Engaging Community

Manitoba Church on Mission to Bless its Community

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community, Uncategorized | No Comments

Mission statements are wonderful, aren’t they? They tell us exactly what an organization is all about. It proclaims to the entire world, ‘This is why we exist!’ It gives us a clear picture of what motivates a certain group of people to do what they do.

For instance, here’s one:

“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

Can you guess whose mission statement that is? Nike! It’s spot on, right?

Or this one…

“To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…To create value and make a difference.”

Hmmm, that one’s a bit tougher. Could it be a church or faith organization? Nope! It’s Coca Cola. But again, makes sense, eh?

At First CRC in Brandon, MB, their mission reads like this:

“To foster Christian growth, develop our spiritual gifts, and engage our local and global community through acts of love, mercy, and justice all for the glory of God.”

Wow, that’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Isn’t this what being a Christ-follower is all about? Isn’t this what church is all about? Loving God (fostering Christian growth and developing their spiritual gifts) and loving others (engaging their local and global community through acts of love, mercy, and justice all for the glory of God). It’s simple, comprehensive, and theologically sound.

Now while a mission statement clearly communicates what an organization is trying to accomplish, and even why they are trying to accomplish it, sometimes the HOW is where things get a bit messy and a bit more difficult.

For First CRC, they’ve been discovering that one practical way for them to fulfill their mission is to partner with a community ministry where one of their members is already serving! They call this new initiative “Opportunity to Bless”, or OTB for short. OTB was a ministry Pastor Doug VandeKamp (a former DMD no less!) heard about at a Brandon Ministerial Association meeting back in April. Pastor Vern Kratz of Calvary Temple shared that his church’s OTB ministry had been one of the biggest catalysts for moving that church from being inward-focused to becoming outward-oriented and that caught the attention of Pastor Doug.

Shortly after that initial conversation between the two pastors, OTB began at First CRC. Here is a quick look at how the OTB ministry works at First CRC:

  • The church compiles a list of agencies where their own church members are involved. Anything from the local MCC Thrift Store to the Crisis Pregnancy Centre to Youth for Christ. Once the OTB partner is confirmed, the church approaches a different agency each month to ask what some of their practical needs currently are (e.g. diapers, baby food, etc.). Prior to the next month starting, a presentation is given in church to challenge the congregation to bring in the needed items and place them in a designated collection area;
  • Knowing there may not be a ministry every month with a local CRC connection, the church’s council, who fully endorses this new ministry, can also be asked for their input on other ministries/opportunities in their community. Another option is to pair up with Calvary Temple (which started the OTB ministry) and support whatever their monthly cause is or to check with a neighbouring church to see what local agencies its members support and lend them a hand. The ultimate goal is to provide the congregation at First CRC an opportunity to bless a local agency;
  • On the final Sunday of the month, a member of the organization’s leadership is invited to come and share how the OTB items will bless their organization and to retrieve the items collected over the month.

The OTB ministry had been one of the biggest catalysts for moving that church from being inward-focused to becoming outward-oriented.

The above logo was designed by Emily Campbell Baker, a member of First CRC in Brandon, MB. Here’s her explanation for her design: “The logo is simple, yet fun – hence the playful typeface used for OTB – because blessing others brings joy! A somewhat hand-rendered quality gives the logo a home-grown, hand-crafted touch – not perfect, crisp, or clean by any means. This is appropriate because even though humans aren’t perfect, the church is still blessing others through their actions and the things they do and say.
“Lastly, the top of the “T” from “OTB” overlaps with the crook of the heart, which creates an abstract cross that sprouts from the middle and wraps around into the heart shape. It is a reflection back to Jesus, who is the ultimate blessing, blesser, and the reason behind it all.”

Besides OTB being a natural and practical fulfillment of their church’s mission to ”engage [their] local community through acts of love, mercy and justice,” the leadership is discovering there are so many benefits for their church and its members, and of course for their community. First and foremost, Pastor Doug hopes this will be a constant reminder to his church’s members that God is always at work in their community and that they can be a part of His work in a variety of ways! One of the best aspects of this ministry is that everyone can be a part of this exciting new venture! No matter a person’s age, background, or abilities, each member can be involved by buying and dropping off donations, offering prayer support, by spreading the word, and more. And since First CRC is a small congregation with only one (1) deacon currently (normally they have 2-3), a ministry that engages their entire church, with little-to-no volunteer recruitment needed, also makes a lot of sense.

One of the first recipients of the OTB ministry was the MCC Thrift Store in Brandon. Shelly, the manager, had never been to a Christian Reformed Church before and knew little about the denomination, but one of her volunteers at the store is a member at First CRC. With a special birthday coming up, the church wanted to honour this particular member by donating to one of her favourite charities. This member suggested the MCC Thrift Store so the church got in touch with Shelly. Since most thrift stores see an abundance of donations come in each day, Shelly wondered if the church could help their thrift store bless one of their partners! Several times throughout the year Brandon Correctional Centre, the local jail, calls upon the thrift store to see if they can donate clothing for someone who is set to be released. Often times the men being released have nothing to their names but the outfit they arrived in so a few more pieces of clothing can offer them a sense of dignity and a good start. Shelly asked the church is they could collect Men’s Plus Size clothing (something they typically never have enough of at the store). When Shelly was asked to come to First CRC the last Sunday of the month, she thanked the congregation for their kindness and support and took home three stuffed Rubbermaid totes of men’s clothing. She was struck by how a church she knew nothing of would want to help her so that she could help others in the community that depended on her agency. It reminded her of how no matter what church we attend or what faith-based agency we work for, we are all part of GOD’S CHURCH. And ultimately, Shelly remarked, it’s about what GOD is doing in us and through us: “The more we see what God is doing in the community, the more we can marvel at Him.”

