Working Together as God’s One Body

Kevin Kieschnick–LINCNewOrleans

Often Christian churches are hesitant or unwilling to cross denominational lines. We praise God that’s not the case in urban New Orleans. On Saturday May 19th, some 75 people gathered from three neighborhoods and three congregations to join together in a time of fun, games, and relationship! People from Journey 9th Ward on Alvar Street in the St. Claude neighborhood were there, as well as folks from Grace Baptist on Rampart in the Bywater, and St. Paul in the Marigny.

People from all three churches brought food and drinks to share. Some St. Paul folks organized games for the kids that were there, and the neighborhood enjoyed the smell of freshly grilled burgers and hot dogs. There was fried chicken, red beans & rice, German potato salad, and lots more!

Leaders from the three churches say that they hope we can make this a regular event, so that relationships can be initiated and grow, and we can work together as God’s one body to share the love of Jesus with the people in our adjacent neighborhoods. Thanks to all who put time and effort to make this such a special event, as well as all of who came to support the event! See you next time!

The Complexity of the Church Van

Rick Droog–Siouxland Diaconal Conference

From Kurt & Emily Rietema’s stories of life and love in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas published in the February 2012 edition of  “the Minute”.

This past week a neighborhood teenager put a message on Twitter that said, “You know you’re living in a ghetto when the church vans come in for spring break.” I laughed immediately when I heard it. It was loaded with all the pithy irony of a political newspaper cartoon. I saw the van myself. In fact, it was a van of college students coming to serve alongside us. I cringed when I saw the windows, slathered in orange window paint with Jesus-y messages about what they were intending to do in Argentine.  That teenager’s tweet was so poignant to me because it encrypted volumes of social angst, philosophical treatises on  religious crusading, and cultural commentaries on the idiosyncratic vacationing habits of affluent, white adolescents–all in 140 characters or less. She was bringing to the surface tensions that I’ve only begun to have eyes to see by living here among people who, to state it bluntly, aren’t educated, middle-class, evangelical whites like myself. What I think that girl was getting at in her tweet is that no one likes to feel like someone else’s charity case.  She was getting at the psychological damage that happens when you’re living in a ghetto–not simply the obvious dangers of knowing that kids in the neighborhood are packing concealed Glocks, but the more subtle dangers of knowing that some zealous kid is roaming about her neighborhood with Jesus in his quiver and there’s a target on her chest. The subtext to what she was saying was, “I don’t need to be reminded once again through the haloed glow emanating from your white vans that we’re poor and in need of a savior.”

Coincidentally, a week before, a coworker of mine shared an altogether different story about another church van.  My friend grew up in a prototypical biker family if there ever was such a thing. Her parents would leave home with their biker friends, get smashed, come home, go back to low-wage jobs they detested, and do it all over again the next week while my friend and her brother found themselves mixed up in the chaos of it all. Her mom caught her dad cheating on her and did absolutely nothing about it. They’d often come home and find their parents smoking pot like it was as routine as making a pot of Folgers. There was only one escape for her–a church van that showed up at her house every Sunday. While her parents were still strung out, my friend and her brother would be whisked away into another world and into a new kind of normal that was anything but normal to them. When I asked how she didn’t follow the well-ridden tire marks of her parents and the culture they immersed themselves in she said that there was just nothing in it for her. When that church van picked her up every Sunday morning, she was transported into another world where church people, while mixed up with their own issues of vanity and vulnerability, lived in a way that was so much more compelling. The way of her parents was empty and she was never turning back.  All because of a church van. The kind of church van that I’ve had mixed, missiological feelings about.

Two church vans, two entirely different responses by the people who live in those neighborhoods. One viewed indignantly, the other indispensable.  For most of us, all we need to hear is the legitimately moving story of my friend in order to blow off the cultural critiques of the neighborhood teenager. So what if one girl, armed with a mobile phone and a Twitter account makes a witty, sarcastic comment about another’s efforts to live out their faith in sometimes clunky ways? Look at how those same efforts saved the life of your friend. Those church vans save souls. I don’t disagree. Yet the Twittering teen seems to suggest that the unintentional messages that accompany those same church vans about what who they are and who you are can slowly dissolve and destroy the dignity and soul of another.

In a broken world littered with unresolved cultural tensions how are we to live out our faith when our attempts at reconciliation can be interpreted so wildly different? This past week, we loaded up a group of local, Argentine teenagers on that church van for a retreat at Youthfront Camp West that showed the messiness and beauty of both.

The group of boys that we brought with us were the same ones that have come over to our house for dinner, plus a handful more. During one of our first gatherings, we did an exercise where we explored our own stories and how God has also invited us into a story filled with the same peaks and valleys, moments of brilliance and failure as our own. Finally, during our last session, I came to realize that the Argentine that I knew was not the Argentine that these kids in the public housing project knew. We were discussing how the gospel begins to take root, provide a story, hope and direction for our own lives and then spills out into the world around us. As we asked what they’d change about Argentine if they could, they overwhelmingly said they’d change the violence. While I’ve heard occasional gunshots, it’s far from a regular occurrence. But Antonio said a man was shot on his doorstep about a month ago. Nate said kids were shooting at one another on a main thoroughfare in broad daylight after school last week. When I asked what we could do to be agents of change in this, one of the toughest kids finally cracked. “We need more groups like this.” I pushed him on what he meant.  Another kid piped in. “We need more youth to talk seriously like this. And then to be able to get away from it all, clear out our heads and relax like this and have fun”. For the next few minutes we talked about how more Argentine youth would be interested in being a part of a group like this and what we could do about it.  Lester leaned over to Nate and said, “If I hadn’t come and experienced it myself, I would’ve made fun of it.”

