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Deacons at Classis & Synod… Why it’s not just “Another” Meeting!

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Every year in the early part of June, our denomination gathers for what we call Synod. Delegates from each Classis in North America come together to pray, worship, learn, discuss and make decisions that will guide our denomination into the future God has set out for us. On a smaller scale, each Classis in Canada and the US also has its own meetings throughout the year to help churches on a more ‘local’ level live into their mission and work together to build the Kingdom of God.

In recent years, a decision was made to allow Deacons to attend both of these larger gatherings as delegates, alongside elders and pastors. This was a hallmark decision as it affirmed the Office of Deacon as being equally as important as the Offices of elder and pastor, the ‘spiritual leaders of the church’.

Here at DMC we’ve been talking about this for some time and in our conversations, we’ve discovered some of the joys and hopes Deacons have regarding this new opportunity, but we’ve also heard about some of their fears and uncertainty. In a recent interview with Ada Kloet, a deacon at ClearView Christian Reformed Church in Oakville, ON, she expressed much appreciation for these larger denominational gatherings and for the inclusion of deacons. In her time as a deacon, she has realized that deacons are involved in many different areas of ministry (community engagement, worship, benevolence) and that they do important and impactful work. Since deacons are called to serve the church just like elders and pastors are, and since they are part of the church’s council, “why wouldn’t deacons also be seated at Classis and Synod?!” But, she went on to say, meetings do need to have value for deacons so they’ll want to go.

Since deacons are called to serve the church just like elders and pastors are, and since they are part of the church’s council, “why wouldn’t deacons also be seated at Classis and Synod?!”

Her greatest advice for deacons attending these meetings is to “be open to learning and listening”; it’s okay to be the newbie as everyone has been at that place at one time or another. Among the many benefits of attending Classis and Synod, she added that it can help Deacons learn more about what the CRC is about and how God is clearly at work. (Look for the full article/interview to come out soon!)

So, after many conversations with deacons, CRC staff, Mr. Andy Ryskamp, and others, we’ve complied our own Top Reasons Why Deacons are Needed at Classis & Synod. Take a look and see what you think. And share this with all of your deacon friends.

What points do you agree with? What did we miss? We’d love to hear from you

Our greatest hope for deacons (and all council members really) is that they will see these larger gatherings as much more than just ‘another meeting’. As Ada reminds us, these gatherings can be an opportunity to listen and learn and see where God is at work in our denomination and how Deacons can be a part of that!

 

What’s Gonna Work? TEAMWORK!

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When my kids were young, we watched a wonderful cartoon called the Wonder Pets. Ever heard of it? In a nutshell, the show’s main characters are three elementary school classroom pets — Linny the Guinea Pig, Tuck the Turtle, and Ming-Ming the duckling. They are presented as a trio of heroes who rescue baby animals as they demonstrate the benefits of teamwork. (Thanks Wikipedia!) After they receive the call with their new mission (literally, their ‘telephone’ rings), they sing this wonderful (and catchy!) song as they prepare to head out:

Wonder Pets, Wonder Pets, we’re on our way
To help a [baby penguin] and save the day!

We’re not too big and we’re not too tough
But when we work together we’ve got the right stuff!
Go…. Wonder Pets, yay!

Upon finding out the problem at hand, they make a plan and continue their song…

Linny, Tuck, and Ming-Ming too!
We’re Wonder Pets and we’ll help you!

What’s gonna work? Teamwork!
What’s gonna work? TEAMWORK!!

(source: https://www.lyricsondemand.com/tvthemes/wonderpetslyrics.html)

In my home today, we still sing (well, okay, I sing!) this great little ditty at the end about teamwork. Whether it be in your family, your workplace, or your church, I think we can all agree that TEAMWORK is a necessary component to living in a thriving, healthy culture. It puts the whole body before the individual, and it keeps a group of people moving in the same direction, leaving ‘no man (or woman) behind’. This is because it keeps the mission as the main thing, even when times are tough. Just like these three classroom pets: the animals they rescued weren’t always cute and cuddly, but the Wonder Pets were committed to their mission (helping animals in trouble) AND they were committed to each other.