“The more we see what God is doing in the community, the more we can marvel at Him.”

While this new ministry continues to unfold, “part of the delight,” remarks Pastor Doug, “will be discovering God’s blessings along the way as this ministry gets up and running.” As members of the church continue to learn about what it means to live on mission through the OTB ministry, he hopes more and more will be inspired to invite a friend, neighbour, or coworker to help out.

What a beautiful way to help the light of God’s love shine as the church works together, on mission!

(A big thanks to Pastor Doug for sharing this story with Erin Knight, and also to Shelly for her contributions.)

What About Your Church?

  • What is your church’s mission? How does your diaconate live that out?
  • What new ministry has your church recently begun? How is it going? What are you learning?
  • Do you think an OTB ministry would work at your church? Why or why not?
  • Does your diaconate have some ideas but you need help flushing them out? We have Diaconal Ministry Developers (DMDs) and our Regional Ministry Developers here to help you out!

ENGAGING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY – Part 2; Make Love Your Goal!

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Now while Frankie Goes to Hollywood may get credit for our title above, it actually goes back to a verse in 1 Corinthians 14 (RSV): “Make love your aim…” and the ever-popular verses from the previous chapter as well:

“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” (The Message, vs 3-7)

In the Form of Ordination for Elders & Deacons (2016), we read that “Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to minister to its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities. In imitation of Christ’s mercy, deacons teach us to love God, our neighbors, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts.”

Did you see it? Did you see that that one, vitally important word? It’s small, but so significant. It’s the word that anchors that entire first paragraph. What is it?

It’s LOVE.

Before we continue talking about engaging with our communities, let’s get one thing straight: if it’s done with the wrong intentions, It. Will. Fail. While this may seem obvious because hey, ‘we love because He first loved us’ and all that good stuff, let’s take a minute to just realign our hearts and minds, and our motives. If churches aren’t creating and executing their ministries out of a place of genuine love and care, people will quickly become ‘problems to solve’ and our ministries will become solely needs-based. Doing the work of a deacon is not about putting people on a conveyor belt and having them go through your “system” in order that they leave a satisfied customer and hopefully never need your help again.

So we’ll say it again, MAKE LOVE YOUR GOAL!

If churches aren’t creating and executing their ministries out of a place of genuine love and care, people will quickly become ‘problems to solve’ and our ministries will become solely needs-based.

Good, so now that we’ve got that straight, let’s move on…

HOW DOES A CHURCH BEGIN ENGAGING WITH THEIR COMMUNITY?

STEP 1: FIND OUT WHERE GOD IS AT WORK!

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: in order to effectively reach our community, churches must FIRST see where God is already at work. Yes, folks, this is true: God is, and always has been, moving and working in your community. The beautiful part is that churches get to JOIN HIM!

Take a minute and read (or re-read) our recent blog post entitled “Listening to Our Communities,” where we were reminded HOW to discern and discover where God is moving and working. If we only focus on meeting the needs of those we aim to serve, our ministries will fall flat. Even Jesus didn’t meet every single need. Instead, He remained faithful to the mission God gave Him and followed His Father’s leading, even amongst the pestering of the people and even his own disciples! Jesus took time to get away and ‘check in’ with God, through times of solitude and prayer. Remember that all we do to build God’s kingdom here on earth begins and ends with PRAYER. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14.

This leads us to our next point.

STEP 2: GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD!

In that post mentioned above, we touched on ways to get to know your community. Sociologist James Hunter writes: “Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.” In other words, to faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it. Every church has a unique location – within a city and, even more specifically, in a particular neighbourhood in that city. If we look close enough and pay enough attention, churches can discover that most have a well-defined identity and many of the neighbours will have common interests. Showing that your church cares about what’s important to them is one of the best ways to engage with your community. Each church must devote time thinking about what their neighbours value, what they spend their time and resources on, and ways you can build relationships with them through those things.

For example, for churches close to a city’s downtown core, there will likely be events like street fairs, art shows, music festivals, park cleanups, and community yard sales that draw the community together. Churches in these neighbourhoods could engage with their neighbours by having church members volunteer for these events, host booths, allow attenders to use your parking lot or washroom facilities, or be part of the planning or committee meetings. This could also open up the door to invite the community to some evangelistic-type events at special times of the year, like Christmas!

If your church is in a lower-income area, your neighbours’ biggest concerns are likely to be some of their most basic needs: food, shelter, jobs, transportation, education. Your members might help meet some of these needs, and thereby gain neighbours’ trust and attention, through soup kitchens, clothes closets, literacy programs, and such.

