Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why We Want to Call a Burmese Pastor

Part I:  Quick Overview
Look at all the exciting things that God is doing at Zion Church!  
  • The pews are filling up with those people who ministries and individuals within in the church are helping out of homelessness and other forms of poverty. 
  • There are now 150+ kids from local apartment complexes, most of them refugees, who regularly attend our Wednesday night programming.  As many as we can transport coming to Sunday School.  
  • We are now serving 267 hot meals on Wednesday nights.
  • We have Arabic speaking Muslims attending on a regular basis.  They come to us for information about Jesus (Arabic Alpha), for help in getting established in our community, and for fellowship.
  • We are in the local elementary school every week helping to tutor kids.  We also provide transportation to an ever growing group of children to and from school.  We now provide weekend meals for 24 children identified by the school as not having adequate nutrition apart from the school breakfast and lunch programs.
  • We live and worship in a changing neighborhood.  More and more of our friends and neighbors are from other countries or are otherwise different from us. 
  • We are celebrating one year together with the Mizo people from Burma.  We have a service at 1:00 p.m. on Sundays in the Mizo language.  We provide pastoral acts like weddings, sermons, visitations, prayers, communion, guidance and assistance for nearly 300 Burmese/Mizo members at Zion.  
  • We have a good history of joint projects with our Burmese members including their financial participation in the new van, the new soundboard, the new carpet, cash gifts to the church, and our joint work in the community gardens and cleaning projects.  We are now ready to take our relationship to the next level.  It’s time to hire a pastor who will help us all bridge the remaining gaps so that we can truly be one church together and will be able to minister to needs our Burmese members have that our current pastoral staff cannot meet.  
Part 2:  Benefits to Zion of Being a Multi-Ethnic Church:
  • Biblical Faithfulness.  God will be honored by calling a Burmese pastor.  The mystery of the Gospel, Paul says in Ephesians 3:6, is that the Gentiles are now co-heirs with the Jews in God’s salvation plan.  That means that every nation is invited to enter the Kingdom of God.  Heaven will not have a Jewish section and a Gentile section, an African section or and Asian section, we’ll all be there together, falling down and worshipping the Lamb together.  When we worship here on earth as we will in heaven, we show the world and ourselves that Jesus is Lord (John 17) and that the Gospel is our new community which tears down the things that have formerly divided us (see Ephesians 2 and 3).  It is God’s intention to unite all things in Christ, and that includes the races.  See the miraculous story of the spread of the Church in Acts:  it spread across the world, uniting groups formerly divided by race, origin, belief, age, income, education, ability, etc.  When we open our hearts and our church to those who are different from ourselves but share our love of Jesus the Savior, we bring a smile to His face and do something beautiful for Jesus.
  • Authenticity in our Neighborhood.  If we wanted to remain a white, mostly suburban church, we should have sold the building by now and moved away.  But we are committed to stay in this neighborhood.  If we are to minister to this neighborhood with integrity, we need to look like the neighborhood.  The neighborhood to our immediate east is defined by Zion on the West and Thai Village and the Vietnamese Culture House and Museum on our East.  All the statistics we have indicate that Asians will be a major part of our immediate neighborhood for the next generation.  Having an Asian pastor helps us reflect to the neighborhood that we are serious about welcoming them to Zion and to the kingdom of God.  
  • Consistency for Our Membership.  I asked the Friday morning men’s group  a year ago how they thought people in our church would react to being a multi-ethnic church family.  They all responded the same way:  “Why should our church be any different than our kid’s school or our workplace?”  And they’re right.  Twenty five percent of our city is non-white, why wouldn’t our church reflect that?  I personally wonder if the segregation of most churches is a reason that our young people think we’ve failed to accurately reflect Jesus in our churches.  Having a Burmese pastor shows our membership and our world that we are serious about ministering to the people we serve.
  • Spiritual Growth.  The most exciting benefit to being a multi-ethnic church is that we will all grow spiritually.  Why?  Two BIG reasons.  1.)  When you teach, you grow.  There are things that the Mizo members can teach us and things we can teach them.  We will grow together in Christ because we’ll be teaching what we believe and that will stretch us.  Neither of us in perfect, we’re all human.  All of us are sinners.  But our experiences of God in our various contexts will serve as curriculum that will help us share the great and glorious Gospel with each other.  2.)  Because we’re different, we’ll have to stretch together and learn how to live out the Gospel of forgiveness and grace.  We’ll actually have to do what the Bible says:  bear with each other; speak the truth in love; forgive as the Lord has forgiven us; be patient, be quick to reconcile.  We’ll learn all these things.  We’ll have to have a relationship that is open and honest and full of integrity.  Our leadership will have to be completely transparent.  And we’ll have to learn how to communicate as Jesus loving people across different cultural platforms.  All of us will.  And this will help us grow immensely.  We’ll have to live what it is that we believe every time we come together.  As a pastor, I can’t think of a better exercise to make us practice what it is that we preach.  
  • We will grow our future membership.  What I mean by this is simply that there are many people in this city, both believers and those we are still considering the reality of Christ, that are waiting for the kingdom to be realized in this particular way.  They will respond positively to a church that seeks to bring the nations together under Christ.  I forecast that many are tired of being segregated and are longing to worship God with brothers and sisters from all over the earth.  Calling a Burmese pastor will help us grow the church numerically as well.
