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Back to Douglas Terrace!

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Friday, June 5, we went back to Douglas Terrace Apartments and had an outreach. We had beef hotdogs (so people who don’t eat pork could have them), watermelon, cucumbers (the kids love them), homemade deserts and chips. We had crafts and balls for games and this time we managed to get three bounce houses up and running. We brought the mobile clothes closet and had boxes full of children’s books to give away. Almost nothing came back to the church. Best of all, there was lots of time to sit and talk with kids and adults.

This visit celebrated five years nearly to the day since our first trip to Douglas Terrace, and that trip began a relationship with the people of the complex that essentially changed who we are as Zion Church. Let me share with you how we have been changed.

It all begin with a parable of Jesus in Luke 14 called “The Parable of the Great Banquet.” The parable was told to illustrate a point Jesus had just made while sitting at a banquet. He said, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

What changed for us begins with our motivation. In the past we had done events in order to attract people to the church. In other words, we did what we did so that they would come to the church, like us, and agree to join us so that we would have more people and resources to do more events and attract more people so that we could grow even larger. The difficulty with our thinking about this was that everything we did was then predicated on how many people would join us. In the end we have come to realize that for us this was a self serving philosophy that benefited us and not necessarily the world we were trying to reach or the people we hoped to attract. We see now that what we did we did so that people might “pay us back” by making Zion larger. I suppose you could say that we did loving things in the hopes that people would love us back. But that isn’t what Jesus is asking us to do.

Instead, we have come to understand that Jesus is asking us to go and bless people for his sake and for the sake of loving people never even considering whether they will love us back. So each time we go out to bless people we do so simply to be a blessing and not with any thought of making Zion bigger or better. Our motivation has changed from wanting people to bless us back to simply wanting to bless Jesus, our Master, by blessing those most in need and least likely to be able to repay in any way.

This change in our motivation absolutely squares with another teaching of Jesus where he says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Jesus commands us to especially love those who are different from us. I think he does this because it is in his nature to reconcile the things that divide us as people in order that he might make us one new people united in him.

So, five years into this new motivation, we have seen Jesus time and again put us into relationships with people who are different than ourselves. Over these five years, beginning with that first outreach, we have become one church that worships in four languages and prays in more than a dozen. This isn’t without it’s challenges. In fact, it’s very hard to keep on reconciling all the people groups and maintaining unity in Christ. But we understand that this is why Jesus created the church: to be a place where differences are reconciled through the cross and we emerge a new people able to serve him.

What’s new at Zion as a result of that first outreach? Clothes closet, furniture to give away, meals for hundreds, field trips for schools, vans, buses, programs, ESL, summer Bible camps for lots and lots of kids, essential changes in every aspect of everything we do and why.

I simply lack the words to explain the extent of the changes that the first trip to Douglas Terrace brought about. But that change in motivation has created a place where there are daily miracles. In fact, I would posit that another change we’ve experienced is that we are now a church that expects the miraculous. We expect God to show up and do wonders. We expect him to provide. And we expect him to call us to do what we thought was impossible before.

Is there a cost to this kind of change? Of course. It’s high. But it’s totally worth it. It means living a messy life, the life of following Jesus which leads you into the lives of other people. It’s living as a missionary every day. It’s messy and complicated but also glorious and marvelous. And we can’t wait to see what’s next. Will you join us in praying for the next thing God is calling us to do? Thanks for reading. PJ

 

 

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

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.  

 

WOW

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. 

 

Preaching

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.

 

 

 

 

WiFi

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.  

 

Interns.

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

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.   

 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward

 

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

 

 

Mt 5:43-48

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

 

Luke 14:12-14

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

  

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

 

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

 

 

 

We’ve developed some philosophies:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What can we look forward to in 2013?

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

 

 

 

Dreams:

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

 

 

Conclusion:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Thanks for reading.  God bless.

PJ

 

 

 

 

 

 


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 2

Reggie McNeal.  