This month we’ll be looking at Deacons at Classis & Synod, as well as Community Engagement. At first glance, you may wonder what these 2 things have in common. Well – both require TEAMWORK! A.k.a. Collaboration!

I was reminded of this while reading from the book of Nehemiah last week. In chapter 3, we read about the people of Jerusalem rebuilding the damaged wall. This was a big deal to that city for in that time, a broken wall was a symbol of a ‘broken people’: a defeated people who were now exposed and vulnerable. When reading through the chapter, it’s easy to get your tongue twisted as you try to read through the various names of who did what and where. You may even be tempted to skim over the many names listed. Why this was so important that it was included in the Bible?! But if we take the time to read through this chapter, we see a beautiful picture of how the people of that city worked together. They put aside their positions, their genders and even their loyalties, in order to accomplish this great feat. Priests and rulers worked alongside perfume-makers and goldsmiths. People came from other cities and regions to lend a hand. Men worked alongside women. Some repaired two sections while others simply repaired the section opposite their own homes.

Here are a few things we can learn from this passage:

1. Teamwork means no one’s work was more important depending on how much they did;
2. Teamwork means we are each lending our own gifts and abilities to work toward one common goal;
3. Our positions or titles and even our gender must be put aside for the greater good AND the grander vision of what God would have us do;
4. While we often pray for prosperity and peace, hard times or calamity can be an opportunity to bring us together and make us stronger.

Steven J Cole sums these four points up by saying, “To accomplish God’s purpose, we need a common vision, dedicated leaders, and willing workers who do their part.” That’s what teamwork is all about!

“To accomplish God’s purpose, we need a common vision, dedicated leaders, and willing workers who do their part.” (Steven J. Cole)

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll unpack these four points as we talk about Deacons at Classis & Synod and why they are needed there. We’ll also apply this to what we’ve been learning about Community Engagement. One thing’s for sure: whether we’re looking at Deacons being included at these larger denominational gatherings or churches engaging with this communities, we can all agree that we are always BETTER TOGETHER. Like bacon & eggs, peanut butter & jam, cheese & crackers. And the Wonder Pets!

So, what’ gonna work? TEAMWORK!

You’re not too big and you’re not too tough
But when you work together you’ve got the right stuff!
Go…. Deacons!!

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.

Equipping Leaders through Encouragement and Learning

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(Pictured above: A panel discussing the day’s theme, left to right: Aaron Helleman, on the future in technology; Jonathan Maracle, on reconciliation between indigenous people and the church; Sid Ypma, on the future of the church.)

A Day of Encouragement (DOE) is an event held in many regions across Canada. Participants worship together, share ministry stories and best practices, and learn from one another. These can be anywhere from a half-day or evening gathering to a full weekend. The aim of a DOE is to help your church’s leaders experience…

  • Refreshment and encouragement as they serve and work;
  • Inspiration and motivation to persevere in ministry;
  • A deeper sense of community with others who serve in Christ’s name; and
  • A venue where all leave affirmed and encouraged

DOE’s can also offer a safe and inclusive environment for difficult topics and conversations to be discussed.

Lunchtime – people flocking to the dessert table! 🙂

On April 7th, a DOE was held in Brockville, ON for the western half of Classis Eastern Canada. This year’s theme was “What Will the Future Hold?” Those in attendance expressed their appreciation for the day and of several of the workshops held. Two highlights were the “Dance of Reconciliation” dialogue on reconciliation between indigenous people and the church, led by Mike Hogeterp and Jonathan Maracle, and “The Mirror of Popular Music”, a workshop led by Micah van Dijk which discussed the use of popular songs in order to engage in critical conversations about cultural issues.

A DOE has been held in this region every other year since 2007. When organizing this year’s event, the Planning Team felt it was time to step out in faith and, as a result, they tried out some new things:

First, the location of this year’s DOE was changed to Brockville, ON, instead of holding it in the Ottawa area. This required a LOT of trust since historically about 50% of the attendance has come from the Ottawa area and the team knew this could affect the turn-out. Since the location of the event was moved further west, those from Classis Quinte were invited to join this year’s event as geographically it was a bit closer to them. Twelve (12) people arrived from Kingston and Frankford which was encouraging to the Planning Team. As well, many from the Ottawa area were still able to make the trip and while overall attendance did dip a bit, the total number of those who attended was 72 which the team was very grateful for!

