Yesterday Zion Church did something historic and faithful. We voted unanimously to call a Mizo and English speaking pastor. Here is the resolution:
WHEREAS Zion Lutheran Church desires to meet the needs of our Mizo members for Pastoral Care in their native language, have a staff position to act as community and cultural liaison within our ethnic neighborhood, and provide cultural guidance to programs at Zion; RESOLVED that Zion create a position of Associate Pastor to fill the duties above, and in line with the job description for this position.
We have a strong candidate in Myanmar (Burma) that I’ll tell you about later. Our next step is to interview and then formerly call the pastor at a special congregational meeting scheduled for September.
Why do want to take this extraordinary step as a 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 and 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 Community Center on the 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 each other what we believe and that will stretch us. None of us is perfect, we’re all human. All of us are sinners. But our experiences of God in our various contexts will serve as a 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 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.
What are the Benefits of another pastor?
- The first is obvious: calling a Burmese pastor will helps us minister to a people group that is now as much as 25% of our church membership.
- 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 in their ethnic community. They are so 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 help of the new pastor, we might be able to communicate to many more families at Samuelson School and 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! How much we have to learn and how we will all be built up and edified together as a church with his teaching!
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 Mizo 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 nation. The Mizo kids are learning English quickly. Our Wednesday night neighborhood kids, too. Where will they worship? Probably not in the church that only uses the anguage 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