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

90+ times Jesus talks about the kingdom.  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Regularly ask your congregation these kind of questions:

What are you learning?

What are you experiencing?

How are you growing?

What did you learn about God?

 

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

 

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

Release business leaders into the marketplace. 

Release artists into the society. 

Release teachers into the classroom and school.  

Keep asking people, “How can you bless?”

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

How do we serve our community?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Breakout:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Question:  What is a missional community?

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

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

 

Or

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

 

Both may: 

Worship maybe once a month

Meet together based on the rhythm of the constituents

Be connected to a network

Be trained by established churches

 

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

 

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

 

Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ  

 

Rev. Reggie McNeal

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

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

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

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

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

 

Trying to keep up with a move of God

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Wednesday Night Tutoring Program Gets a New Name, New Structure

Every Wednesday night we're pleased to welcome to Zion nearly 200 children who are either refugees or the children of refugees.  Many are reading at grade level and speak English well and they are incorporating themselves into WOW, our “regular” Wednesday night program for kids, or the junior high or high school groups.  For the others, we try to work on homework or English reading.  This is our third year.  We've been blessed with tremendous growth, we started 3 years ago with 4 kids, and that fast growth has always been an organizational challenge.  Over the summer a group of committed people met to revamp the program.  Out of those meetings, which continue even now, came the new name.   We continue to try and "organize" in a human way what the Holy Spirit is doing.  

Instead of calling the tutoring program, Whiz Kidz, the new name is STARs.   Whiz Kidz came out of our beginnings as the first church based manifestation of the tutoring and discipling program of Freedom for Youth. We’ve never been able to keep up with the student/tutor ratio of that very good program, so we’ve decided that we have to go our own way.

STAR is an acronym which stands for the four purposes of the program:  

S - Serve.   We serve these children as if we are serving Christ himself.  Jesus wanted us to welcome the little children and in his name we do.  Many have needs for the basics of life and we try to meet those needs: food, clothing, shoes, coats, etc.  Many simply need a friend or role model and we try to be that as well.  

T - Teach.  Thanks to an influx of tutors from many different churches and a great number of Des Moines Christian High School students, we are now able to offer better opportunities to do homework with the kids and help them read.  Our content continues to be in the hands of a professional educator and we work closely with Samuelson School to discuss needs and techniques as many of the kids are in the ELL program there.  

A - Advocate.  Many of the parents of these kids don't know how things work in our country.  So we advocate for the kids in order that they might have the best opportunity to acclimate to our society and thrive in this good land.

R - Reach.  Everything we do is motivated by the love of Christ for us that pushes us beyond ourselves and into the lives of others.  We desire more than anything else to see these kids in the kingdom of God and so through song and drama and teaching, we seek to invite them to follow Jesus.  Our evangelism techniques are sometimes subtle and sometimes very overt. We try to match the approach to the activity and to the kids. Some are Muslim and some are Buddhist and some are Animist and some attend other churches and some now attend Zion and many have no faith background whatever.  It is a mission field ripe for harvest.  

Here is what a typical evening looks like: Vans leave to begin collecting kids at 4 p.m.  We have 2 full vans from an apartment complex about 20 minutes away.  By 5 p.m we are collecting kids from local complexes.  The kids play outside or, when it's cold or inclement, watch a movie inside.  At 5:45 everyone lines up for dinner.  At 6:20 we go to the sanctuary for our opening worship as a church together.  Afterwards, WOW kids go off to their activities and STAR kids stay for a presentation.  Then it's time to break into small groups and begin the learning phase.  We usually finish about 7:45 and start the buses running back home.  The last vans are back at Zion about 9 p.m. It is a day full of joy for those of us who volunteer.  