Churches that find themselves in the suburbs surrounded by lots of young families may find their neighbours’ lives revolve around their kids. Churches here may want to host some events throughout the year that provide activities for the kids and expose neighbours to the gospel. Vacation Bible School, an annual Easter Egg Hunt or a free Community Picnic could provide opportunities to not only get to know your neighbours, but for these people to get to know you/your church and start building relationships.

Engaging with your community will need both strategy and effort, especially when your church’s members don’t necessarily live there. Finding ways to show your neighbours that your church cares about the same things as they do will help you build long-lasting and genuine relationships with your neighbours. This is absolutely essential if your church is going to make an impact in your surrounding community.

Showing that your church cares about what’s important to your neighbours is one of the best ways to engage with your community.

These first 2 steps are echoed in the story we posted last week about Meadowlands Church in Ancaster. This church desperately wanted to engage with their immediate neighbourhood but were having trouble finding common ground with them. It wasn’t until they started praying to God, intentionally and specifically, that a window of opportunity opened up. God’s answer to their prayer was nothing they would have ever guessed or imagined themselves, but that really shouldn’t surprise us, should it? In the Bible we see God do this time and time again, and perhaps you’ve experienced this in your own personal life too. When we say “Yes” to God, we don’t always know where He’ll lead us, BUT we know He will guide and sustain us. (Psalm 55:4) Take a minute to read their story and how God is working in them and through them to reach their neighbourhood in Ancaster. It’s important to note that Meadowlands’s goal isn’t to just ‘fix the problem’ of vandalism, which they likely couldn’t do anyway. That’s the best part of this story: instead of letting that stop them, they have decided that it would be more important and impactful to simply bring the surrounding neighbours together to show them that the church CARES about what they care about and that they want to work together for a better community!

They’ve made LOVE their goal! 😀

STEP 3: GET DOWN TO BUSINESS

Perhaps you are like Meadowlands Church and you are having trouble finding where God could be opening doors or understanding what is really important to your surrounding community. In order to assist churches, Diaconal Ministries Canada has developed a hands-on, practical tool called a Community Opportunity Scan (COS). A COS is a comprehensive process of discovery that will open doors to exciting possibilities for churches to engage in their communities. First and foremost, a COS is an exercise in LISTENING and DISCERNING; it will not only identify needs, it will also affirm the unique gifts and assets in the community and in the church. Through a COS, churches will get to know the people, organizations, resources and needs of their community first-hand. With this information churches can discern opportunities to…

  • Create awareness of local issues
  • Engage in community partnerships
  • Evaluate existing programs
  • Begin new initiatives

Churches can explore Diaconal Ministry Canada’s COS Tools and Resources page on their website and discover how they can begin to learn more about their own church neighbourhood and community. DMC is able to provide support and consultation to churches conducting a COS. Beyond this, churches that are ready to start or grow a new community ministry can receive additional funding, consultation and resources when they apply to become an Operation Manna Partner.

What About YOUR Church?

Where is your church at in the journey of engaging with your community? Have you just begun to seek where God is at work? Have you started praying intentionally for God to open up doors? Does this work get ‘assigned’ to a committee in your church or are all of your members on board with living missionally? Has your church done a COS and it’s gone nowhere and you need a re-boot or some help? Has your church done a COS and now you are ready to get down to business but you need help? Does your diaconate struggle with animating your congregation to go out and love their neighbours?

Share your stories and questions with us – we are HERE TO SERVE!

Going from Good Neighbour… to Great!

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“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” I’m sure while reading this line you were singing the jingle in your head, right? It’s a familiar one to many. And what a nice sentiment. As a corporate slogan, it totally works. And why? Because when we read the words ‘good neighbour’, I think most of us can agree what that looks like: friendly, respectful, considerate, and trustworthy. Jay Van Groningen, from Communities First, sums it up by saying that a good neighbor takes care of their own property and looks out for the neighbours immediately around them.

However, he goes on to say that a great neighbour is someone who cares for the condition of the entire community – someone who knows everyone’s name and brings them together to address the issues facing the community. Great neighbours are those who come together and have the shared goal to make their community a better place to live, for all.

great neighbour is someone who cares for the condition of the entire community – someone who brings them together to address the issues facing the community.

Enter Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, ON. Perhaps you’ve been following their story in the news. From late March to April, the Ancaster church was vandalized four times, each time with glass windows and doors being shattered, but luckily no property being taken. (See news articles here and here.)

Something that you won’t read in those news stories, though, is how the church had been praying for this to happen. Well, okay, not for this exact thing to happen. But, about 8 weeks ago, the church began praying to God to give them something in common with the neighbourhood. The church had opened its doors in the new Meadowlands neighbourhood of Ancaster in 2005 and since then, some community engagement had been going on, but it was minimal. The church didn’t seem to have any natural or obvious connections with their immediate neighbourhood; nothing in common with them. A COS had been conducted around the same time and, according to Steve Dykstra, a newer staff member at Meadowlands who oversees the church’s outreach ministries, not much came out of it. In 2016, the church applied for an Operation Manna grant in order to partner with Christians Against Poverty to open a Debt Counseling Service, and while this ministry is going strong and meeting a need to many in the Ancaster and upper Hamilton area, many of their clientele do not live in the immediate Meadowlands neighbourhood.

