Sunday, September 12, 2010

International Mentorship and Partnership Dreams

It was a pleasure in late August this year to host Pastor Kaspars Simanovics, current lead pastor at Luther’s Church, in Riga, Lativa, my old hometown ( . He and his wife, Ilze, were guests of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Marion, Iowa, and Zion.

The opportunity to serve as hosts for Kaspars and Ilze brought opportunities for two pastors from different countries to talk about ministry and exchange notes. I really benefited from the exchange on a personal and spiritual level. Kaspars reminded me of the many things we share in common as pastors. Things like visiting the sick, teaching classes to new, young, and maturing believers, doing weddings, funerals and baptisms. Sure there are differences, like volume (his church is bigger than mine), technology (he needs to get on Facebook, blog), etc. His own experience and his way of pastoring served to stimulate and challenge me. It was a great exchange. We were able to share ideas, joys, and frustrations.

His visit also reminded me of a dream I once had many, many years ago. My wife and I were leading mission trips yearly to Jamaica to a partner church where we had been for several years. The pastor, Glenn Stoddart, and I had developed a good friendship over the years. We had long talks in his cool, dark, breeze block office while our congregations worked on various construction projects and did a children’s ministry together. Together we discussed the art of pastoring, and talked about spiritual things that transcended our different contexts and situations. Our conversations were so encouraging and up-lifting that we dreamed together about how wonderful it would be to be able to work together for half a year in each other’s congregations, just for the shear pleasure of combing our two different sets of experiences and backgrounds for the furtherance of God’s kingdom. We realized that living in the US had shaped me to be of use in some things and that living and serving the Lord in Jamaica had prepared him for other things, but that together, we had a wealth of experience. We each had different resources, different solutions, different approaches. We realized we had much to offer each other and therefore much to offer our congregations.

Glenn and I posited that understanding a different culture may lead us as pastors to have more patience and a better understanding of our own culture and congregation. It would help us both to think “outside the box” about doing mission and facing challenges in our congregations. Not to mention one of the best gifts of such an exchange: a better sense of what it means to be part of a global church.

I hope one day that our dreams come true. I hope one day it will be possible for pastors, who love and respect each other, to work together in each other’s countries and contexts, in order to further develop our Christian leadership skills and build up and mentor and encourage one other.


  1. Id be all for pastors just around the block working together. Any thoughts on why it is that everyone seems to always talk about working together and being one church, yet when it comes to doing it never happens (Im not directing this at Zion by any means)


  2. Great comment, Trav. It got me thinking. You're right that we need to have this kind of relationship in our own community. And I think I do. I meet regularly with two different pastors and occasionally with others, plus the citywide prayer group. So, yes, we need this for personal spiritual growth and accountability. And to work together. But I think cross cultural or cross border is important too. The local is like rehearsing with local musicians who play the same kind of music you do. The other is like mixing genres, fusing say ranchero and Senegalese. It leads to major movements and startling innovations. It pushes buttons, challenges assumptions, etc. Like a jazz guitarist learning from a flamenco master, it profoundly affects your style. Or so I would posit.

  3. Oh yes. I totally agree! And i didnt mean to degrade the cross cultural learning at all. But on a larger community/city scale, what is it that keeps church families from working together in a city? Maybe youve answered it before with the "offering plate" theory. But on a sunday morning just walk down to the methodist church across the way and worship there. Or mission work, hosting events with other church etc. There seems to be some boundary that stops a lot of people from doing that, yet a lot of people still talk about being "one" church. two contradictory statements. just makes me ponder.


  4. Relax, T. No offense and I'm hardly on the defensive. Your previous point was well made, I just didn't even think about it because seeking to form partnerships with other churches/mission orgs is such a part of how I'm wired.

    Now to your recent point: my answer is, "Yes. The offering plate controls evrything." I've written before that I believe we have to break our congregational dependance upon weekly offerings. Having to pass the plate makes it hard to be a "church on the go" which we're called to be (Mt 28:19ff). How do we divide up the offering if we do stuff with other churches? Ultimately, the answer should be: "who cares? Give it to the church that's struggling." In the New Testament that's how it was done. Churches blessed churches with offerings.

    But we have a lot of stuff in our overhead. We know it costs nearly $600k to keep our individual congregation going (at a minimum). So suppose we didn't have paid staff (that's about $300k/yr). Well, there are consequences. It's a real blessing to have dedicated people working full time in ministry. If we don't spend the money on it, we'll lose some mojo in the "programming" we do. So then consider that the type, style, and perceived success of your programming is what frequently brings new people to your church in this age of consumer Christianity.

