community engagement

“How could we say ‘no?’” Gateway CRC responds to need for homeless shelter

Posted by | Engaging Community, Uncategorized | No Comments

(Pictured Above: Larry, one of the shelter’s guests who has also started to regularly attend Gateway, sitting in the church gym.)

This month, guest blogger Monica deRegt will be writing a 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. 
Our theme for December has been “Helping Without Harming” and we hope this story inspires churches to trust God and follow Him into their communities, despite the risks and the unknowns, in order to be a light in this world.


When Gateway CRC (Abbotsford, BC) designed their new building over a decade ago, they knew they wanted it to be a facility that could be used by the broader community. They planned for a large auditorium with a suitable stage for concerts, a spacious banquet hall for rentals, and they kept the original gymnasium and classrooms that were part of the old school building, to be used by groups within and outside of the church. What they didn’t envision was receiving an urgent request on a cold December day in 2016 for additional space to accommodate homeless men and women living in their neighbourhood.

When Jesse Wegenast, director of 5 and 2 Ministries, a local organization that ministers to homeless people, approached Gateway, he was hesitant at first because he had been turned down by every other church he had asked up to that point. But, desperate to find space for 30 beds for people who needed to get out of the cold as soon as possible, and knowing Gateway was a large facility, he decided to take his chances.

Within a week, Gateway’s gym was transformed into an Extreme Weather Shelter that remained open for over 70 nights during a long, cold winter. 5 and 2 Ministries operated the shelter and provided the staff, along with support from the City of Abbotsford. Gateway provided the space, warm meals every night for the guests, along with custodial services and other needs as they arose. In 2017, Gateway took over and managed the shelter on their own, with guidance from the Extreme Weather Shelter Action Committee of Abbotsford, and funding from BC Housing.

So how did it all come together? It wasn’t without its challenges, some of which are still being ironed out as the church heads into the third winter hosting the shelter, shared Gateway’s Executive Pastor Marcel deRegt. Because this ministry arose out of an urgent need, none of the typical ministry planning and preparation took place.

“But how could we say ‘no?’” deRegt asks. “We are the church, this is what we are called to do as believers.”

“But how could we say ‘no?’ We are the church; this is what we are called to do as believers.” 
Pastor deRegt

So, they said yes and decided to figure it out as they went. The learning curve was steep as most Gateway members had very little experience with homeless people prior to opening the shelter. There was some fear and misgivings, a lot of eye-opening moments, as well as a few frustrations. But mostly there was a genuine desire to help even if everyone didn’t know exactly what to say or do. Many responded in the only way they knew how – with food. Empty crockpots stacked up beside the church mailboxes each morning were a testament to the dozens of meals that members would drop off each night. Some members volunteered to sit with the homeless people in the evenings. A group of people came together early on Christmas morning to share a pancake breakfast and Christmas gifts with the shelter guests.

When Gateway took over the management of the shelter in 2017, more planning and paperwork needed to happen. DeRegt and the rest of the staff and council worked closely with the local Salvation Army and BC Housing to sort out funding and other details such as bylaw changes, as well as hiring a coordinator to oversee the program and manage the volunteers.

Lasting relationships have been formed with some of the guests, and hearts and lives have been transformed within both the congregation and the shelter. 

Last year, the shelter provided a dry bed and a warm meal for over 450 individuals. But more than that, lasting relationships have been formed with some of the guests, and hearts and lives have been transformed within both the congregation and the shelter.  


Monica Kronemeyer deRegt is a freelance writer and Academic Counselor at Abbotsford Christian School. She lives in Chilliwack, BC, with her husband and three children.

Finding Joy in Diaconal Work; A Deacon’s Story

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

[Pictured above: In June, Clearview CRC joined other Oakville churches for the 10th Annual Oakville Community Food Drive to help restock the shelves at the Oakville Food banks and The Compass. Clearview’s members reached over 1,600 houses in their neighbourhood to help advertise the food drive, thanks to more than 120 volunteers!]

Back in June, Diaconal Ministries Canada posed the question, “Why are Deacons needed at Classis & Synod”. We were pleased to hear what other deacons and ministry leaders had to say and one particular email came from Ada Kloet. She and her husband are members at Clearview CRC in Oakville, Ontario. Not only that, but Ada and her husband, George, are both deacons – the first husband-wife deacon ‘team’ in their congregation. Erin Knight had the pleasure of talking to Ada about her experience growing up in the CRC and also about serving as a deacon.

For many of us growing up in the CRC, it felt at times that we were simply a part of our ‘parent’s church’. Our fathers and mothers were busy serving their time on Council, helping out with Sunday School or children’s ministries, being part of the choir perhaps, or fill-in-the-blank. Our parents diligently and faithfully served God and their church with their time AND resources. While most work was done inside the church walls, some ‘outreach’ was also being done, like sponsoring a refugee family or collecting food for the local food bank. And while all of this work was good and helpful and kingdom-building, many of the younger members would sit in the pew and think, ‘is there more to this Christianity thing?’

Enter Ada Kloet. She, too, grew up in a Christian Reformed church with her father being a “career elder”, as Ada puts it. This meant he would be “on for 3 years and off for 1”, and repeat! While Ada respected her parents and their beliefs and the value they put on church, she and her husband, having children of their own, began wondering if there was ‘something more’. This wondering led them to leave their church for a time to learn and discern. After some years away at another local church outside of the CRC denomination, George and Ada were both led back to their CRC congregation with a new mindset and a fresh sense of contentment. They had discovered a new way of ‘doing church’ – a new way of living out their faith day-to-day – and they were excited to come back and find that their former church was also changing. And even more so, that this Christian Reformed congregation was not alone.