And there it was. The complexity of the church van caught up in that one little statement. It’s easy to make fun of others’ efforts to live out the gospel from afar. But the college students that came with us embodied everything that we’ve been hoping to instill. They were honest about their own relatively healthy upbringings in the face of youth who’d experienced more brokenness than we can imagine. They didn’t   deny their differences. They didn’t make them out into targets. They didn’t try to change the kids’ behaviors and make them quit dropping the f-bomb. They realized they were stewarding a much bigger story in Jesus than cleaning up our externals. They realized a subtle presence is more sustainable than one that shouts and screams for attention–even (and especially) for the sake of the gospel. It’s this that speaks louder than any tangerine tinted messages on any church van. The church van. Vindicated.

2011: A Look Back

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

2011 was quite a remarkable year for CFA.  CFA is an association, and CFA members are all lodged in regional intermediary organizations. Most of their host organizations do a mix of poverty alleviating programs and church mobilizing for poverty alleviation. The common factor that draws members to CFA is their focus on neighborhood transformation using Asset Based Community Development approaches. CFA members in 2011 have developed into a substantial professional network with an impressive, working tool kit of skills and resources. We can confidently say as an association, that we know how to work within neighborhoods in a way that leads neighbors to directing their own neighborhood progress, and that more churches are engaging in the work in respectful, appropriate, supportive ways .

From a big picture perspective the major challenges for CFA in 2011 were these:

  • AmeriCorps funding: After running a very successful grant program teaching neighborhoods how to implement community listening, asset mapping, and neighbor organizing for 6 years, our grant application in 2011 was denied as a result of changing guidelines. The new grant guidelines were a deal breaker, because they would force neighborhoods to work on programs determined by the government. CFA believes the neighborhoods must identify what  they want to work on. In 2012, CFA will be looking for other ways to do this work.
  • It feels like we have transitioned from a launch phase to a significant growth phase.  In 2011, we added more CFA members than any prior year. We ended the year with 22 regional trainer/coaches who are coaching leaders in over 400 neighborhoods nationwide. The challenge is that with only two staff devoting time to new member vetting and coaching, we are beyond our capacity to adequately attend to regional growth. We really need an additional staff person.
  • Focusing on adding value: CFA will lose members if we do not add value at all times in sufficient quantity and quality to retain a member’s interest.
  • Fundraising continues to be a challenge. While we ended the year in the black, we did not adequately diversify our revenue streams. We are discovering that CFA’s financial future and CFA Partner organizations financial strength are integrally linked. We will be working really hard to figure out how to do joint fundraising in 2012.
  • Collaboration – for results. CFA is always scanning the horizon to see what other national associations and organizations we can partner with to the end that more neighborhoods are transformed.  CFA has an agreement with Leadership Foundations (they focus on city transformation) and Think Tank-Circles a national community building program focusing on helping people get off welfare in large measure by helping them break out of their personal and communal isolation.

Looking at 2011 in the rear view mirror causes us to praise God for how He has used CFA in raising leadership for transforming a growing number of neighborhoods. May He be pleased and direct our path in 2012.

Jay Van Groningen, Executive Director

Click here for the full annual report.

Neighborhood Transformation: Whose Vision Is It?

“Community ministry involves more than just starting another program or running another event.  Effective community ministry requires working with a community to capture pictures of what could be different and better.  Community vision that is effective grows out of long-term, sustainable, and relational interactions with community residents.”

Excerpt taken from page 28 of Communities First.  Click here for more information on this resource.

The “Dignity” Store

Clark Blakeman– Second Stories

Five kids ranging from 8 to 3 years old came rolling out of the metal door on a small building across the parking lot from the neighborhood church, a mother chasing behind.  Rapidly fired words mixed with giggles, package shaking, and directionless walking made the mom’s work of corralling the kids difficult.  But she was in a great mood and full of smiles. She gathered up all the gifts she had just bought and wrapped with new friends from the church while her kids played games and made gifts for mom out of construction paper and glue. In her limited English she expressed her thanks and hugs were given to everyone as the family made their way to the bus stop. She seemed to especially cherish a framed family portrait that she received as a gift from a photographer from the church who had set up inside the Dignity Christmas Store.

During the month of December a low-income apartment complex and a local church worked together, facilitated by Second Stories, to create the Dignity Christmas Store. This effort is an expression of a growing understanding of Asset Based Community Development and the relationship developing between the congregation and the residents of the apartments.