While hosting a chat with the Classis Hamilton churches, Marian Lensink, a coach with the Connections Project, heard about the church’s struggle to connect with their community. She encouraged the church and its leaders to start praying more intentionally and see what God would do. So they did! Two weeks later, the vandalism began happening at Meadowlands Church. When the church began talking to neighbours and seeing social media posts pop-up, they discovered that residents had been reporting house break-ins, vehicles stolen and damaged property as well.

While this was NOT the answer to prayer the church expected, Steve said that “the church couldn’t think of any other avenue that would have given them the same common experience!” The church saw this as a window of opportunity; God had answered their prayers! This was a way for the church to be the great neighbour to their surrounding community they were hoping to be. They decided to host a Community Meeting and, on May 7th, police, politicians, church members, and local residents gathered together in the church to talk about the ongoing vandalism and what could be done.

Moving forward, the church hopes to create a “community hub” for the Meadowlands neighbourhood that will gather to identify and talk about the needs for residents and to be a unified voice for safety. What an incredible story of seeking and discovering where God was at work, and then joining Him!

What About Your Church?

If you follow the work of the Leadership Network down in Dallas, TX, one of their focus areas is on “externally focused churches.” In the abundance of resources they offer, they remind us that the ‘missional church movement’ is first and foremost about the movement of God. For churches, this means joining God in what He is doing to move them towards becoming a community of great neighbours. (Wendy McCraig)

In one of his training videos, Eric Swanson opens with this question:

If your church were to disappear, would anyone in the community notice? If they noticed, would they care?

(Vaughn McLaughlin, pastor)

This is the question Meadowlands was ultimately wrestling with, and perhaps one for your church to take some time to ponder. I’m sure many of us have experienced that feeling of sadness and dread when we’ve seen that amazing neighbour across the street put up the “For Sale” sign. In the same way, how would your neighbourhood react if your doors closed for good?

Ephesians 2:7-10 from The Message says,

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” [emphasis mine]

Ephesians 2 reminds us that we are where we are for a reason! And on top of that, God is always on the move, having prepared good works for us to discover and then go about doing. It’s not all on us to plan and prepare and invent these opportunities ourselves! This is the foundation of all community engagement. We are grateful for churches like Meadowlands who have gone through some tough circumstances, but who are learning what it means to follow God through whatever doors He opens in order to reach their community with the love of Christ.

“The church does not have a mission, but the Mission of God has a church!” (Christopher J.H. Wright)

ENGAGING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY, Part 1 – Why Bacon & Monorails May Not Be Working

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Before any church can truly begin to engage with their surrounding community, it’s important to take time to listen and get to know who they are! While this may sound like a no-brainer, I think if we’re honest we can all tell a story from our own personal lives of a time when we didn’t take the time to truly listen and understand the other person. This likely led to mistakes being made and perhaps even a broken relationship. Our human nature tends to lead us to jump to quick conclusions and put people ‘in a box’ so to speak.

In the month of March, we spent the entire month looking at the art of listening. In our blog post entitled “The Art of Listening –Part 1”, we unpacked what real listening is (and isn’t!).  Part of this post was a funny, but truthful, video of a woman complaining about a constant pain in her head. Check it out again (or for the 1st time!) here:

While we can laugh at this situation, it would be wise for us to stop and ponder this for a minute. How many times have we, as deacons or as regular folk, met with someone inside or outside our church and within 5 minutes (or less!) we have already figured out what their problem is and how it can easily be solved, IF they would only listen to us. Yet, perhaps if we had taken the time to properly listen and understand, we would have discovered there was so much more going on and, even better, that other person would have left feeling valued and important and a relationship would likely have begun.

So what if, as deacons, we actually took the time to sit down and listen to the people we are trying to serve to hear their stories, hear about their experiences and really listen to understand. This could potentially change the entire way churches engage with their communities!

Bacon & Monorails

One church shared recently that for the past couple of years they held a yearly festival in their church parking lot for the surrounding neighbourhood. While we can’t remember all the details of the day/event, we do remember that the theme was….bacon! (How do you forget THAT?!) There was bacon-everything and they aimed to make it a fun, family-friendly, non-threatening event to get to know their neighbours and invite them to get to know their church. Yet, since the event’s inception, the church members have been quite disappointed with the turnout. They have sat and scratched their heads, unable to answer why no one in their neighbourhood has been attending. Who doesn’t like bacon? What could be more appealing and non-threatening and enticing than bacon-wrapped everything?! In a meeting with other local deacons, one person in the group commented that perhaps many in their surrounding neighbourhood were Muslims. Big pause. Blank stare. Huh? What does that have to with bacon? Oh, wait… What this person was trying to point out was that if many people in that church’s “backyard” were Muslims, they would NEVER partake in a “bacon festival” as they don’t eat pork or any pork byproducts. Huh!

Now while this was likely not the reason the festival fell flat, it certainly made those in the room stop for a minute to think. IF WE DON’T KNOW WHO THE PEOPLE ARE THAT MAKE-UP OUR SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES, then how do we know what they like, what they need, and what they care about? If, in fact, many in that neighbourhood were practicing Muslims, nothing about this event would bring them to this church’s doorstep, even if it did include a 3 Ring Circus and free face painting. Reversely, it could even be considered a bit offensive, or worse – ignorant! It would only serve to highlight how disconnected that church was from their immediate neighbourhood; the people they perhaps should know the best!