Secondly, the team organized a Panel Discussion around the theme of the day in order to examine it from different perspectives. Each of the panel members gave interesting and eloquent insights and the Planning Team is exploring how this can be done a bit more efficiently and effectively next time around.

Lastly, an online registration program was used for this year’s event (via Cognito Form). On the whole that appeared to go well: it was simple to set up and easy to use. This will likely be used again in the future.

Overall, the Planning Team and those in attendance agreed the day was an overwhelming success!

Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance (Prov 1:5)

Is it time for your church (and Classis) to hold a Day of Encouragement?

Are you and your diaconate looking to meet with other people who are passionate for God’s Kingdom and their community? Does hearing other’s stories inspire you? Is your team ready to learn from experts in a workshop setting? Are your volunteers longing to enhance their current skills and develop new ones?

Or perhaps your need to give your annual DOE a re-boot? Either way, our website offers some helpful resources that you can use, including a Day of Encouragement ‘Best Practices’ handout, a Sample Budget, and a DOE Sample Brochure.

And as always, please contact us if you need further assistance.

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?

The Art of Listening – Part 1

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My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19 | NIV

This month we’ve spent some time on looking at LISTENING. As deacons, I think you’ll agree that most of what you are required to do is LISTEN! You listen to God as He leads and directs your life and ministry; to your church members when you make visits; to each other as deacons when you gather together and do your work; to your church council and pastor as you aim to lead your church effectively and wholistically; and also to your surrounding community when you seek to love and serve your neighbours.

Experts will tell us that listening is the key to all effective communication. Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Without this ability, messages are easily misunderstood and communication will often break down between the sender and the receiver. Effective listening is a skill that fortifies all positive human relationships. Perhaps you have experienced this, for better OR worse, in your own life, in a relationship with someone. When one does not feel “heard”, they will easily become frustrated or irritated. Take a moment to watch this interaction between a man and a woman, entitled It’s Not About the Nail, before you read on.

While we can get a good chuckle from this, it does drive the point home, doesn’t it? So often when we are ‘listening’ to someone, we immediately want to help them solve their problem or help them make a situation right again. We are listening in order to RESPOND. But is that the end goal of listening? To have a response ready? To dole out some good advice? As deacons, this makes some sense, doesn’t it? We listen so we can respond, in love. What’s wrong with that?

Let’s first of all look together at what Listening actually is (and isn’t) before we move on.

The Art of Listening

After gathering various resources on listening, we have put together our own Top 10 Things to Know in Order to Listen Well. Take a look and see what you think. Perhaps there are others you’d like to add to this list!

  1. Listening Requires Patience and Concentration; We are easily distracted and our minds can tend to wander if we don’t put in the effort while we communicate. Finding or creating a suitable environment is necessary and will show the other person you are truly ready and willing to listen.
  2. Listening Requires Interest and Empathy; If you don’t care what people are saying, it’ll likely show. Taking an interest and going a step further by being empathetic (thinking about how it feels to be in the other person’s shoes) will lead to better understanding.
  3. Listen to Understand, not to Reply; As we become more empathetic, we will keep our judgments at bay and we’ll resist the temptation to simply give advice or help the person solve their problem. (Remember the nail?!) Asking good, clarifying questions will also help us understand better where the other person is coming from. Remember: The primary goal is to understand the other person, not to agree with them or solve their problem.
  4. Listening Requires Your Whole Body!;
    1. Your brain, for thinking and processing what you are hearing;
    2. Your eyes, to keep good eye contact and stay engaged;
    3. Your ears, of course!;
    4. Your mouth, for sharing when it’s your turn – to ask good questions or share an idea or insight;
    5. Your hands being kept still, so you aren’t fidgeting and making the other person nervous!;

Overall, your entire posture matters. Whether sitting or standing, try not to look like this guy! (see right)