The idea had three objectives. One was to support apartment residents who could not afford to purchase Christmas gifts and preserve their dignity in the process. To do this they developed a Christmas tree lot fundraiser that would enable gifts to be purchased and offered at a 90 percent discount from retail. Attending to the lot was shared by many. In this way the low-income residents would experience the dignity of purchasing gifts themselves rather than being demoralized by an “adopt a poor family for the holidays” approach.

Another goal was to further develop relationships between church members and apartment residents.  They achieved this by sequencing each family’s shopping opportunity and pacing it so there was plenty of time for just hanging out. They wrapped gifts together, and sat for conversation over hot chocolate, coffee and snacks. Kids played foosball, made gifts or colored. Families were each offered the opportunity to get a family portrait, which was developed and framed while the parents shopped.

The third aim, and perhaps most important, was to listen for the gifts, abilities and passions of each other so as to discern what additional ways these two groups can work together for the common good of their neighborhood. Informal questions were developed and asked, designed to reveal motivations and assets to be given. Ideas were generated and new possibilities for working together have begun to emerge.  Ideas were gleaned, like working to have sidewalks installed along the apartment complex that butts up against the neighborhoods’ busiest street, offering credit for use at the Dignity Store for anyone who volunteers at the tree lot, increasing the quality of snacks at the Dignity Store by utilizing the multi-ethnic foods represented at the apartments, and doing a jointly hosted international dinner at the local park.

This coalition of “workers for the common good” is young and still somewhat tentative. But already the quality of life for both church members and apartment residents is at a higher level due to the environment of dignity and inclusion being fostered.  This is about healthy relationships on the small and larger neighborhood scale.  And as the mother of 5 can attest, that’s exactly what’s being experienced in SE Portland.

Asset Based Community Development: Working “With” the Community

CFA Executive Director, Jay Van Groningen, responds to a comment from a recent post, and discusses the idea of “In, To, or With:”

“How does one listen to neighbors in a way that: 1. Discovers what neighbors care about enough to act on it? 2. Discovers what gifts they bring to the things they want to work on? 3. Helps neighbors discover their neighbors who care about the things they care about – so they can work on them together?

Personally,  I resist those programs and ministries that churches want to start, control and implement to/for their neighbors. I think it is much healthier when church comes along and supports the good things neighbors care about doing. Then the church and community can work together on how to sustain the good work. If ministry is done really well, the church does not need to own or control the ministry, it gets to support it in the ways that bless ministry and the congregation. If ministry is done really well, the community eagerly accepts and embraces the church members participation on a level, respectful, playing field (with respect to power in and control). They enjoy getting good things done together.”

Here are some further thoughts…

The Church “With” the Community:

  • desires to influence the community.
  • desires community stakeholders to influence it.
  • spends significant resources (time, talent, goods) in the community.
  • utilizes planning and assessment processes that are influenced by both church members and community stakeholders, and makes decisions based on the impact desired by church members and neighbors.
  • serves and develops the community for reasons and with with methods that bring transformational impact to the community and church alike.
  • looks for and unleashes the gifts, skills, and resources already present in the community.
  • is a convener of the community, a servant to the community, adding value to residents and the community as a whole; a net contributor to the community even though it does not pay taxes.

(Communities First, p. 10)  Go to the Store for more information on this resource.

Community Impact

Al Santino-Northeast Community Transformation

CFA’s network has impacted over 450 neighborhoods across the United States.  One example is Common Grace Community Connection in the rural town of Athens, Maine.  CFA member, Al Santino, came alongside Tim Curtis as he worked to form this community action group.   The group has grown in size and impact as they go about the work of community development.  Some highlights over the past year have included increased participation in Common Grace, continued initiatives such as a local garden pathway project, and new working relationships being formed among four area churches.  Training and exploration of asset based community development principles have led to more involvment and a neighbor led initiative called, “The Bridge.”  This outreach benefits residents of a local women’s shelter who have the opportunity to learn skills such as gardening and canning while being encouraged spiritually.  Excitement continues to grow as neighbors seek to impact their community in positive ways.

To learn more about the work of CFA members click here.


Asset Based Community Development: A Personal Transformation

Jim Moynihan-One Church

I have been mindful of the church being a potential community change agent for the Kingdom of God all of my ministry life.  However, I have not had the skills or the language to bring about a transformational ministry in a meaningful or sustained manner in area neighborhoods.  Learning about and being trained in ABCD principles through the Communities First Association for the past two years has given me hope and equipped me to engage area neighborhoods differently.  But, I have remained frustrated by the lack of engagement on the part of the body of Christ in these communities.

Through a recent CFA recommendation I read, When Helping Hurts, and Toxic Charity.   These books, and the detailed application of the principles they provide, have given me the tools I needed to think through the application of ABCD principles in my context.  I have been able to evaluate my approaches to date and to jettison those strategies that have been ineffective or inappropriate to the specific community development efforts I have been making. This has transformed my thinking and my approach to reaching neighborhoods and area churches and Christians for the purpose of community development.  In particular, I am recognizing my own resistance to applying ABCD principles even though I believe in them.

For example, my compassion for the poor and hurting leads me to get involved in to/for ministries even though I know these are temporary fixes and not solutions. I also realize my motivation to help, to serve, is often part of our corporate desire to feel good about ourselves; that we are doing a good thing in Jesusʼ name. It is truly difficult to recognize these feelings and behaviors as being potentially hurtful.

