Monday, March 29, 2010

How Do You Make Your Neighborhood A Better Place to Live?

This is the question that I keep asking for Anchor.

I keep asking it because there is no one simplistic answer. And because we don't have enough answers yet. But here's my best answer so far: Be The Church.

Why ask that question at all? Isn't there a better question for Anchor as a church to be asking? Maybe there are. Here's my point of conviction, though: when Jesus introduces his ministry, he announces that his work will be good news for the downtrodden, the prisoners, the disabled and diseased, the weak and powerless. These were the people of his neighborhood, and Jesus was the good news. 

So, fast-forward to these days: if we are the hands and feet of Jesus, and we are to be good news to our neighbors, how do you measure that in the community? Even though our congregation comes together from all over the city, we gather together in a particular neighborhood week after week after week after week. If we are good news, are we ever good news to the neighborhood we spend all that time in worshipping? And if worshipping and serving are two actions tied together, then is there a connection between our gathering in a neighborhood and our giving to it.

So what is it about being the church that makes the neighborhood a better place to live? That's what we're working to figure out. It's what we've been working on since day one. And the journey has taken us to develop a relationship with Judge Charles Pratt and the Family Court Division. Our neighborhood has many families wrapped up in the world of the courts and prison. So if we are going to be good news to them, we need to better understand what they are going through, and how we can be helpful.

Prior to the relationship with the judge, Anchor has been developing strong relationships with our neighborhood churches. This has proven to be a fun and enriching experience, fruitful and innovative. And because of that existing partnership, we were ready to join in on an opportunity presented to us by Judge Pratt. The Indiana Youth Institute wanted to re-establish a Fatherhood Coalition in Fort Wayne, and that meant making $160,000 available to institutions willing to come together and make it a reality. Two of our neighborhood churches have partnered with the YMCA - SOCAP, along with some other city non-profits and churches to serve and strengthen fathers in the city.

The National Fatherhood Initiative is a movement to mentor and lift up dads in need of wisdom and encouragement. And according to Judge Pratt, better dads would make a big difference in the families he sees in his courts, the same families that are in Anchor's neighborhood. And so, if Anchor is going to be good news to our neighbors, we need to keep partnering with others to lift up dads. This is part of what it means for the church to help make the neighborhood a better place to live. 

The Fort Wayne Fatherhood Coalition was approved to receive the grant from IYI, and so now begins a six-month project to invest in dads. If we are successful in meeting our goals, IYI is eager to fund our coalition again, as well as helping us improve and expand our services to fathers in Fort Wayne. Because of the grant we received, we will be able to hire a very skilled grant writer and program director for our project. This move strengthens our ability to provide long-term, innovative, and effective ministry to dads in our neighborhood.

Anchor is eager to serve the dads in our own congregation, in our neighborhood, and in our city. We're eager to partner with more churches and more organizations to encourage and train dads to be grow up and step up. And we're excited for where the Spirit is taking our neighborhood churches. It's a journey that will be a good gift to dads, a journey that will be a good gift to families in our neighborhood, and a journey that will give us more opportunities to not only share the good news, but to be be the good news.

If you'd like to be good news, you're welcome to join us!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Reality of Becoming Free

How free do you want to be?

What would you do with all your freedom?

What's the greatest kind of freedom you can experience? Political freedom? Economic freedom?

This Lent we're walking through the Exodus story, the one about where God insists that Pharaoh let the Israelites go so that they may worship the LORD in the wilderness. God demanded freedom to worship. This involvement by God to free his people was in response to the cry of the Israelites. They cried out for deliverance, and so God sent them Moses. The story doesn't quite go like you would assume; here's a shortened version of how it starts:
Moses to Pharaoh: Let my people go…
Pharaoh to Moses: No way!

Pharaoh to Slavedrivers: Work ‘em harder!
Israelites to Pharaoh: Why?
Pharaoh to Israelites: You’re lazy! Get to work!

Israelites to Moses: Thanks a lot!
Moses to God: Do you even know what you are doing?
God to Moses: You gotta trust me.
Moses to Israelites: You gotta trust God on this one…
Israelites to Moses: Thanks but not thanks.