  • A Preview of Heaven.  When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together we call it a “fore-taste of the feast to come,” meaning that we will celebrate it all together when we reach the bright shores of Heaven and are One with Him who is One with us and with the Father.  How better to celebrate this feast together as people from every tribe and race, tongue and nation.  This visual will be a powerful reminder for us all at Zion that our true home is in Heaven and we shall be there together.  
  • Ability to Teach Other Churches.  Not a month goes by when we don’t get an inquiry from a pastor or a church or members of another church about what we’re doing.  We even get donations to help us!  Other churches want to know how to do the things that we’re doing.  It is God who does them, not us.  What we have to share is a testimony about how great our God is, and how Faithful He is, and about how, if you surrender to Him, He will come and show every church how to do mission and how to integrate with others who are different. 
Part 3:  The Benefits of a Burmese Pastor
  • The first is obvious:  calling a Burmese pastor will helps us minister to a group that is now as much as 25% of our church.
  • Calling a Burmese pastor will help us increase communication across our entire church.  Right now our situation is this:  for nearly 300 Burmese members, we have only 2 translators.  Those translators work full time, have growing families, and also have to translate for everyone who has to fill out paperwork, receives mail, or wants to buy a car or register something.  They are soooo busy that communication across the entire church suffers.  I can’t make a home visit or go to a meeting without a translator.  If we really need them, they have to drop everything and come and help.  Having a pastor on staff will allow us to have a translator available to us full time.  Translation is important.  It’s a major deal to invite the 1:00 service to come to a meal or event.  Everything has to be translated at this stage.  Sometimes, we’re not able to get it done in a timely matter and we are all deprived of each other’s company as a result.  We need a full time pastor to help us bridge the communication divide.
  • Integration.  We need to be one church, not two.  Think about all the things we could do together:  mission work, church suppers, Family Camp, family exchanges, prayer requests, celebrations, picture directories...etc.  The list is endless.  But we need help, full time help, to bridge the language and cultural divides.  Having a Burmese pastor on staff will help us bridge these gaps, and help us all get educated in cross cultural relationships so we can figure out how to work with our members from Liberia, Sudan and other places.
  • Neighborhood Outreach.  The pastor we will call will speak Mizo, our particular dialect, but also English and Burmese.  Our Burmese refugees are made up of many different ethnic groups and if they speak a common language, it’s Burmese.  That means that with the hep of the new pastor, we might be able to communicate to many more families at Samuelson School, within our WEdnesday night programming as well.  Imagine our frustration when some of the neighborhood kids who come on Wednesdays are asking about baptism and we can’t communicate with their parents!  Having a Burmese speaking pastor might help us breach this gap in many, many cases.
  • For the Edification of the Entire Congregation.  Imagine what it will be like to learn from a pastor who grew up and ministered across the planet from us.  Imagine what his testimony is like, living and preaching in a country that does not acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but actively persecutes the Church!  Oh!  How much we have to learn and how we will all be built up and edified together as a church with his teaching!   
Part 4:  The Details.
  • Our Denomination, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, Supports us Fully.  We’ll need help with the visa and immigration papers for this pastor.  LCMC has pledged to support us fully and are very, very excited about the ministry Zion is doing in our neighborhood.  They seek ways to encourage us.  
  • How Do We Pay For This?  Regular offerings from the 1:00 service which are currently being “saved” are more than sufficient to pay for new pastor’s salary and benefits.  Each month, funds will be given to the General Fund from the 1:00 service to pay for the expenses related to this new position.
  • Procedure.  The procedure to call this pastor is pretty straight forward.  Here it is: 
    • solicit list of candidates (on going)
    • work on job description (on going)
    • assemble call committee.  The call committee will be made up of 1:00 service members, Pastor John and someone from the BSO.  
    • interviews (mostly phone and Skype).  Will be done by the call committee.  
    • offer/acceptance.  They say “yes!”   
    • visas/green card.  Paper work.  
    • credentialing.  We’ll work with LCMC to get our new pastor certified with the LCMC. 
    • Job Description.  The job description will include the following:
      • minister to particular needs of Mizo members
      • preaching/teaching/pastoral acts for entire congregation
      • aid in integrating Mizo with entire congregation
      • neighborhood outreach and mission
      • new effort for fully integrated student/children ministry
  • Who Will Provide Supervision?  Pastor John as lead pastor and a joint task force of the BSO and 1:00 service.  
Conclusion:  The Future of the 10:30 Service.
We didn’t feel called to be a land lord.  We didn’t want to rule over our 1:00 service.  So when they came to us asking for help over a year ago, we asked them to simply join the church.  We continue to believe that God doesn’t want another ethnically specific church in Des Moines.  We believe He wants to make us one.  Zion was a German speaking congregation for 60 years.  We nearly died.  In order to do mission in our world, we need to speak the language of the culture.  The Mizo kids are learning English quickly.  Our Wednesday night neighborhood kids, too.  Where will they worship?  Probably not in the language of their parents.  Who will they marry?  Probably not someone who speaks their dialect.  We have a unique opportunity to provide these kids and their future families a place to worship together in English.  So we’re offering the 10:30 service to become more “global” in it’s style.  Call it the World Beat Service, perhaps.  We already worship monthly with Pastor Gakunze’s Swahili speaking congregation.  Why not add everyone in the neighborhood into that mix.  The songs will be in English and other languages, the sermons, too.  But we’ll be one.  Worshipping together the One God.  And this, I believe, will be something beautiful for Jesus.  Thanks for reading.  PJ 

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