My concern at this point is how to champion ABCD in ways that will be helpful among area communities without alienating the many well-intentioned efforts of area ministries in the process.  A recent change in my approach is to share these books and their concepts with several ministry friends. There has been a positive response to this so far. Steve Edwards and Tom Andrews, who are involved with the Breakthrough Center in Hampton, have asked me to meet with them to discuss community strategies. Our OneChurch board is also reaching out to the Lackey area of York County to explore with opportunities.

Best Practices: Church as a Gift for Neighborhood Transformation

Jay Van Groningen, CFA Executive Director

Over the years, I have noticed that most Christians who get serious about Community Development – serious enough to work at it – try to start the work of neighborhood transformation from a church platform. They hope and expect that a congregation will engage in God’s redemption story in the neighborhood as a lead agent for positive change. They expect that the church will care enough about their neighbors and neighborhood to want to be a lead “player” in the neighborhood redemption story.  They are soon disappointed with Church as agent for neighborhood transformation.  Those who have launched neighborhood transformation from a church platform (be it new church or established church) feel isolated, alone, under-resourced, and disillusioned with church participation. While church is loaded with gifts for neighborhood transformation, their focus and energies seem directed to “healthy church” issues, not “healthy community” issues.

Church can be a good neighbor bringing gifts/contributions to the neighborhood transformation story.  It can be great neighbor – taking responsibility for the neighborhood transformation story. CFA has learned that a best practices approach is to lead neighborhood transformation from outside the church (a non-profit) and to call on the church to bring their gifts (as much as they are willing) in the same way any other institution is invited to bring their gifts to the neighborhood transformation process.  “Healthy church” and “healthy community” is not a problem to be solved. It is a polarity to be managed.  A community is healthier when church gifts are a shaping force; a Church is healthier when as servant/witness it stretches itself in giving gifts for the redemption of the neighborhood it occupies.

Three Neighborhoods, One Voice


This past December, three churches in the city of New Orleans, Journey 9th Ward (Assembly of God), Grace Baptist, and St. Paul Lutheran from the St. Claude, Bywater, and Marigny neighborhoods respectively joined together to spread Christmas joy to their neighbors.

The idea originated from a fellowship gathering facilitated by LINCNewOrleans for persons either interested in learning about or currently participating in Christian community development. Many of the people present at the fellowship gathering attended last October’s Christian Community Development Association Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The group was brainstorming about how to collaborate together to create a multi-denominational effort to strengthen the neighborhood.  When singing was suggested, it produced a calming lull over the group, a reassuring familiarity.  The Caroling Extravaganza took flight.

Young and old from each neighborhood’s church took to the streets together to spread Christmas cheer.   Aaron Ford, youth pastor at Grace Baptist in the Bywater neighborhood, highly encouraged the churches youth to be in attendance, and despite it being a Friday night in a lively city, the youth came out in droves.   It was found out later that some had fun in spite of themselves, as one of the youth later blogged,  “Went caroling with some awesome people yesterday and I actually had way more fun than I thought I would.”

Though to the untrained eye, the aforementioned sounds like a cut  down, it is actually a beacon of hope.  The next generation is learning that intentional community isn’t only important, but enjoyable. “Simply put, it was fun,” explained another participant while reflecting on the night.

The churches visited two assisted living facilities in their neighborhoods, and sang both religious and pop tunes. Though it wasn’t a “sell-out crowd” by any means, the looks on the faces of those who invited us to share Christmas with them was utterly priceless.

Holy Scribbles

Okay, okay, it might not look like much to you after a quick glance. But, this bunch of scribbles on an oversized napkin is indeed a very holy document for me and for our community.

It represents dozens of organizations that are feverishly at work seeking to provide housing, support neighborhood connection, advocating for environmental justice and on and on.

On this map are the homes of people in just about every income range. There are multi-national corporations beating Wall Street predictions and small start-up businesses struggling to make it another month.

This is the sketch of a neighborhood we love and showcases a God very much at work.

As I write these blog entries for the practicing church, even if I don’t mention it directly I’m going to be talking about this map because it represents a neighborhood, my neighborhood, and much more importantly, our neighborhood. Our church community has swallowed the “parish” pill, which effectively means that we are interested in joining God of all creation who is active in each square inch of this downtown neighborhood of Seattle. We figure that if we take God’s shalomic vision seriously, then we simply must begin where we are and take our locality quite seriously, the chances of losing security and comfort rise exponentially, but so far, there is nowhere I’d rather be.

Tim Soerens

For more on Tim Soerens church, DUST, visit their website:

Community Discusses Future Development

By Janine Calsbeek – Staff Writer (Sioux County Capital Democrat)

ORANGE CITY – What do we need? Who are we missing? Where are the walls?

What can churches do to better serve the citizens of the community? That’s what Bonnie De Jong, Teresa Gunderson and Jon Nelson – people from First and Trinity Reformed churches – got together to discuss. Their conversation quickly turned to the roles of business and non-profits as well.

Mike Callagy, a retired civil engineer who worked on community development projects in California, joined their discussion.