God to Moses: Ready to try this again?
Moses to God: Umm… I don’t think I want to do it

This is a great line from Moses towards God - note the raw honesty and skewed perspective on reality: Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

God was rescuing Israel that they may be free to worship Him. God is rescuing the world he loves that we might be free to love him in return. God gives us freedom that we would use it to love. This is what Paul is getting at in his letters to the Galatians: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself”

It Get’s Harder Before It Becomes Reality.
We want to be more free, and we want to give and receive more love; but as we move in that direction we get easily discouraged when it gets more harder. If you want to be more free, you'll have to work harder than you are right now. If you want to give and receive more love, you'll have to work harder than you are right now.

Somewhere we start thinking that once we start to do the next right thing, life will start to get easier. But the story of the Exodus reveals to us that it is only with great difficulty that one begins and endures the journey of freedom.

There’s the Endless Work of You Becoming More Free, More Loving…
There’s the Endless Work of You Helping Others Become More Free, More Loving…

This Lent, as you feel the Spirit's conviction to focus on being free to love more, be prepared to work more, to sacrifice more, to surrender more. This Lent, as you feel the conviction to help others be more free to love, be prepared for reality to become more difficult. But also be prepared for reality to become more good.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More Plotting: Church, Community, and the Court System

Our neighborhood churches spent four Sunday nights during Lent gathering to learn more about how the court system works in our county. I still marvel at the willingness of our churches to meet and partner and collaborate and plot. And I'm thankful for the willingness of Judge Charles Pratt and his friends to invest in us, to encourage us, and to guide us in this new journey.

Our fourth Sunday was spent at Grace Presbyterian Church, and the goal was to put forth some action-items. With what we learned about the Family Court Division, we wanted to know: what now? Judge Pratt encouraged the church members to consider these options for volunteering and making a difference:
* partner with the YWCA and help care for women who are victims of domestic abuse
* get the training to become a foster-parent; also - consider adopting foster-children
* join CASA - child appointed special advocate
* help families get counseling from a Biblical, Christian perspective
* incorporate the 40 assets in the congregation

Some of the neighborhood pastors met this morning to keep the momentum going and discuss what's next for us. It was important for us to hear from each other what we wanted to do next. We charted out a process for points of contact - what is our plan for when different individuals and families reach out to us for help regardless of where they are at in their involvement with the courts and prisons. We highlighted what programs or actions are already being implemented or supported, but we also noted some new areas to investigate. It was really helpful to chart out where in the process we have much to offer, and where we need to improve.

There's definitely a strong sense that we are part of a God-thing here. Jesus, when he announced his arrival, read from the prophet Isaiah, announcing that the good news would, amongst other things, help set the prisoners free. This is what we are about - our neighborhood has many individuals and families who need the good news, who need deliverance, who need community, who need help breaking free from the prison-industrial complex. The whole gospel for the whole person. If we're part of the neighborhood, and we're going to be good news, then we have to bring light and hope to those walking in the dark.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Worship As Prelude to Liberation

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief,
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
~ Bob Dylan

It is too easy to take for granted the privilege we have to gather on any day we want, in pretty much any place we want, for as long as we want, to worship God. These days not even 30% of Americans gather with a church for worship of the Lord. Maybe when worship is so easy to attend, and maybe when most services of worship are boring, or maybe when there are so many more relaxing things to do on a Sunday morning...we miss the subtle and subversive power of worship.

We're in the middle of the Lenten season, a period of forty days traditionally observed to prepare for worship of the Resurrected Christ on Easter morning. This season is about reflection, about repentance, about introspection and anticipation. Lenten is the "leanest" time of the year, that period in centuries past when people stretched their food supplies and prayed to God they wouldn't starve. Nowadays we struggle just to skip a meal. I guess worship and dinner come too easy to us now.

During Lent we also remember the story of the Exodus, of how God liberated the Israelites from the cruel slavery of their Egyptian taskmasters. They cried out to their God, and He heard them, saw them in their captivity, and set to work to set them free. God called Moses, and then gave him a message for Pharaoh: Let my people go that they might worship me in the wilderness.

