Saturday, June 18, 2011

New Directions, New Challenges

My current working theory: As we seek to minister in Jesus’ name to the people in our neighborhood, it requires us to become more open to them and to their needs. As we become more open to new people in our church, it means we become more open to change in order to accommodate our new friends and to make them feel welcome. As we accommodate more, our structures and styles have to change more.

Case in point: we are seeing a wonderful thing happening with people on the fringes of our society coming to church at Zion. Zion has always been very open to people with various physical handicaps. Now, we’re seeing the Lord bring us people with various other conditions, including mental disabilities and other conditions which make it difficult for them to “fit in with the rest of society.”

Praise the Lord!

We recognize right away that this is a big part of the audience that Jesus would seek to reach. The fact that the crowd on Sundays and/or Wednesdays includes such folks, I think, means that we are continuing along the path of obedience the Lord has called us to follow.

The participation of such folks in the life of the body means that we need to find ways to help them, where appropriate, and, in Jesus’ name, welcome them.

The issue on my mind these days is just how “un-set up to do ministry” we are as a church. This is what I mean: Want to be baptized? We can do that. Want to worship? We do that. Sunday School? Got it. Spiritual questions? Equipped to handle that. Outreaches, missions? Got ‘em.

But come to us with the basics: “I have no where to live.” “I’m hungry.” “I need work.” And we hem and haw and don’t know what to do. Now add to that: “Oh, by the way, I’m schizophrenic.” “I’m homeless.” And we don’t know what to do.

In the past, we’ve been able to accommodate maybe one person at a time. “I’m an offender and I need a job.” We’ve done that. Praise God. But this recent development requires us to stretch. A guy off the street with no housing and no job who wants to follow Jesus requires a whole new approach. An approach we’re not exactly set up for. It would be easier if he wanted Sunday School or Bible Study.

All this came to a head for me this weekend. Apparently, a local business where one of our members works, has been letting a homeless man, a Christian, live in his broken car in their parking lot for the last few weeks. Individual members of our church have been taking him grocery shopping and giving him gift cards. It’s a beautiful thing. But here’s the deal: what’s the long term situation? A single man can live in his car in Iowa in the spring and summer, but not in the winter. We eventually have to find a solution.

Isn’t that why we are church together? To help this brother, a member of the same body we are, find his legs and stand? But how? He needs a place to stay, a place to work, and someone to hold him accountable. It would be great if individual members could do this, but once you consider people’s schedules, our fear of liability issues, the very real fact that this is new to us as a way of doing church (the homeless didn’t used to be our target audience - but Jesus seems to be changing that!), it gets complicated. We really need someone on this more or less full time.

And that’s my big thought for the day. Isn’t it interesting how most churches, including ours, are set up to do ministry? We are set up to meet, first and foremost, the needs of our members. We have a staff member who runs the office for us, one who runs adult discipleship, another who runs children’s discipleship and one who runs youth discipleship and one who runs worship. And me, who preaches and teaches and gets us into stuff. But, in our structure, we’ve no one tasked with ministering to the very least of these. And isn’t that significant? Didn’t Jesus tell us, “whatsoever you do for the least of these, my brethren, you do to me?” Shouldn’t we be set up to minister more to Jesus (as his body) than to minister to ourselves?

So I have a lot of “stuff” churning around in my mind. Obviously it isn’t as simple as I’ve laid it out. Obviously, our various staff do minister to our regular attenders and to the neighborhood and so on. But isn’t it odd how the answer to the man living in the car is really just Christian community and we’re not set up to be that? I find it strange, scandalous and wonderful to be in this position all at the same time. All the more so because I believe the Lord is calling us to again stretch and trust him in obedience.

Thanks for reading. I’m open to your thoughts and comments. God bless you. PJ


  1. You ask for help or direction for our lost sheep, and yet the motel next to and including what was the North End Dinner, has been sitting empty for several years.

    Or can a shower be installed in the South end of the basement and begin to utilize the kitchen in that area of our Church for our lost sheep.

  2. Thanks for the comments. We have men's and women's showers already installed on the north side of the basement. The guys use the showers at Zion on Sunday mornings currently. Our hunt for "transitional" housing that might include some kind of accountability continues. The man I was speaking about just got a job, we'll provide a bike equipped with night gear for him as his first transport. After finding a place to stay, he can start saving for a vehicle. If you're suggesting the hotel next to North End Diner as a place for housing people, I really like that. We'd need permission from somebody and some on site supervision. I'll pray about it and see what happens.