And, they decided to invite townspeople and community leaders for open forums – community development summits.

The first was held on Wednesday, Jan. 7, with Dave Nonnemacher and Michael Andres of Northwestern College presenting the theology of community development. The following week, a group of 40 did some brainstorming and list making. “What does our community need?”

The final two sessions will be critical, said Callagy…thinking of ways to implement the ideas.

Nelson, associate pastor at Trinity, is interested in helping all people of the community succeed, including the people in the “margins.” Do systems and organizations here provide opportunities for everyone to excel? He asked.

You’ve heard the saying; “Give a man a fish. He’ll eat for a day,” said Nelson. “Teach a man to fish. He will eat for a lifetime.”

“But, the big question is, who owns the pond? That is a statement by John Perkins about community development, and it needs to be asked,” said Nelson. “Are those who own ‘the pond’ willing to help others so they can succeed as well? If we profess our faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to be reconcilers, restorers and healers actively participating in God’s redemptive work.”

Nelson wonders if there is a way that non-profits and churches could work together more extensively.

When he brainstorms, thinking of local businesses that are for sale, he wonders if someone could purchase a business and continue to run it as a for-profit endeavor, but offer a few jobs for women at The Bridge?

He thinks the notion of businesses and non-profits working together is an idea with potential, but maybe there are other creative ideas out there. He also believes that community leaders and organizations would benefit from this type of collaboration.

There are many innovators in the community who could bring about needed change that would bless many, added Nelson. “Are they being asked for their input?”

“Quality of place”

Mike and Pat Callagy spent 30-plus years in south-central California, doing land development, civil engineering, and project development. Their city, Bakersfield, is 110 miles north of Los Angeles, an agricultural and oil-rich region.

When they moved here, they left kids in California, but joined others in Orange City; their daughter is Laurie Furlong, a professor at Northwestern.

Nelson approached Mike Callagy recently. “You’re not from here,” he said. “What does this community need?”

Another retirement community – that’s one of Callagy’s ideas. Pat’s mother is on the five to seven-year waiting list for Landsmeer, a long wait.

And how about housing for the many who work here, but don’t live here?

Another of Callagy’s hopes is that Orange City will put in place necessary zoning to prevent leapfrog development, to protect the downtown flavor of the town.

Yes, a mall on Hwy. 10 might be good for the area, he said, as long as it doesn’t starve downtown.

Bakersfield is much larger than Orange City, but it’s an agricultural town, so it resembles this place. A redevelopment project was suggested for the Bakersfield downtown region…a down town mall to encompass the already-thriving businesses there. But those businessmen told the developer to “go away.” They were doing just fine.

A few years later, the developer built an enormous mall just outside of town, triple the size of the mall in Sioux City, said Callagy. And downtown suffered.

It took 35 years and huge amounts of work and resources to restore the Bakersfield downtown region.

It’s easier to protect first, Callagy said.

Mike Hofman, Chamber of Commerce director in Orange City, believes that good ideas will be gleaned from the Wednesday morning meetings. It’s great that people want to be involved in the process, he said.

His term is “quality of place.” It’s bigger than “quality of life” – more encompassing – and includes “the whole place as a benefit for everyone,” he said.

“Why is this a good place to be? What can we do for others?” Hoffman asked.

“We may be biting off more than we can chew, in these community summit meetings,” said Nelson, “because community development covers so many areas. But, I am very interested in seeing what may happen. Great innovations, businesses, and ministries are all created through someone’s inspired idea.”

Callagy hopes that the last two meetings are productive, and that some of the linchpins of the communithy will back a few projects. Crucial, also, is involvement of the Chamger, city and county, and the city of Alton.

Key components will be identified, then prioritized. “If one or two ideas are implemented in 2009, and one or two started,” Callagy said, that would be a framework. It would be a sign of progress, and momentum would build. There’s potential for a lot of good to result, said.

“Implementation is critical,” Callagy said. “This is where community development usually falters.”

Visit the Sioux County Capital Democrat website by clicking here.

Bellflower Churches Acknowledged by Caring Connections

Caring Connections is a network of school caseworkers, teachers, organizations & churches in Bellflower.  The group meets monthly to discuss community events, train on a local resource or skills that can help our community and share stories of how we’re working together to address the needs in our city.  The meetings are held at the BUSD school board room.

For the last two meetings our local churches have received special recognition for how they are helping families with food and support during these hard economic times.  This morning the group collected canned goods to help support the local church food pantries.

Also, this morning the following churches were recognized for their tutoring programs that help the Bellflower Unified School District:

  • Bellflower Brethren
  • Bethany Christian Reformed Church
  • First Christian Reformed Church of Bellflower (Bell 1)
  • Holy Redeemer Lutheran
I love sitting in meetings like this where the body of Christ in Bellflower is acknowledged for really making a difference.  How is church contributing to the good of our city?  People are watching.  Let us do good and glorify the Lord.
Ryan VerWys
Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower website by clicking here.

Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower blog by clicking here.