Worship was the goal of liberation. God aimed to set his people free from the slave-cities so that they could worship Him in the wilderness. Worship was also the means of freedom - inviting the Israel-slaves to worship YHWH subverted the authority of the Great Taskmaster: Pharaoh. Worship at this point wasn't about song selection and chair arrangement, about dress code or liturgy choices - it was about freedom and justice and mercy. Worship was both a response of gratitude as well as prelude to liberation. Worship was the sign of readiness for slavery to cease as well as sign of trust that God would deliver them.

Do you cry out to God for help? Do you want the LORD to intervene in your affairs and rescue you? Worship of God is both your goal and your instrument for liberation. Your choice to worship God with your whole-heart prior to deliverance is both sign of readiness and of trust. But to be saved from your trials is not the end of the journey - you are drawn out of your troubles that you may worship God. If you have no desire to worship God, why would you ask him for help?

Do you hear the cries of those who seek help from God? Do you ever hear God calling out: Let my people go! Is your worship of the LORD about duty and pleasantries and entertainment? Or is your worship of the LORD a call to action, an invitation to liberty, an inspiration to be used to rescue and save and deliver? Your worship of the LORD was and is prelude to greater liberation - not only for you, but for those God puts in your life. Your gratitude to God and your submission to him position you to bring even more glory to Him: it is sign of your readiness to join His Great Rescue Work.

How would we know that you worship the LORD? How would you know when you have worshipped the LORD? Is it just when you bowed your knees? Is it when you raise your hands as you sing? Is it when you show up for worship with a smile? Or is it when you have agreed to submit your life once again totally to the rescue-work of Christ Jesus, readying yourself for another week of trusting and serving and celebrating God's promises and accomplishments. If only worship was an easier task...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ministerial Leadership for a Missionary Congregation

New challenges for the church require new responses in regard for leadership and ministry. For our neighborhood churches that minister in our urban context, we face new challenges to our leadership and congregational life.

Is the church facility like an island in the midst of blight and secularism? Or is the church facility a wide and deep harbor, willing and able to accept many different kinds of individuals and families?

Is the congregation afraid of its neighbors? Or is the congregation becoming neighbors with a towel over their arm?

Are leaders of these neighborhood churches demoralized and visionless about ministry? Or are these church leaders confident in the gospel and God's work to restore all things to him through our work - his way, in his time, in his power?

Lesslie Newbigin charts out in chapter 19 of The Gospel in a Pluralist Society a way for leaders of churches to rethink what it means to be a missionary leader in their neighborhoods. The wisdom of this chapter energizes me, provides enlightened direction, and provides a sense of calm about the work ahead of us.

You ought to purchase the book, if you haven't already. And you ought to read this chapter (and reread this chapter if it's been awhile). Below are some portions of the chapter that were both convicting and inspiring to me.

If I am right in believing, as I do, that the only effective [interpretation] of the gospel is the life of the congregation which believes it, one has to ask about how such congregations may be helped to become what they are called to be.

I have already said that I believe that the major impact of such congregations on the life of a society as a whole is through the daily work of the members in their secular vocations and not through the official pronouncements of ecclesiastical  bodies. But the developing, nourishing, and sustaining of Christian faith and practice is impossible apart from the life of a believing congregation. It is therefore important... to consider... the question of leadership for such congregations.

The business of leadership is precisely to enable, encourage, and sustain the activity of all the members.

What kind of ministerial leadership will nourish the Church in its faithfulness to the gospel in a pluralist society?

We have lived for so many centuries in the "Christendom" situation that ministerial training is almost entirely conceived in terms of pastoral care of existing congregations. In a situation of declining numbers, the policy has been to abandon areas (such as the inner cities) where active Christians are few and to concentrate ministerial resources by merging congregations and deploying ministers in the places where there are enough Christians to support them. 
Needless to say, this simply accelerates the decline. It is the opposite of a missionary strategy, which would proceed in the opposite direction - deploying ministers in the areas where the Christian presence is the weakest. The large-scale abandonment of the inner cities by the "mainline" churches is the most obvious evidence of the policy that has been pursued.