Would you like to help?   We can always use help as the number of kids continues to grow.  Would you like to work as a homework or reading helper?  A group leader of six or seven kids?  A van driver? (We especially need help in the late afternoon, 4-5:30 p.m.).  We need your help in the kitchen - there are many mouths to feed and many plates to wash.  We need your financial support as well.  It costs money to pay for the gas for the vans, for the food bill (about $1 per plate - amazing!)  We also need your prayers.  Please pray for the continued safety, success and salvation of these priceless children and that they may see Jesus in us.  Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

3 More New Things Happening At Zion

3 More New Things at Zion

 

1.)  A Movement to Work Together as Churches for the Sake of the Kingdom

In June, thanks to our reputation in the community as a church that is doing something incredibly positive, I was invited to share our testimony at the United Way Urban Core initiative (see my blog from June 2). 

 Now let me tell you what happened next.   Borrowing liberally from my friend, Pastor Al Perez’s comments:  As a follow up to that meeting, last month 16 pastors and Christian ministry leaders from diverse backgrounds and denominations met at Zion and had an open dialogue on how the church in Des Moines should move forward. This meeting was to bring together the best diverse group possible so that we could pinpoint our identity, our objectives, and how often it should meet. Needless to say, it was awesome! The bonding and relationships that were fostered left many of us excited and very confident of how we should move ahead.  We learned about some history in Des Moines that allowed us to understand why we have the division we have in our city. Soon, there will be opportunities opening up to hear from many different churches and ministries about what we will do together and how we can support mission and ministry together in our city.  This was the meeting that we wanted to have from the beginning but had no definitive direction or purpose for meeting. I am thrilled at what the Lord is doing with Pastors and Christian leaders. Please be praying also that the evil one will not thwart our plans.

 

Our third meeting was just a couple weeks ago and we met together with members of the former Black Ministers Alliance, now the Pastors/Ministers Alliance and other Black pastors.  There was a lot of truth telling and reconciliation began to break out.  I think we’re all conscious of the fact that before we can do ministry together as His One Church in the city of Des Moines, all of our pastors and churches need to publicly confess our sins and repent in a very public way together for a not so glorious past.    

 

I am personally excited and optimistic that with the leadership of Pastor Perez and others we will see a new attitude amongst the churches of Des Moines. 

 

 

2.)  Working with Johnston and Des Moines Schools to Create a Neighborhood Education Plan

When we began getting involved in our neighborhood intentionally about two years ago with the battle cry, Jesus Says, “Go!”, we created a list of 25 possible projects to work on that would immediately impact our community in a positive way.  One of those was “Create neighborhood education strategy.”  That sounds very impressive and it was one of those items that people had a hard time wrapping their minds around.  Why would a church seek to create an education strategy for the local school?  For the simple reason that we have so many immigrants in our local schools that the ability of those schools to provide English Language Learner (ELL) services is over taxed.  We haven’t enough money as a church to pay for more ELL teachers, but we thought we could seek to find ways to move some of the new students to other school districts.  It’s a long shot, to be sure, but we’ve met all the major players we need to make it happen and so far no one has said no.  Our current plan involves enrolling at least 10 ELL students in the preschool at Zion, called WEE.  Since Zion is in a unique position, being in the city of Des Moines but actually in the Johnston School District, we thought that if Johnston would agree to take those 10 kids after preschool at Zion into Kindergarten at Johnston, that would be a victory.  The big challenge is for the Des Moines schools to let go of those ELL students and the federal money tied to them.  So I ask for your prayers.  If it’s successful on a small scale, perhaps it could serve as a pilot program involving more suburban districts and perhaps even as a model for other districts.  We believe the most important thing is the education of the children rather than the money.  Please pray that everyone might have that same goal.  

 

3.)  Refugee Roundtable

Being a follower of Jesus is more than sharing the Gospel and welcoming people into the new community which is the church.  It’s also about helping them to meet their physical needs.  