California Pastors Search for Keys to Community

What is the role of the Church in the world? That’s a big question. A group of Northern California CRC pastors meet regularly to discuss an even tougher question: How do I make my church relevant in my own community and neighborhood…how can I help my congregation to show the love, mercy, and justice of God in my own city or town?

George Montoya, Northwest Regional Church and Community Consultant for the CRWRC, serves as facilitator, and guide for a group of pastors from the Bay Area and Merced that has no name. It “started with George and I, Dave Nederhood (Alameda), and Layne Kilbreath (Walnut Creek) getting together to talk about community development practices and how they can be used by churches,” says Dan Hutt, a pastor for a CRC congregation in Palo Alto. The group has grown to include Brad Smith (San Jose) and Andy Vanden Akker (Merced).

Vanden Akker laughs over the nameless group, and takes a stab at it when he stated, “It’s an informal think tank of colleagues thinking about ministry in 21st century. How do we extend the love of Jesus to our communities in an age and world where evangelism has taken on a different meaning than loving our neighbors on the other side of town?”

The central focus for the group is based around reading and discussing “Communities First,” a publication of the CRWRC. Montoya says, “We’re all asking the same kinds of questions about community. So we got together to share ideas relative to what each pastor is doing to implement community development concepts with their churchs.”

Each pastor has been working on projects in their community. Kilbreath works in a food pantry in a poor, Hispanic neighborhood of Concord, CA. Nederhood’s congregation runs the Crossroads Coffee Shop in Alameda. Vanden Akker’s congregation works to help create community in some apartment buildings as well as work with parolees.

The common thread each faces is the disconnect between the way we think about community engagement and the fact that our churches are in middle class communities. Unfortunately, most community-building models designed for helping under-resourced neighborhoods somehow do not scale to middle class communities and neighborhoods and to our middle class churches where “Missions” are in third world countries, not across the street.

“How do we connect with neighbors in a deeper way,” that’s our main topic explained Montoya. “Being salt and light forces us to think more deeply about how we practice purity and live in proximity to a fallen world. If we don’t do both then we get stuck in pietism or separatism on the one hand, and potentially secular activism on the other. We need to find a way to live in proximity to a fallen world, to connect with our surrounding community, and yet be true to holy living.”

“I’ve come to understand that I need to think more about the needs of the people around us,” said Hutt. “I don’t have to drive to the other side of the tracks to meet people who have needs. They live across the street. Frail elderly, frazzled two-job families with latchkey kids that don’t have a safe place to play are very prevalent in our neighborhoods.” Hutt sums up, “So how does our faith speak to our own communities where even neighborliness has collapsed.”

“All of us are working in poor communities in need. Yet, we always come back to the dilemma that the denominational priority for working in poor neighborhoods does not translate because most CRC churches simply are located somewhere else,” explained Kilbreath. “What we’ve learned from Communities First and meeting with George is that it’s easier to reach down where it doesn’t require relationships than it is to reach across that requires neighbor-hooding, as well as working on personal and structural relationships.”

According to Montoya, “Churches have become irrelevant to their surrounding communities. Most congregants commute to their churches and few live in the surrounding neighborhood.  The church has become disconnected with the neighborhood and it would not notice if the church closed.  There ought to be a way for churches to connect and work together with a middle-class neighborhood or community on a ‘parish’ vision that offers both salt and light.”

Go Where He’s Working…They Did!

by Megan West for Imagine NW!

“If you want to know Jesus,” says Pastor Eric Likkel of Emmaus Road Church, “you have to go where He’s working.” “People need to have a sense of place in their community; you need to know people in your place in order to make a difference.” So the people at Emmaus Road head to the streets, public meetings, and local outreach centers in their Belltown community to serve and love their neighbors.

The Belltown district is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the Seattle area. Upscale condos and towers dominate the landscape. However, only 25% of residents own homes.  The less visible population rents, has subsidized housing or lives on the streets.  Connecting in this community is especially difficult because the neighborhood lacks any community centers or greenspace.

“People from the neighborhood started coming, from the Union Gospel Mission, people in recovery, people from the condo crowd…they loved to worship with us and felt like they could come and belong,” said Likkel.

But for Emmaus Road, it’s not just about “putting butts in seats” on Sunday.  Neighborhood building is a long-term investment, says Likkel.  Emmaus Road goes out in the community to get to know people, develop trusting relationships, and to let people know we care about them, not just getting them to come to a service.  “It takes lots of phone calls, coffee and showing up.”

Emmaus Road is dedicated to being what Likkel calls “sparkplugs and glue” in the community. As “sparkplugs” they inspire people in the community to imagine how their community could be. The “glue” is putting people together with existing ministries where they can plug in.  “God’s provided resources…people just don’t know it. If we could bridge the gap between the towers and the street it could transform the soul of the city.”

“A lot of people feel mixed emotions about homeless people pan-handling.  They aren’t sure what to do.  People are at a loss to know how to get involved in their own neighborhoods. We want to come alongside and help people become aware of the treasures in their own neighborhoods,” says Likkel.

Although it can be daunting to reach out, Likkel reminds us that as Christians, it’s not an option to show love and concern for our neighbor.  He says we start by praying for our eyes to be open to the needs around us and to the ministries that are already in place.  It takes courage to let God soften our hearts to reach out and care for those who may not share our values.