    So let's cut out the building. That saves us $300k a year. Think of the mission we can do. We'll have to find a place to meet, a place that can accomodate roughly 400+ people a week. Are we doing kids stuff? Then we need some break out rooms for them. Nursery? Sure, we could do away with all programing and say that kids out to be in the services but it will impact who continues to want to go to a church like that. Plus, more than likely, you'll have to pay rent.

    So then I think, well, we meet in a multi-use facility which we own. In other words, when we need it (Weds and Sundays?) it's ours and we have the space we want/need. The rest of the time it's a (insert your idea here)... convention center? funeral home? restaurant? retail space? warehouse?

    Staff is a blessing. Maybe the future won't allow us to afford it. But for now, it's a huge and necessary part of how we're organized. Building? Not absolutely necessary but desirable because we can't meet in a tent year round in Iowa.

    So the future of church in North America will be interesting. How can we be like the New Testament church and urge each other on? Some will do house churches, but they aren't for everyone. Some will merge with other congregations to combine resources. Some will keep doing what they are doing. Some will go to multi-use facilities and bi-vocational staffs. But the big obstacle is how to do church without money making us afraid to do mission.

  5. Growing up in a small town, I can remember that once a year pastors would change churches and on another day choirs would change churches. It was a great experience to hear, say a Presbyterian pastor provide the homily for the day and vise-versa, then hear the voices from unfamiliar faces praise Our Lord.

    Earlier this summer I can remember Zion made a commitment through the internet to follow a set of services uplifting a “one church” theme. Does the church and do we continue to lift up and promote that idea or does it become a passing moment in time that fades as we move forward with other concerns.

    Praise to you Pr. John for thinking out of the box.

  6. I agree with the dialogue. Another point to consider is the reason churches split in the first place. Most splits have involved differences in doctrine and priorities mixed with pride.
    Going from church to church does have advantages but I do not think that is what God wants as a rule.
    “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

  7. Dear Asnoweeriver,
    Thanks for your comments.  God deserves all the praise, not me.
    I think it's very hard to change the mindset of how we do church.  I am committed to broadening our perspective at Zion to reflect what I think is a kingdom imperative:  we are one church.  It's very hard to overcome our worries and insecurities as pastors.  If you bring in other local pastors to preach, your flock might decide they'd rather follow the better preacher.  If you encourage your flock to go and support other churches, maybe you won't be able to pay your bills. 

    Here are some things we have done or are doing or will do in the near future.  Please don’t see this as a “praise Zion” thing. I simply hope they show a commitment to being more intentional about being One church.   

    Every Sunday morning we pray with the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran.
    We Provide tech support to Redeemer as needed.
    Redeemer has Kevin come over and do music, Brent to come preach.
    I attend the Des Moines monthly pastors prayer meeting, with about 16 other pastors.
    This Sunday we'll be inviting the church to go with us and other churches to Evelyn Davis Park to pray.
    Enrique Estrada will be meeting our team this month. He is a pastor from Monterry, Mexico.
    Our Mission trip to Mexico is done in partnership with Church of the Cross in Altoona.
    The last Mhezi mission trip to Tanzania was done with St. Peter's in Grimes (which a Zion pAstor planted a 100 years ago).
    I have Lunch with a pastor on the south side about next years One Church campaign and we plan to participate again.
    We Promote other church's events and seminars
    I try to attend ordinations and events at other churches when I can.
    We participated in Meals from the Heartland for the third year along with lots and lots of other churches.
    We joined other churches in joining IHN and using Zion as a shelter on a quarterly basis.
    Whiz Kids Tutoring is a project of Freedom for Youth, which considers itself an extension of the church.
    We Don't reinvent the wheel, we use other churches programs and ideas (with their permission).
    I've asked the Board to join me in praying for a relationship (possibly involving space sharing) with a congregation from a different ethnic group.
    Pastor Kaspars Simonovics, from Luthers Chirch, Riga, Latvia, was our guest.
    We continue to be open to sharing the pulpit with missionaries, ministry leaders and even other pastors.

  8. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." ESV

    Too often the church has the heart of the Pharisee and not the heart (and doctrine) of the tax collector.

  9. Trav is right. The church is poorly united.

    God requires perfection. We have fallen short of his standard.

    John is right. All the many good things that he is doing is through God’s grace upon him. But John still fails to be perfectly untied to the whole church.

  10. So, the only way we can be in right standing with God and each other is to confess our sins and imperfections. We must confess faith in the completed perfect atoning work of Jesus Christ. We must have faith in God’s promise that he has given us Christ’s righteousness. Our righteousness will never come through a list of things we did for the kingdom.