Ada and her husband had discovered a new way of ‘doing church’ – a new way of living out their faith day-to-day – and they were excited to come back and find that Clearview Church had also changed.

Ada remembers her father saying often, ‘It’s time to hand the keys over to the next generation. I may not always agree with how things are done or how the next generation decides on the issues but we must move forward.’ And Ada agrees. “Something is happening in the CRC overall,” she shared. While she isn’t entirely sure where it came from, she sees the denomination echoing the need for change in order to move forward; a desire to step out in faith, coupled with a desire for unity.

When Clearview CRC realized the need for change and the need to be more intentional in reaching out into their community, they knew they needed help. So they brought on a staff member to help get their church on track. Over the years the job evolved into a “Community Engagement Specialist” position. The purpose of this position was to help the church grow in their love for God and for people in their community. The church is located in Oakville, Ontario, which has the reputation of being a city with primarily “rich” people, but, just like any other town in any other province, there are many who struggle day-to-day. So their church began to reach out by holding community dinners and a community cooking group, running a year-round food pantry, holding bible studies, being a part of a Justice Film Festival, and more.

The church has discovered that collaboration in ministry helps them offer more wholistic assistance to the people they are serving. Their church really owns the ministries listed above and most are done in collaboration with other agencies in their city or region. Networking with local agencies who can assist their church not only helps the church (so they aren’t trying to do it all), but also the individual person or family receiving assistance: if someone else can do it better, let them!

This was also seen in a personal way for Ada. Being a retired nurse, she has a heart for helping people deal with loss. Griefshare was a program that Ada became a Facilitator for and she was trying to get it off the ground at Clearview. Unfortunately, she was having trouble finding people within the church with the same passion and desire to help her. She began looking outside her church walls, which was “perhaps what God wanted in the first place!” she says. Ada reached out to another local church and discovered they had nine (9) people on their team. Ada now works with this church to provide this important and impactful ministry to those going through loss.

Collaboration has also found its way into their Church’s Council. A couple years ago, Ada and her husband, George, agreed to let both of their names stand for the office of Deacon. While this wasn’t typically the ‘norm’, when the casting of lots was done and both of them got it in, it seemed to them that God could be affirming this kind of ‘teamwork’. Being a Husband-Wife team has been a wonderful way of doing diaconal ministry: Ada says they are able to share the burdens and challenges of their roles with each other and offer one another advice and encouragement. More recently, other husbands and wives at their church have become elders and deacons through the casting of lots, which has been further confirmation from God that He was approving this type of ‘collaboration’ in diaconal work!

In her role as deacon, Ada was chosen to attend the Toronto Classis meetings and also Synod this year. She has found attending these meetings to be enlightening and encouraging. She went in with an open mind and was willing to listen and learn. When asked about deacons being seated at these larger denominational gatherings, Ada said she has come to realize that Deacons are called to serve the church just like the elders and pastors are and they oversee so many important ministries: community engagement/outreach, worship, stewardship/benevolence, justice, etc. According to Ada, if the Council is charged with leading the local church and deacons are also part of that Council, why wouldn’t deacons be seated at Classis and Synod?! This point is echoed in the “Top Reasons Deacons Are Needed at Classis & Synod” sheet DMC recently put out: it is about the full representation of the church. When deacons are missing from major assemblies, the full voice of the church is not heard, nor is the full ministry of the church under discussion (from Diakonia Remixed).

For Deacons who are still hesitant and unsure of being part of these large gatherings, Ada encourages them to be okay with being the ‘newbie’: “everyone is at that place at one time or another and will experience the same learning curve,” she says. Being a part of Classis and Synod will help deacons experience a better connection to other CR churches and to the denomination as a whole, which has been Ada’s experience.

Ada believes being a part of Classis and Synod will help deacons experience a better connection to other CR churches and to the denomination as a whole.

Moving forward, Ada continues to be excited about how God can use her to do His good work. Her ‘advice’ to other deacons would be to first carry each other’s burdens, pray, and worship together – and THEN work together. She would also tell deacons to encourage each other’s passions, no matter where that may lead someone to serve. In their own diaconate, one deacon had a passion for stewardship and was led to serve in a different ministry and they have learned to celebrate that!

As Ada shared with us in her initial email, “My father would be glad today to see enthusiasm about people’s faith and he would be glad to see the church moving forward in 2018 in unity and hope for a bright future.”

Thank you Ada for sharing your story – about your personal walk with God and about your experience serving as a deacon! To God be the Glory!

Story by | Erin Knight, Communications Coordinator at Diaconal Ministries Canada


What’s YOUR Story?

What have you learned by serving as a deacon? What has been a highlight? What has been the most challenging? Share your story with Erin, our Communications Coordinator.

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!

Posted by | Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | No Comments

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!

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

Posted by | Engaging Community, resources, Uncategorized | No Comments

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!

Listening to Our Communities

Posted by | Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons, resources, Uncategorized | No Comments

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!

Posted by | Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | No Comments

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”

Posted by | Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons | No Comments

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!