“Ministry is not about getting people to come see what we’re doing at church, it’s about getting out there.  And then you get to see God better because you’re where He is.  The purpose is for the church to meet Jesus,” says Likkel, “and when we feed each other, we feed Him.”

A Blue Collar Pastor

by Baron Miller

It was 3:00pm, and our church had been working for 6 hours at John and Trudy’s house on Texas Street in Bellingham, Washington.  This was after a construction crew had spent the last 3 weeks attempting to salvage their home.  Leaky roof and windows, rotten floor joists, mold; you name the problem and this house had it.

Inspired by the early church’s social actions, “There were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34a), we had committed to support John and Trudy with a working party to save labor costs.

It was at this time that I was introduced to Isreal, the carpet guy.  Adam, our project coordinator had convinced Isreal to donate the carpet installation costs and while chatting with him, called me out, “Hey Baron, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

I shook Isreal’s hand while Adam explained to him that I’m the pastor of the church who had put this working party together.

Isreal shook my dirty, blistered hand and said, “You’re the pastor huh—a real blue collar pastor.”

I drove home that day feeling like being called a blue collar pastor was the best compliment I’d received in years.  But more important than the personal compliment is what it means not only to Isreal, but to the community: That this blue collar pastor leads a blue collar church, and we all get our hands dirty together.

This is the heart of incarnational ministry—to be among, not separate from the people.  This is what Jesus does, he’s among, and he gets his hands dirty with the rest of us—a blue collar church for a blue collar Jesus.  BM


by Harry Weidenaar

From the top of the year Seattle First Christian Reformed Church has partnered with Jeff Littlejohn and Imagine NW! to learn and practice the principles of Asset Based Community Development.

This partnership comes out of a desire of Seattle First to be relevant to its community.  We want to have influence with our neighbors without being obnoxious.  We want to serve the Kingdom of God by coming alongside our neighbors and helping them to achieve what they plan for their community.  As we build relationships, we believe opportunities to share Christ in word as well as deed will arise naturally.

To this end we have opened our church building to use by community organizations and encouraged our membership to attend their meetings.  For example, the Briarcrest Neighborhood Association had their annual party in our multi-purpose room.

Our people joined their people in eating, laughing, swapping stories, and swing dancing.

We plan on having a block party off campus in one of the neighborhoods close to church so that neighbors and church members can meet and greet informally over burgers and dogs.  We’re hoping to have a table at our annual rummage sale (always a big draw!) that gives away money!  What’s the gimmick?  We want to ask Shoreline residents 5 “magic wand” questions for a buck.  Answer the questions, you get your dough!

This is an effort to gather more information on our neighborhood, to help us serve better.

We have a basketball camp planned for middle school and junior high school kids in August.  Camp teachers include neighborhood “balers” who have signed on to work with us.

A neighborhood summit, involving a number of neighborhood associations, is planned fo later in the year.

What’s the benefit to us?  Three things, I think:

First, we believe that we are doing God’s will here.

Second, our people have enjoyed contact with our neighborhood people and have managed to help them do some things that they wanted to do.

And third, we have some new people (just a trickle now) but we hope it will become a stream and join us in our mission work and worship life at First.  HW

Fruitfulness in Northern California

By George Montoya

We had a very busy spring this year and this summer we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. We planted tomatoes and strawberries in our backyard and had enough that we could enjoy them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Fortunately Bobbie and I both love the fresh taste of tomatoes and strawberries! Bobbie has become very creative in her use of tomatoes and the neighbors have been blessed with our abundance, too.

We also planted seeds of community development in Northern California. At our urging, twelve people from various churches attended the Asset Based Community Development training in Seattle on March 29-30. After the training, there was so much enthusiasm that in the last few months we have traveled throughout Northern California visiting with most of the churches that attended. We visited with our partners in Merced, Modesto, Walnut Creek, Palo Alto, Winton, Delhi, Alameda, and Sacramento. Gateway Community Church has already started engaging with community in Merced, Delhi, and Winton. In alameda, Pastors Dave and Deb Nederhood have started the Crosstown Community Center and Coffee House and are already connecting with the surrounding community (See Rocking at Crosstown article ).

The journey and challenge that these churches have started is what I call “the challenge of grace.” God’s grace extends to all His people: we only have to start our “holy drift” into community with His people, and let God do the rest. But this requires us to shift our efforts from growing churches into transforming communities outside the church doors.

Remember the episode with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)? The woman is humiliated by being brought into the circle so everyone could gawk at her. She was guilty – caught in the very act. What is Jesus’ response to this woman? After writing in the dirt, his conversation with her accusers shows that he is for the woman, not against her. He becomes her “champion.” Then, after everyone is gone, he tells her in effect, “Why don’t you quit living like this? It’s going to kill you; it almost just did.” No shrinking back, no “I’m OK you’re OK” stuff. He confronts the issue, but does it after showing his love, after championing her.

This sequence is instructive in how we are to reach out to our own communities. Dave and Deb and many others in Northern California are becoming “champions” in their communities in this way. Go Dave and Deb!