  1. Listen to What People Don’t Say as Much as What They Do Say; It’s important that as we use OUR whole body to listen, we also take note of what the other person is communicating through body language. Do they look uncomfortable? Do they look timid? Overall: does their body/face match what they are saying?
  2. Listen as an Act of Encouragement; “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thess. 5:11). When someone feels heard, they are being built up and sometimes that’s all they needed in the first place! Let this be one of your motivations in listening.
  3. Listen as an Act of Kindness; While there are many ways to show someone how much you love them, one of the most precious ways is through the simple act of listening. Kindness breaks down barriers and allows people to begin to trust more and therefore, open up more.
  4. Listening Can Bring Healing; “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” (Cheryl Robinson). For someone who has been hurt, simply being allowed to share their story in safe place and be heard and understood can begin healing. It doesn’t change or erase the past, but it can bring hope and comfort moving forward. To find out what we mean, read this article: http://ccsonline.ca/2017/10/listening-brings-healing/.
  5. Listening Takes Practice! Mastering the art of listening requires practice and must be a lifelong pursuit. Each person must surrender their own selfish nature and ego in order to become a better listener. While some will find it easier than others, this is no excuse to give up. In your daily practicing, you may also find it helpful to observe other people’s interactions to discover some do’s and don’ts of listening.
  6. Becoming a Better Listener will help you in EVERY SINGLE AREA of your life; Listening well will help you become a better friend, sibling, employee, spouse, parent, neighbour and most importantly, it will help you as deacons truly live as examples of Jesus Christ [taken from the Charge to Deacons, 2016]. “An understanding mind gets much learning, and the ear of the wise listens for much learning.” Proverbs 18:15 (NLV)

Listening Well to Each Other

Think for a moment how different your diaconal meetings would be if your entire team adhered to this Top 10 and devoted time to become better listeners? Imagine what would happen to your diaconate if everyone in the room felt safe, accepted, encouraged, loved, and felt that what they had to say was important? Picture how that would impact a new deacon coming on board?!

Listening is the most fundamental part of interpersonal communication skills. “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words (Rachel Naomi Remen).

Listening Well to Your Church Members

The same goes for your congregation. No matter your church structure, most deacons are tasked with making visits amongst your church members. While the reasons may vary, most of the time you are there when things aren’t going well. So, like most of us, these visits can be a little SCARY! What will I say? What if I don’t have any solutions to their problems? What if they can see how nervous I am? What if they want me to PRAY with them?! What if they need something our church can’t help them with!? [Or insert your own fears here.] Too often we tell ourselves we must provide some form of advice or even a solution when called upon to make a visit. You may even see yourself fall into this type of situation.

Bart Plugboer, one of our amazing and long-time Diaconal Ministry Developer’s shared this story with us recently:

I was a deacon in my church here in Houston, BC. We, the deacons, have our own meetings but we also have a combined meeting with the elders. This story happened when I did my first deacon term. Church council was looking for a member to go and talk to a couple in our church that was having marriage problems. Nobody said anything and since I knew them I said I would go to them and talk to that couple. The Chair of Council said okay; I was to go there in the next couple of days. After the meeting, when I was doing my 20-minute drive home, I remember thinking to myself ‘WHAT HAVE I DONE?!! What am I going to say?!! How am I going to do this?!!’ I was really scared of messing up, so the next day when I went to see them, as I was driving there, I said to God, “Lord if you want me to do this you better come along because I don’t know what to say or do!” And the Lord heard my prayer and answered me! I went there and asked if I could talk to them and they did all the talking; all I did was listen! So on the way home I really thanked God for all his help!!

Bart has used this story many times when meeting with and training new deacons. He learned a valuable lesson that day: just be there and listen; do not talk – just listen. Most of the time this is all you need to do and God will help you and guide you.

According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there are many times when “listening can be a greater service than speaking.” Many times all we need to simply do is sit face-to-face with someone, uncross our arms, lean forward, make eye contact, and listen to their story. Whether working alongside fellow deacons or amongst the larger church body, or even beyond, remember this and never stop practicing the art of listening!

Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord. Proverbs 16:20

Some Points to Ponder:

  • How can listening build a better team environment? a healthier church environment?
  • How could listening break down walls and create a culture of openness and transparency in your diaconate? in your church?

Need Some Help?

As we referenced above, our DMD’s are armed and ready to help your diaconate master the art of listening, both inside and outside your church walls. Contact your area DMD today or email us if you don’t know who that is!