It’s a very tricky business when a church (or anyone for that matter) comes into town and starts telling people what they need and why they need it. It reminded me a bit of that old Simpsons episode where the town calls a meeting to decide what to do with a budget surplus. Some great ideas are shared about real and urgent needs in their town until in walks Mr. Lyle Lanley, who, with a flashy song and dance, convinces the town they need (and want! and must-have!) a Monorail.

It’s no surprise that if you watched the entire episode, you find out the Monorail did NOT work out – at all! – for a number of reasons. While these examples of Bacon and Monorails may not be ringing any bells for you, can you and your diaconate think of a time when your church has been ‘guilty’ of this kind of behaviour? Has your church or diaconate ever thought you knew what your community needed or wanted or that you had all the answers for them? Well, okay, of course we can all agree that ultimately yes, we do have the one and only answer – aka Jesus Christ, who died for the entire world because He loved each one of us so much. And yes, we should want to share that good news with everyone we meet. So if that is our ‘end goal’, perhaps we can all agree that there are good ways, and not so good ways, to go about doing that.

If sharing the Good News of Jesus is our ‘end goal’, there are good ways, and not so good ways, to go about doing that.

Leading With Your Need

A few years back a speaker shared his story of engaging with his community and he stressed the importance of churches “leading with their need”. Unfortunately, we can’t remember who said it (so maybe we’ll take credit for it!), but it reminded us of the story of the Woman at the Well from John 4. Even before this woman and Jesus met in the middle of the day at the city’s well, we know that Jesus knew her entire story – because he was Jesus! But when we read this story, we see that He did not immediately address her situation, or come down on her with condemnation, or give her answers to her problems (which were many). He started by asking her to draw water for Him; He asked something of her. Again, Jesus didn’t need her help and she was the last person He should have even been talking to, but He did it anyway. Why? He wanted to create level ground between the two of them and talk to her human-to-human. This story clearly, and beautifully, depicts Jesus’ humanness. His somewhat simple request broke down barriers immediately and opened up the conversation between the two of them. And perhaps this is why she felt free to speak to Him the way she did. What a wonderful example for us to study and learn from – and then follow.

While sharing the Good News of the gospel is, and always should be, our ‘end goal’, perhaps we can all agree that there are good ways, and not so good ways, to go about doing that. Building good, healthy, and sustainable relationships with the people in our communities helps us ‘earn the right’ to be able to share that good news. Just as Jesus shows us.

Building good, healthy, and sustainable relationships with the people in our communities helps us ‘earn the right’ to be able to share that good news.

If we’re honest, we can likely agree that churches (and church people) can have the tendency to come in and try to ‘rescue’ people and tell them what they need to start doing (and stop doing!) but this ‘rescuing’ can actually create distance and resentment and often prohibits long-term change because ZERO relationship has been established. It can give people the impression that Christians are pretty self-righteous and that they believe they have all the answers. It tells others that if they just do what we say, their life will turn around and be better than they could ever imagine. BUT! When churches and believers first lead with their need, they instead approach their communities (and the individuals in it) by finding ways to say, ‘What can YOU contribute?’ and ‘How can we work together for a better future in this community and all who live in it.’  WOW! What a change in posture! What a role reversal! When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, He first showed her that she mattered and that she had something to offer. Then, and only then, was He able to find out more about her so He could explain to her that there was a ‘better way of doing life’. And what happens next is absolutely astounding and amazing! She ran and told all of the townspeople (the very people who despised her, gossiped about her, and likely excluded her) the good news of who Jesus was. And this here is ultimately how a community finds lasting transformation as we agreed upon earlier.

This month we’ll continue learning about how we can discover who our communities are and how we can reach them effectively with the love of Christ.

What About You?

Has your church made any blunders when it comes to engaging with your community/neighbourhood? What have you been learning? Does your church have a big “win” they’d like to share about how you have found ways to connect with their surrounding community? Share your stories with us!

Learning to Live Out Reconciliation – A DOE Story

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(Pictured above: Mike Hogeterp (left) and Jonathan Maracle exchanging gifts and greetings in the indigenous tradition)

Anita Hogeveen was one of the participants of “The Dance of Reconciliation” workshop led by Mike Hogeterp (Director of the Centre for Public Dialogue) and Jonathan Maracle at the Day of Encouragement (DOE) held on April 7, 2018, in Brockville, ON. We are pleased to share Anita’s story…

I had the privilege of attending “The Dance of Reconciliation” workshop led by Mike Hogeterp (Director of the Centre for Public Dialogue) and Jonathan Maracle at the recent DOE in Brockville. For some, the Indigenous issue in Canada has become one of fatigue – some are tired of hearing about the suffering of Canada’s native peoples. This workshop interwove some despair, some hope, some reality and some explanation into the issue. In the first section, Jonathan spoke to his experience as an indigenous person, about hardships faced and pockets of hope. He spoke about taking his message of reconciliation around the world via his group ‘Broken Walls’. This section ended with Jonathan singing the song “Broken Walls” which he wrote – a passionate song aspiring to break down the walls between all people, particularly indigenous peoples and others.