Our hope and prayer is that all the seeds that have been planted in Northern California will be as fruitful as our tomatoes and strawberries. That as relationships are built in the respective communities and we become their champions, people will see Jesus in the lives of those involved. We pray that the community will see the transparent love of Jesus that exists in all of God’s children, and appreciate the Church anew.

Build It and They Will Come. Or Will They?

Years ago I would come out to visit Sam and Karen with a certain girl I was dating.  During my visits, I would often think in my skeptical way, “Who builds a church out in the country surrounded by corn fields, separated from the town by a freeway?”  Well in the ‘Field of Dreams’ way of thinking it has been, “build it and they will come”—for the city of Lincoln now surrounds us.  But have they come?

We can say that the building of the Northern Lighthouse on the north side of the freeway has proven to be a very wise and God-led opportunity.  Today there are no cornfields around the NL and the corn rows are being replaced by roads and houses.  During the next few years the landscape surrounding the NL will drastically continue to change.  Besides roads and housing developments our surroundings will include a 4-lane street.

Still, the question remains: As we have built it, have they come?

As a church we have done the traditional (at least traditional in the past 20 years) means of reaching out to the people in the community to our north, where over three hundred homes already are filled by families.  We have organized people to hang door hangers with no visible success.  So should we continue to hang door hangers and attempt costly bulk mailings (it has been stated that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results)?  So again I ask: “We have built it but have they come?”

One thing stands out to me as I reflect on existing patterns: People come to the church because of relationships, loving relationships with people who are already in the church.  This is not a shocking revelation to anyone with knowledge of the Bible.  Jesus did not build church buildings with tall steeples and expect people to come; He loved people and interacted with them in their own towns and homes.

How do we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, showing our neighbors God’s love and building authentic relationships?  And how do we become a church that has a kingdom influence?

We believe that one of the keys is something called, “Community Development.”  Community Development is at its core “loving your neighbor as yourself.”  It is a switch from seeking to minister to our neighbors to doing ministry with our neighbors.  It looks at each person as being created in the image of God and having active gifts and resources to advance God’s kingdom.  The Steering Team of the Northern Lighthouse believes that sharing the good news of Jesus by asking, “How do we work with our neighbors to make their community a little more like heaven?” is more effective than asking a question that is focused on the church, such as “How do we build our church?”

I believe the evidence is clear that the church can no longer just “build it and they will come.”

Fight, Flight, or Something Else?

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:7

Some may suggest—that was then, this is now!

There and then Judah had been uprooted from the comfort of their “homeland,” placed directly under the authority of a “heathen” king and commanded to live normal lives in every sense.  Normal lives?  Living en-mass as kidnapped exiles!  Sure…

It could be argued—today is a different matter entirely.  History, culture, conditions and the redemptive prelude are 2500 years far removed from present-day Christian witness.  Some today suggest, the necessity to separate oneself from the world…”let not it’s evil ways entrap you.”  Thus, in many cases we find people who live down the block or even next door, effectively withdrawing from the “public square” of life together.  Or, they want to go to war against it.

While striving toward a right mind and heart before the Lord is certainly godly, it does seem though this waiting until the “end” IS a confused final mission.

In this work, which Imagine NW is about providing leadership in all sorts of communities with endless diversities and troubles, we find such fight or flight theologies less than Kingdom-building useful.  Our work is to take the “old” call by God and see ourselves as still exiled.  Yet this time, we cannot find a place or circumstance where we are NOT exiles…there is no escape…for now.  Theologies built on fear, withdrawal, “against” attitudes, anger—effectively and quickly lose the sweet fragrance of the King’s Gospel.  Absent the agape love of grace that comes to the world through unlikely messed up vessels like ourselves, “truth” statements simply ring hollow.

There is another block of Christians, dear to my heart, who do not view things so black and white.  They, and this is much of our evangelical culture, do indeed go out and reach out.  Bless them!

Yet we still find something out-of-balance, as Bob Lupton (FCS Urban Ministries-Atlanta) discovered.

Bob had challenged a church in Atlanta to send its members into a struggling urban community.  This relocation effort, by its long-term nature, was designed to be “life together” with those who struggle with very basic life necessities.

Many years had passed where some 250 mostly white families had relocated.  Yet Lupton found little evidence for positive change that brought about less crime, better literacy and health, increased ownership of homes, and more just political structures.

Bob was intensely baffled and began asking “WHY?”  After looking deeper, he discovered that the mindset of the bulk of people who relocated was centrally one of trying to “get people into the church.”  Getting people to come to church, had gotten in the way of the greater Kingdom impact.  In this case, seeking the peace and prosperity of the community was reduced to church-centric activity.

My limited read on things today suggest people are not much interested in joining things (clubs or churches), so much as developing real relationships.  Transferring people from one cultural box to another—is simply not the bridge people are much interested in anymore.  The bridge we should be looking for are lifestyles bringing the whole Gospel (Word & Deed, Hope Now * Future Hope) to those living near us while in our exiled status.

Seeking the peace and prosperity of our communities, means Christians: engaging people and places, being with, sharing with, praying with, struggling—long-term—letting the results shake out according to our Lord’s plan.

Jeff Littlejohn


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