 

At Zion, we subscribe to the philosophy that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish.  At least in the long term.  We believe that we need to honor the dignity of every family by helping them provide for themselves.  Many of our new immigrant families need jobs.   So we convened the first meeting of what, for now, we’re calling the Refugee Roundtable.  It is an idea we had two years ago and we’ve been joined in bringing it into reality by Nick Wuertz at Lutheran Services of Iowa who chairs the meetings.  

 

People new to this country need a lot of things but the most important thing they need is a job (a way to fish).  The idea is simple: let’s get those who serve refugees like the settlement agencies and those who support the new arrivals, including churches, together with employers and representatives of the immigrant community. 

 

The first meeting was a great success.  We’re now working on our second meeting which will take place at Zion before the month is over.  I’m looking for great things to come from these meetings.  Employers in Iowa are looking to hire, the new immigrants represent a large labor force looking for work, if we can find out how to teach the necessary skills to fill the jobs and figure out how to bridge the gaps, like transportation or translation, we’ll be able to work together to provide for the welfare of many, many families.  

 

I’m so optimistic about this Round Table.  I’m amazed at the quality of the people who are giving their professional lives to serve others.  I’m confident that God will use this group for His glory and for the benefit of all. 

Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  The Lord continues to amaze and impress.  PJ 

Thoughts on Hospitality

Mother Teresa said that Jesus travels the world in distressing disguises and that when you minister to people and welcome them you minister directly to him and welcome him.

 

The book of Hebrews tells us that followers of Jesus should provide hospitality because by so doing, many have entertained angels “unawares.”  

 

If people come to our worship services and don’t feel welcomed, no matter how good the music or the sermon or the programming or the class, they won’t be back. 

 

Hospitality is huge in Christian life.  But I don’t think we’re very good at it.  I think we’d all prefer to keep to ourselves.  Bringing in other people is always risky.   

 

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:13, commands the followers of Jesus to “practice hospitality.”  Besides welcoming people to our church, how do we, as modern day followers of Jesus practice hospitality?

 

Pastor Tina and her husband Mark opened their home to a young lady in recovery who desperately needed a home and parents.  This is a hug risk, of course, but Jesus calls us to come and die to ourselves and to our fears and trust him in radical acts of love.  Some of which are as simple as opening up our homes. 

 

Zion recently opened up the entire church facility to about 50 people who had a fire in their apartment building.  They were supposed to stay with us for 3 or 4 days max.  It turned into weeks.   While we had to make some changes around the church, it gave us all the opportunity to serve Jesus in this special way.  

 

I received a great gift of hospitality this summer.  Friends of ours took my wife and kids to the beach for a couple of days and left me  alone in their house with nothing to do but sit and pray and read my Bible.  Even the simple act of letting someone use what we’re not using can be a blessing and an encouragement.  

 

What am I saying?  Simply this.  As Christian we often tell people we love them.  But when we invite them in, open our homes, give them our food to eat, when we sit with them and listen to them and open all that we have to them, then, those words, “I love you,” mean something.  

 

It’s one thing to open our homes to those we know and love already.  But it’s a higher calling to open our homes, our lives, our church to those whom we don’t know yet, but who, through us, might encounter Jesus face to face. 

An Extraordinary Year

To God be the glory!  

Here is a list of many of the amazing things that Zion did together as a congregation during our fiscal year July 1, 2011- June 30, 2012.  This list is a testimony presented to you so that you can celebrate and give glory to God for his faithfulness.  There is no way that the list is complete, so if you see something that got left off, don’t take offense, just please let us know so that we can add it and celebrate it.  

I know it seems amazing that our congregation could be used to do so much in just a year. But with Christ all things are possible.  I’m so excited to share this list with you.  My prayer is that the next ministry year will be just as amazing.  To God be all the glory.  Thanks for your support, your prayers, your patience, and your participation.  

Peace, Joy, Love.

