multiple international events through revivals, leadership development conventions, theological conferences, evangelistic gatherings, church assemblies and academic forums.

He has traveled extensively and served across the nations of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Germany, England, Norway, Sweden, USA, Australia and New Zealand. In his journey across this globe he has ministered the Gospel of Jesus Christ in three languages: English, Oromo and Amharic. He has authored and translated numerous articles, booklets, books and produced materials for Christian educational use.

Above all, he is proud to be called a Child of God, which is the highest privilege and authority in the Kingdom of God. 


Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 2

Reggie McNeal.  

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


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


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

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

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

90+ times Jesus talks about the kingdom.  

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Regularly ask your congregation these kind of questions:

What are you learning?

What are you experiencing?

How are you growing?

What did you learn about God?


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


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

Release business leaders into the marketplace. 

Release artists into the society. 

Release teachers into the classroom and school.  

Keep asking people, “How can you bless?”

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

How do we serve our community?


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


Question:  What is a missional community?

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

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



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


Both may: 

Worship maybe once a month

Meet together based on the rhythm of the constituents

Be connected to a network

Be trained by established churches


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


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


Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ  


Rev. Reggie McNeal

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

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

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

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

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


Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 1

Report from the LCMC National Gathering

Part 1:  Personal Reflections in Praise of LCMC


I wish I could’ve taken the entire church to this year’s National Gathering of Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ.  Seriously.  It was that good.  Speakers included our National Service Coordinator, Mark Vander Tuig; North American Lutheran Church (NALC) missions director and consistent LCMC fav speaker, Gemechis Buba; Reggie McNeal, the Missional Leadership Specialist from Leadership Network; and 3DM discipleship guru, Mike Breen.  I’ll devote one whole blog to each speaker and what they said.  I want everybody to know what’s changing out there beyond our congregation and the changes are significant.  I think we’re living in the middle of an enormous paradigm shift within the church in North America.  To me that means that these aren’t the easiest of times but they could very well be some of the funnest and most interesting to be the Church.  


This first post will be very personal.   This is our fifth year as a member of LCMC.  This is the third year I’ve had the pleasure of going to a National Gathering.  Each time I experience such a sense of relief and renewal that it’s hard to describe.  But I’ll try.  


Why I feel such a sense of relief:  Things were so bad in our previous denomination that I felt either hopeless or completely isolated at every meeting or convention we had.  There was no sense of camaraderie, no sense of being involved together in the most noble of pursuits, bringing the Gospel to the world.  But now I experience just the opposite:  here are men and women who have sacrificed a lot for the sake of the Gospel.  Many have left larger churches in another denomination in order to serve smaller, struggling churches in LCMC.  Most are earning less than they did before.  Many are living off early withdrawals from their retirement or pension.  Some have no visible means of support, but God provides.  Many are starting new churches with no salary.  Many have been beaten up verbally by angry people for taking Biblical stands.  I’m so glad to be part of such a devoted group of Christ followers.  There is an amazing sense of “being on the same team.”  


Why I feel such a sense of renewal:  It’s amazing to me as I walk down the halls to see the joyful reunions of friends who haven’t seen each other for a year or perhaps more.  More amazing is watching people praying for each other in a quiet corner or just right in the middle of a hallway.  I love being a part of LCMC because we pray about every thing and believe that God hears us and will act.  


I’m still amazed that I know so many people.  It seems that many of my seminary colleagues have jumped ship and joined LCMC.  Those are also tearful reunions for me.  It’s like two survivors from some great disaster meeting years later, neither realizing that the other had survived.  “You’re here!  We’re alive!”


It’s good to see old friends.  One thing that comes about because of the unique culture of LCMC is that your peers are really significant in your professional and spiritual development.  Since we don’t have a top down structure and there is no one telling you what to do or asking you to do reports, this annual gathering serves as a way for us to report out to each other the things that God is doing in our lives and ministry.  It’s a chance to share our joys and our sorrows and our frustrations.  It’s a time to listen to others and learn from their successes and failures.  