The second piece of the workshop featured a poignant gift exchange between Jonathan and Mike. Jonathan explained that the modeled gift exchange protocol was not based on the old expression “Indian Giver” (giving a gift and later wanting it back or expecting a gift of equal value). Both parties gave and received gifts that were significant to them. Tears were shed. Gift exchanges provide space for stories and shared truths. Gift exchanges under gird reconciliation and allow attitude shifts to begin. During the exchange, Mike and Jonathan reminded us to remember the sacred in every day events. Reconciliation was explained to us as being real, spiritual and political (political = polis = a body of people). Reconciliation is not a one-off apology but rather a daily occurrence practiced every day in our every action. Reconciliation requires us to offer ourselves freely to each other daily. Reconciliation is a journey of turning away from what is broken (relationships) and moving to new and healthier patterns, making way for relationship development.

Reconciliation is not a one-off apology but rather a daily occurrence practiced every day in our every action.

In the third part of the workshop, we watched excerpts from a movie, “Reserve 107”. This movie portrays a true story of indigenous and townspeople learning to trust each other and beginning a journey of reconciliation. During the film, Jonathan asked the film be stopped so that he could explain one of the actions displayed by an indigenous person. During a conversation, the silence of an indigenous person does not mean he/she is stupid or uneducated. Their pause is a sign of respect to whomever they are in conversation with. They honour the person they are speaking to by providing a well thought-out answer.

I do not have indigenous fatigue, hungry people fatigue, refugee fatigue or addicted people fatigue. My fatigue stems from my frustration with myself for being unable to make deeper inroads into the path of reconciliation. Mike and Jonathan reminded me reconciliation happens one gift exchange at a time. For me, gift exchange is mercy. Mercy lies within the word merchant. A merchant buys and sells; aka exchanges. I think about the beatitudes. Mercy. My gift exchange is one of mercy, choosing every day to develop healthier patterns with others. The worship music, keynote speaker, panel participants and workshop leaders at the DOE, all reminded me that mercy/exchange lies at the core of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the righting of wrongs. Reconciliation is hope for the future.

Mike and Jonathan reminded me reconciliation happens one gift exchange at a time.

-Anita Hogeveen

Do You Have a DOE Story to Share?

We’d love to hear it! Sharing our stories offers encouragement and inspiration to others in ministry and they can help us learn and understand and see another’s perspective! Email Erin today if you have something to share about a recent DOE.

Listening to Our Communities

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As mentioned in our previous blog post, New Month… Same Theme!, we’ll continue looking at listening this month, and in particular, listening to our COMMUNITIES. But perhaps we need to first name what we envision when we hear those words. What does listening to our community LOOK like? Sitting in the mall food court and eavesdropping to the table next to you? Listening to the local radio station while you cook dinner at home? Following your mayor’s or local MPP’s Twitter feed? Spying on your neighbours?

While these may be good suggestions and may prove helpful (well, all except the last one!!!), this likely isn’t going to help you get to know your city or the neighbourhoods within it. In our last blog post, we posed a few questions we hope you’ve had some time to ponder:

  • What are ways your diaconate actively listens to your community?
  • How does your church engage with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them better?
  • How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ?

Hmmm, what was that last one? How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ? There is a lot in there so let’s pick that one apart for a minute.

TAKE TIME – This means intentionally setting time aside to listen and learn.

DISCOVER – This means acknowledging you likely don’t know the whole story! Remember how we said listening can lead to understanding? Why not re-read our post on why listening is so important and our Top 10 Things to Know in Order to Listen Well for a minute before you move on 😉

WHERE GOD IS AT WORK – Perhaps you thought this was all about YOU! Well, it ain’t. All of what you do as deacons is about seeing where God is at work and joining HIM! Perhaps you’ve never heard that before. Perhaps you find that a bit freeing! Takes the pressure off a bit, eh?

Yes folks, God is, and always has been, moving and working in your community. The beautiful part is that we get to JOIN HIM! So now if that’s true, how do we know what He’s up to?

Discovering Where God is at Already at Work

Let’s touch on some of the best ways to discern and discover where God is moving and working:

  1. Prayer-Walking: In his book “Why Pray”, Dr. John DeVries reminds believers that prayer is an exciting and powerful privilege! He shows us that prayer is simply talking with God and it can lead to a deepened relationship of greater love and trust with our Heavenly Father. In his explanation of prayer, he compares it to a young boy riding on his grandfather’s lap as they ride the tractor around his grandparent’s farm. He says, “Prayer is the dependent relationship in which I sit on the lap of my heavenly Father and put my hand on His as He steers the tractor. After all, He not only owns and drives the tractor, but He also owns the farm!” Prayer Walking can be an important part of joining God on His mission. As one author put it, it’s taking the church to people, not taking people to the church. Prayer walking is a way we put feet to our prayers, or as some will say, praying on-site with insight. It can help us pray with open eyes, literally! In order to equip you and your churches, check out this valuable resource for your diaconates on what Prayer-Walking is – and isn’t! As Dr. DeVries continues, he reminds us: The fields that are ripe for harvest are God’s. He owns the tractor, and He knows where to plow. Only when we, like little children, climb into God’s lap in prayer, feel His arms of love around us, and experience the security of having our hands on His while He guides the steering wheel—only then will missions move!” [emphasis mine] Prayer-Walking is a beautiful and powerful way we can pray with hope for our cities!
  2. Attend or Host a Community Prayer Meeting: Gathering a group of people from inside and outside your church who all want to build up and bless their city has tremendous power! (Proverbs 11:11) What a wonderful way to celebrate unity among believers and non-believers, especially in these times when divisions seem to creep in so easily and quickly. Not only is it a chance to learn more about your community but you will also experience growth, both spiritually and personally. “While you are investing in God’s work, you are enlisting others to advance God’s work on earth” (Corinne Gatti). Imagine that! God will bless those efforts to do even more than we can imagine!
  3. Get Involved and Stay Informed: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13–16) “Sociologist James Hunter…writes: ‘Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.’ As followers of Jesus, we are called to a mission of engagement in, not withdrawal from, the broader world. To faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it” (Tom Nelson, article: “To Engage the World Means Being Present in It”). So start reading your local newspaper in order to follow municipal and regional affairs. Or why not volunteer/get involved in a local non-profit. It won’t take long before you discover where God is opening up doors for you and your church.
  4. Conduct a Community Opportunity Scan! For churches that are ready to see their relationship with their neighbours in a new way, DMC has developed a Community Opportunity Scan (COS). A COS is a comprehensive process of discovery which can lead to exciting possibilities! Churches can get to know the people, organizations, resources and needs of their community first-hand and more importantly, they can see where God is already at work!

So let’s get back to our original questions… What are ways your diaconate is actively listening to your community? How is your church intentionally engaging with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them? How are you, as deacons, taking time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ??

Churches and diaconates across Canada are in different stages of this “listening” journey. We at DMC are excited to hear their stories and we’ll be sharing a few in the weeks to come. Some are beginning to practice Prayer-Walking in various neighbourhoods in their city; some are clearly listening and paying close attention to where God is at work and what is happening in and around their church and then DOING SOMETHING about it through advocacy; some are beginning the COS process; and others are now moving on to see if an Operation Manna partnership will help them either start or grow a ministry in order to reach out into their community with the love of Christ!

No matter where your church/diaconate is in their journey, if you have any questions or need further guidance, we encourage you to get in touch with one of our Regional Ministry Developers and they’d love to speak with you! You can also check out our resources and tools online.


But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:57-58


 

New Month… Same Theme!

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For the month of April, we will be continuing our theme of LISTENING! Last month we looked at some of the benefits of listening, the how-to’s of listening and how deacons can listen better to each other and to their congregants. As leaders in the church, most of what you do is listening and many of the tasks you perform are done more effectively and efficiently when you’ve listened well to those around you!

Unfortunately, most people do not spend time honing the skill of listening. We work on our time management skills, our leadership skills, our public speaking skills, etc., but who spends time practicing the art of listening? On top of that, we live in a crazy culture of uber busyness where we’d all like a couple more hours in the day to get everything done, which has not helped any of us become better listeners! Richard Carlson talked about this in his book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, which came out over ten years ago(!):

“We often treat communication as if it were a race. It’s almost like our goal is to have no time gaps between the conclusion of the sentence of the person we are speaking with and the beginning of our own. If you think about it, you’ll notice that it takes an enormous amount of energy and is very stressful to be sitting at the edge of your seat trying to guess what the person in front of you (or on the telephone) is going to say so that you can fire back your response.”

One of the greatest benefits to listening well to others is that we can take a break from constantly multi-tasking and focus on just one thing – and one person. When is the last time you focused on just ONE THING? How counter-cultural is that? How counter-human is that?! Carlson goes on to say, “…As you wait for the people you are communicating with to finish, as you simply listen more intently to what is being said, you’ll notice that the pressure you feel is off.” Think about that for a minute. To really stop and listen. No talking; just listening. What could be the potential of that? When someone feels heard and understood, and when you are actually listening to what they are saying, when the pressure to respond is off – you are able to build relationship with that person!

So! What are ways your diaconate actively listens to your community? How does your church take time to engage with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them? How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ?

Let’s look at all of these questions over the next couple of weeks!

Got Something to Say?

We wanna hear it! Email Erin today and share your stories of listening. Does your diaconate spend time learning about or practicing the art of listening? If so, how? How has listening to those in your church or community changed the way you do ministry? Where have you seen God at work in your church or city because you spent time listening to Him?

Church Holds First “Serve Saturday”

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Members of Brighton Fellowship CRC (BFCRC) are ready to tackle some yardwork for a local senior at their first “Serve Saturday” event.

This past weekend, a total of 60 participants came out bright and early on Saturday morning for Brighton Fellowship CRC’s (BFCRC) first-ever “Serve Saturday”. Members of all ages were encouraged by the Diaconate of BFCRC to come and help out some local seniors, both inside and outside their congregation, with their fall clean-up. The morning began at 8am with a devotion and prayer followed by participants enjoying a delicious breakfast. Groups and worksites had already been formed prior to the morning and by 8:40am, everyone was off and ready to get to work.