Pastor John

 

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

When I Was Homeless, You Gave Me a Home

When I Was Homeless, You Gave Me a Home

 

Matthew 25 doesn’t actually say, “When I was homeless, you gave me a home.”  But it does say that strangers, aliens, visitors, who have no where to go, are welcomed.  Maybe we could paraphrase Jesus by saying, “When I had nowhere to go, you gave a place to lay my head.”  There just isn’t any debate among the followers of Jesus that finding shelter for those without shelter is a Jesus honoring task and falls under ministering to “the very least of these.”  

 

Two weeks ago we got to see God really move in providing for his people.  

 

At the beginning of the week we were notified about the plight of a young woman with two small children in a dangerous living situation that had nowhere to stay after June 30.  So we prayed and asked God to help and then broadcast her need to the congregation and the world on e-mail and Facebook.  Within hours we’d heard back from two families, one from Zion and one from Hope, who were interested in helping.  We set up a meeting and now, we’re pleased to announce that the young family has free housing for at least the next six months between the two families.  This should allow for ample time for her to get back on her feet and find a suitable long term solution.  And of course, we’ll be there to help.  Someone is even interested in hiring her full time.  

 

Then, at the end of the week, God provided a break through in another situation.  A man we’ve been helping by providing transitional housing just got a letter from Des Moines Municipal Housing offering him a place.  We immediately went down and saw the nice apartment and secured his future home.  One of the best things about his new arrangement is that there is a social worker on site who will help him get connected to more of the benefits he might qualify to receive.  We’re so glad that Municipal Housing found a place.  We’re so honored to have helped keep him find a place in the meantime  for the year it took for an apartment to become available.  

 

For over five months we’ve been working as a church with a young addict.  It’s been a beautiful thing to watch her emerge as a sober, happy person.  She has struggled valiantly through prayer and a stubborn desire to be free of her past and addiction.  Every day is a struggle.  We are so grateful to God for bringing her into our lives.  She needed a church to walk with her.  She needed multiple families and people to help her through these times by giving time, rides, sometimes money, and most of all, love.  I’m so thankful to Pastor Tina and her husband Mark, who stood up for this lovely woman in court and volunteered to open their house to her.  It was an amazing act of bravery and courageousness.  Sometimes to serve the least of these like you’d serve Jesus you have to throw open your house and offer everything you have.  

 

I’m thinking about Christian life as  stewardship of what we’ve been given.  Nowhere does Jesus say we’re to pay our 10% and be done with it.  Instead, Jesus frequently tells us that if we are truly to follow him, we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross.  In other words, he wants it all.  But why shouldn’t he?  We often tell people that all they have is a gift from God.  Sometimes, He might want to use it to help others.  Sometimes He might want it all back.  But if  it was his in the first place, that shouldn’t be a problem, right?

 

Sadly, we too often get caught up trying to set limits on God.  It’s his church, we say, but we resist with all our might “giving it away.”  It’s all his money, but we too often find excuses for not letting him use it.  It’s all his time, but we have so many pre-prepared lectures on healthy boundaries and needing time for ourselves or time for our families.  I’m sure all of these have a grain of truth in them.  But when the Master calls, the servants respond.  We are the servants.  He is the Master.  We live to serve him whenever and wherever he calls us, and with whatever he’s given us to 

 

These are really wonderful stories with happy endings.  I’m reminded how God is always faithful.  Sometimes you have to hang on for a long time, but He has a plan and He never stops providing.  As a church we’ve decided to keep doing what we felt God was calling us to do:  to be the arms and hands and legs of Jesus and help people in need.  He has always been faithful and we can testify to the miraculous things He’s done in our midst.  Trusting God with the little you have tends to grow your faith, and I think exercises like these grow the faith of the entire congregation.  We’ve learned to trust God to provide together and I think that’s grown us in unity and faith.  At the end of the day, there is no denying the relationship between a vibrant, growing faith and obedience.  If you want your faith to be alive and grow, you have to do what God says.  You have to care for the least of these.  And that means you have to step out in faith and take risks.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ 

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Ramblings about God, the Church and Everything.

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