Mark Vander Tuig said it best during the opening of the gathering:  “The most significant conversations will take place in the halls over coffee and we like it that way.”   Or something to that effect.  


It was great to catch up with friends.  Some I’ve worked with and some I’ve met at previous gatherings.  This kind of networking is an important part of LCMC culture.  This is where you find out who needs work, who is hiring, who is planning on retiring, who is planning on starting a new ministry, who needs advice and who has advice to give.  This year I networked like crazy and made important contacts with our brother pastors in Congo and Myanmar, both significant countries to our current ministry at Zion.  I also learned a lot from conversations about having a multi-ethnic staff and how to work with ICE to get an R-1 visa.  


Did I mention Congo and Myanmar (Burma)?  LCMC continues to grow abroad and this year we elected our first international member to the board.  Amazing.  I think about how different this association is from our former denomination.  There isn’t a sense that we’re to help those poor people “over there.”  Rather, those people “over there” have a lot to teach us and we are equals, truly brothers in Christ.  I love that.  I couldn’t help but tear up when all the international members took the stage.  There are now 11 LCMC churches in India who joined the association at this year’s gathering.  A new church in Myanmar (Burma).  Amazing.  Great things are happening in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia and it’s exciting to be part of it.  I imagine that one day, international membership might even surpass North American membership.  That will be an interesting and significant shift.  I can’t wait.  That will really help us understand the Church as something that is bigger than we are, a truly global enterprise.  


This was the second time we’ve met in a convention facility instead of a church.  There are simply too many participants for most churches to be able to host the gathering.  This was also the first time we’ve met in a city where we didn’t have a strong group of churches.  We don’t have a single church in Denver.  A few in the surrounding suburbs but not many.  So we’re meeting outside our usual enclaves and I love it. It was a great facility with easy access to the airport and the facility lent itself well to accommodating all the breakout groups and kept us well supplied with coffee.  What more could you ask for?  


I think a lot of the things that make LCMC so exciting come about because it’s a mere 11 years old.  I’m not sure that older institutions could re-make themselves in this fashion.  I hope I’m wrong about that.  Because the whole concept of being in a denomination has to change.  At one time in our history denominations had a significant role to play in spreading the Gospel and discipling people.  I think those days have passed and we’re now on to something different.  


The thing that causes me to grow the most each year at the gathering is the quality of the teaching and the topics addressed.  I get so much out of these talks.  And each year the talks seem to get more and more relevant.  We must be in mission as a church or we will cease to exist.  The association is pushing us into mission.  I think in LCMC we realize that a lot of our congregations in North America might not survive.  If it’s even possible, they got involved in doing mission too late.  But we believe that each congregation is significant and has a unique way to present a faithful witness to Christ.  And sometimes, churches might even be called to die as a part of that mission.  It’s amazing what we have the freedom to talk about in this paradigm shift.  I can’t wait to share with you comments from the various speakers.  God bless.  Thanks for reading.

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 

The Difference Between Being "In" Mission and "For" Mission and the Homogenous Unit Principle

You'll forgive me, I hope, for sharing some thoughts that may not be fully formed.  These thoughts have dominated what clear thoughts I've been able to have lately and it's time to submit them to public scrutiny.  


When we left our former denomination and joined LCMC, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, which is more a movement than a denomination, I told people that now, out of the denominational bubble we had lived in, we would have to "do mission or die."


I'd like to amend that phrase.  I think that based on what we see at Zion Church these days, it must be said that we have learned that we must "do mission and die."  To be fully devoted to mission means the death of self.  To be fully devoted to mission is the summation of what Jesus said about following him, "You must deny yourself daily (die to self), pick up your cross, and follow me."  To live in mission is to everyday give up your life for the sake of making disciples.


What does this mean for a church?  It means a daily dying by everyone in the church to comfort, stability, preferences, procedures, etc.  I means living in a state of risk, maybe even danger (emotional or physical) for the sake of the mission.  It means learning to love and be patient with others, even and especially those who may be different than yourself.  


