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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.   


Why the Lead Pastor Is Not at the 10:30 Service for Much of the Summer

Wednesday nights during the school year, we have a joyous time offering Jesus and English language tutoring to a bunch of refugee kids and other kids who were born here.  Some of our most challenging kids are from the Karenni people group.  There are a bunch of them.  They are overwhelmingly boys, through and through.  They like to be up front during the worship time.  They jump up and down to the music and then summersault off the stage.  They like to climb the walls behind the stage.  They frequently drive the volunteers and other dinner guests we might have at church to distraction.  Which isn’t surprising.  Most of them have no contact with our society outside of school and Wednesday night church.  


But they have come so far.  The teachers at the local elementary tell me that many of them have started to pray before they eat their lunch.  And, in His Infinite Wisdom and Mercy, the Almighty has laid these kids on my heart.  They need Jesus.  They need discipline.  They need someone to care about them.


Wednesday nights are over for the summer.  So is Sunday School.  The Wednesday and Sunday volunteers have done an amazing job soldiering on with ever increasing numbers of kids.  I am very, very grateful.  But what will happen to these Karenni kids over the summer.  Sure we have a few outreaches.  Sure we have Bible School and Art Camp.  But I can’t help feeling we’ll lose some of the amazing growth we’ve seen if we don’t keep at it. 


A few weeks ago at church I shared my concerns with a dear lady.  She told me that God undoubtedly wanted us to continue.  But how?, I asked.  After all, our volunteers have done a heroic job and need a rest and frankly, we can’t field a relief team right now.  There just aren’t enough of us.  She was quite sure we had to keep at it.  


Keep in mind, please, that the Karenni kids are more than likely to be recipients of our Back Pack Buddies program where we supply food for the weekend to kids identified by the school as being in need over the weekend.   They need food, too.  


So three weekends ago, a solution presented itself.   We were having a joint worship service at the 10:30 service with Pastor Gakunzi’s church and a big lunch afterwards.  Why not invite the Karenni kids?  No one I talked to about this really thought they’d show up.  But they did.  About 10 boys.  I put them in the front row at the 10:30 service.  They joined the kids on the stage for worship in English and when the Swahili songs started they still danced.  Then the preaching started and my wife, seated at the other end of the row, turned deathly pale.  She knew what could happen next.  Kids swinging from the chandeliers.  Kids summersaulting off the stage.  Kids climbing over the back of the pews.  Yet more people getting fed up with ill behaved kids.  I found one other person willing to help.   The preaching was in Swahili and translated.  We all thought I’d have to take the kids out.  But I didn’t.  God showed up.  (In church, imagine that!).  The kids watched the preacher.  After a while they started to imitate (but not in a mean way) his hand gestures.  It was as if they’d never realized that the hands could be used in talking.  The little boy next to me picked up my hands and started to form them in similar gestures to Pastor Gakunzi’s.  It worked.  We all made it to lunch and everyone ate as much as they could and ran off to play on the playground.  God is good.  All the time.  


So the next week we invited them back.  There was a guest preacher from South Sudan.  He didn’t mind if I missed the 10:30 service so I could talk about Jesus with a bunch of kids.  After all, his job is planting new churches.  Miraculously, previously that week, during a board meeting, I discovered seven minute Bible studies online in the Kayah language.  We sent the van.  It came back with five kids and five adults for Sunday School.  We stayed with the big group until the offering and then left when the Arabic Alpha folks leave for their Arabic teaching.  We went to the cafeteria and watched a Bible Study in the Kayah Li language on the big screen.  Then we talked about it.  The adults asked for ESL classes.  The kids heard about Adam and Eve and sin.  One young boy, Tawh Rey, said, “Pastor John, Everything was good.  Adam and Eve ate the apple and everything changed.  It became bad.  Can it ever be good again?”  Oh.  Let me tell you the Gospel.  Thank you, Jesus.  And they listened.  


Last week they came back.  Ten kids and 3 adults and one helper from the 1:00 Mizo service.  Pastor Tina is preaching for the next three weeks so I’m free at 10:30.  Let me tell you about that helper, Zuali, a young lady in High School, and my helper in this Sunday School venture.  She is so good with the kids.  


I am so pleased to tell you that we have ESL classes for the adults.  The teacher would even like to go every day with the adults during the summer.  The ten kids watched another lesson and then we did the salvation message with them.  I know that later this summer there will be some baptisms.  I’m so pleased, so amazed, so thankful.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Zuali.  Thank you, Zion.  Thank you, for your patience.  Thank you for letting your pastor do missionary work over the summer.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ  


For more about the Karenni people, please see:  http://www.karennirefugees.com/



P.S.  Would you like to help?  I’m taking volunteers!  

Ramblings about God, the Church and Everything.

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