Roxanne Ewing, Chair of Deacons at BFCRC, said the idea to hold a “Serve Saturday” was primarily inspired by BFCRC being a host church for a SERVE Youth Mission Trip. This is a program run by Youth Unlimited who works with local churches to help them share the love of Christ with those in their own backyards. The week-long mission trip welcomes teens and youth leaders from across North America. Work sites are arranged for each day, lending assistance to various community agencies and individuals. The feedback from those who received assistance from these SERVE groups over the past 3 years in Brighton was tremendous. After the week was over, many would ask the church, “Hey, where did all those wonderful teenagers go to?”

This got the Deacons at BFCRC thinking. How could they take the concept of a SERVE week and make it a part of their own church’s regular rhythm? They understood that this would not only be a practical way to help people inside and outside their church walls, but also build on the relationships that began with the SERVE groups. It also fit well with their mission to “show love, kindness and mercy to all members of BFCRC and surrounding community.”

The Mission Statement of the Diaconate of BFCRC

One of the key reasons the Deacons decided to focus their efforts on seniors was because of a Community Opportunity Scan that the church completed a few years ago when they were doing some re-Visioning as a church. One of the discoveries made was the large amount of seniors living in the Brighton area.

Afterwards, Roxanne said they “had an amazing day!!! The feedback was very positive…. Those we served… were blessed and overwhelmed with gratitude; some even brought to tears…. It was [also] quite a buzz the next morning in church!!! Everyone is looking forward to doing this again and I think this will be contagious!!”

Moving forward, it is the hope of the diaconate to hold another Serve Saturday in the Spring. It is through these small but intentional steps that as a diaconate and church, they hope to “show the love of Jesus to everyone… with open eyes and a prayerful heart.”

So what about YOUR church?

Has your diaconate found ways to encourage intergenerational serving, inside or outside your church? What doors has God been opening up for you as a church? Share your story with us!

Need inspiration? Not sure where to start? Contact the DMC Office to speak to one of our staff members and we’d love to chat with you!

A Deacon’s Experience

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Rene (back centre) with fellow deacon Amanda Blaauwendraat (front left) and their team for Coldest Night of the Year, in support of the Truro Homeless Outreach Society

As part of our mission to inspire deacons in the work that they do, Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC) works to share various deacons’ experiences. Our hope is that these stories from across the country will help deacons learn from each other and feel connected to a broader group beyond their own church.

This month we are highlighting an interview we did with Mrs. Rene Wall from John Calvin CRC in Truro, Nova Scotia.

MEET MRS. RENE WALL

Rene works as a Web Application Developer for the Nova Scotia Government. Rene and her husband Jamie were blessed to celebrate their 25th Wedding Anniversary this past summer. She is one of those rare people who love committee work and is happiest when she is organizing/coordinating something. Her interests include singing, reading, crafting and playing with her kitties.

What did you enjoy about serving as a deacon?
I am an organizer at heart, so I enjoyed working on projects with the other deacons; whether it was cooking dinners for seniors at Christmas, preparing the annual Community Dinner for the needy in our town, setting up the apartment for our interim pastor, or organizing the Maritime Day of Encouragement.

What was one of the most positive experiences you had while serving as a deacon over the past few years?
I think perhaps it was leading a team in the Out of the Cold Fundraiser the last few years. It met a few of the goals that I tried to achieve: it was inter-generational (youth and adult participants), involved our church in the community, was something that people new to church could easily participate in and, of course, it was for an excellent diaconal cause – Truro Homeless Outreach Society.

What has been a challenge your diaconate faced over the past few years? How did you navigate this challenge?
We really struggled with how to answer cold calls (people we don’t know). The existing practice was to give out grocery cards, but at the start of my term it became really clear that people were taking advantage of that practice: hitting up all the churches in the area, selling the grocery cards for money, people not being who they claimed they were, etc. We tried a number of different things, and in end we decided to ask for ID, and then offer them a bag of groceries. In the bag is a list of all the local resources for help (eg. local Food Bank, Salvation Army) and free lunches and dinners in the community. When we do have extra money in the diaconate we look for ways we can help existing local organizations like the local Food Bank or women’s shelter.

“Get involved with a community organization – it extends how far you can help and it introduces the community to your church.”

What words of advice or encouragement would you offer to future deacons?
Don’t just define the role of a deacon as what you might have seen/perceived growing up in the church. It’s changing and covers a lot more than “counting money and giving out grocery cards”. Then find something in the role of deacon that resonates with you and do the best you can! If you can, get involved with a community organization – it extends how far you can help and it introduces the community to your church.

What has your interaction or experience with Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC) been like? 
Hmm – this could have been my “positive experience” too. I worked very closely with DMC’s Maritime Diaconal Ministry Developer (DMD) to organize the Maritime Day of Encouragement (MDOE) in 2015 and again this year. As I mentioned in the previous question, it was a way for me to use my “organizing abilities” in the role of deacon. Through DMC’s support of the MDOE over the years, we’ve been able to bring a lot of excellent speakers to the Maritimes to encourage and support our leaders.

What do you think other diaconates should know about DMC and its resources?
DMC has a lot of resources for you to tap into – talk to your DMD or visit their website. You don’t have to go it alone! I finished my role as deacon this spring and am currently mentoring two new deacons. I found a lot of great training material/devotions on the DMC website for them to use. Thank you!

Are you a deacon? Do you have an experience you’d like to share with us? Then we want to hear from YOU! Email eknight@crcna.org today