This is a great challenge.  Imagine that all your life you've gone to church with your friends.  They are people who look like you, talk like you, have similar incomes and schooling.  Now, suddenly, we're doing mission and here come people and their kids who have a different education, perhaps a different language, perhaps different child raising philosophies, perhaps a different skin color and for certain, a different life experience.  It's scary.  It's risky.  It's messy.  Mission is messy.  Following Jesus is messy.  You have to leave things, even comforts, in order to "go" and follow.


It occurs to me that there is an enormous different between being a congregation "for" mission and "in" mission.  Here's what I mean.   A lot of churches have great mission programs.  You go as a group and fly in to some place and then after ten days or two weeks you fly home again.  You are changed by the experience and you begin to see that the world is a bigger place and that God has plans and is busy all over the planet.  But at the end of the day you get to come home.  To safety.  To the "normal."  To comfort.


It's like my favorite police dramas on TV.  Here are guys who, because they are public servants, don't make much money.  They work hard, are consumed by their profession and catching the bad guy.  But at the end of the show, they go home to this gorgeous house and drive an amazing car.  It just isn't that way in the real world.  Work follows you home and if you're serving full time plus, you probably have a small place that hardly ever get's cleaned and a beater car.  

When my family and I were abroad as missionaries, we were full time in mission.  We were always watched.  We stood out.  We knew that we were always on stage for Jesus.  We lived in a culture that was very much different from our own.  There wasn't any going home.  


When you're "in" mission, you are continually on stage for Jesus.  We aren't asking our church to go and fly in for a while and do great ministry, we're asking the church to be "in" ministry 24/7.  We're saying, "Look, our neighbors need Jesus, move over, let them sit in the pew next to you, let them eat your food, share your space.  Let's do life together with our neighborhood so that, as our Master says, ‘People will see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'"  We're not asking you to fly in and fly out.  We're asking you to live mission.  To be missionaries.  We're asking you to give up your seat, perhaps pay for someone else's kid's dinner, volunteer for some extra hours, and agree to go through life with people who are different than you are.


Most successful churches in the US are built on a subtle idea that is so normal for us we don't even think about it.  It's called the Homogenous Unit Principle.  The idea behind HUP is simply this:  to grow a church big and fast, get people who are the same together.  It works.  The trouble is, it leads to a church that is more than likely to be "for," rather than "in," mission.  Because everyone is similar in the church (education, income, race, experience), it's hard for "different" people to come and feel comfortable.  So in order to do mission, the church has to fly in and fly out, either around the world or across town.  


Our situation is different, therefore our call from the Lord is different.  We must be "in" mission.  We must find a way to welcome our changing neighborhood into our building and we must, because of the Great Commission, find a way to meet people who are different form ourselves with the Gospel.  It's an amazing, beautiful, exciting, thrilling adventure.  But it requires of us to be "in" mission.  All the time.  24/7.  There is no leaving and flying back home.  We live here already.  


No doubt all this change is very hard.  For generations, we had a common understanding about how church was done in our society.  Church is where you went to hear the Gospel.  You heard it and then you went home to hopefully live it.  Because of the death of mainline Protestantism, Globalization, and other factors, we have to do church differently than before.  One of the biggest changes must be that in church you don't just hear the Gospel, you also have to live it out right there, because the church, the local congregation, is the frontline of mission in our society.  


People like mission "neat."  They like to go do it and then go home to what they think is reality.  We're asking you to change your reality.  We're asking you to live mission, be "in mission," to let mission be our new reality together.  There is no going home, we're already there.  


What would Jesus have us do?  What would he say?  When we see the hundreds of kids hungry for a meal and for the Gospel, how can we not change everything?  And the amazing thing is that as we change for their sake, our Master will change us for His sake.  We will grow in spiritual maturity, in wisdom and in Christlikeness.  What more could you ask from your church?  


Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ 

Ramblings about God, the Church and Everything.

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