If the gospel is the good news of the reign of God over the whole of life, public no less than private; if the Church is therefore called to address the whole public life of the community as well as the personal lives of men and women in the private and domestic affairs, what kind of ministerial leadership is needed?

The vision of the church as a body which exists for the neighborhood and not just for its members, as the sign of God's rule over all, is much harder to sustain.

Is it the primary business of the ordained minister to look after the spiritual needs of the church members? Is it to represent God's kingdom to the whole community? Or, and this is surely the true answer - is it to lead the whole congregation as God's [message] to the whole community?

The task of ministry is to lead the congregation as a whole in a mission to the community as a whole, to claim its whole public life, as well as the personal lives of all its people, for God's rule.
* It means equipping all the members of the congregation to understand and fulfill their several roles in this mission through their faithfulness in their daily work.
* It means training and equipping them to be active followers of Jesus in his assault on the principalities and powers which he disarmed on his cross.
* And it means sustaining them in bearing the cost of that warfare.

What, then, will be the relation of the minister to this community? I have used such words as "enabling,""sustaining," and "nourishing" to describe his role in mobilizing the congregation for its mission. But how shall this be done?

Ministerial leadership for a missionary congregation will require that the minister is directly engaged in the warfare of the kingdom against the powers which usurp the kingship. Of course the minister cannot be directly involved in each of the specific areas of secular life in which the members of the congregation have to fight their battles. But there will be situations where the minister must represent the whole Church in challenging abuse of power, corruption, and selfishness in public life and take the blows that follow.

The minister's leadership of the congregation in its mission to the world will be first and foremost in the area of his or her own discipleship, in that life of prayer and daily consecration which remains hidden from the world but which is the place where the essential battles are either won or lost.

He is not to look around to see who else is following. He is to look one way only - to the Master who goes before him. Ministerial leadership is, first and finally, discipleship.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

More: Church, Community, and the Court System

This past Sunday night Anchor hosted the neighborhood churches, our third gathering during Lent to learn more about the court system of Allen County. Of course we started off the evening with a wide-array of homemade soups and other delish dishes. After feasting we headed upstairs for a session on the adult court system.

Stan Pflueger crammed a semesters' worth of criminal justice stuff into a seventy-five minute meeting. As the presentation got under way, I was a little nervous - what if the content gets a little boring? But when we hit the sixty-five minute mark it was obvious that just about everybody was intensely interested in the information.

I still marvel that about seventy or eighty people from the neighborhood churches gathered for a crash course in criminal justice stuff on a Sunday night. And liked it!

Some conclusions from the session with Stan: putting people in prison is punitive and expensive. It is crazy insane the system we put up with that sends people to jail as the primary punishment for committing a crime. I'm all for justice being served to criminals - but for most of them, prison is not about justice, but convenience.

It costs taxpayers about $55 a day for each inmate in prison, about $40 a day for each inmate in jail, and about $15 a day for each person involved with community corrections. Once a person is sent to prison, odds are they will return there upon their release. While in prison they are "hardened", they are further disconnected from participating in a healthy way within society, they are unable to work (or get work when they get out...), and thus instead of paying taxes and learning to contribute, they absorb tax dollars and remain unchanged..

What if we could reimagine a way to apply justice to crimes, justice that didn't require prisons as the primary strategy. Sure, some people need to be imprisoned, but not most.

Here's a very interesting takeaway from the last three meetings (dealing with kids, youth, and adults in the court system): positive relationships are the KEY to really helping people change their life. If the church wanted to make a difference in the lives of families who are wrapped up in the court and prison system, consider how to offer a community that loves.

This isn't a new or novel idea, but apparently it is often overlooked, it is more effective than assumed, and harder to do than imagined. Friendship, mentoring, hospitality, kindness, neighborliness, community are KEY factors for instigating and sustaining transformation.

This doesn't necessarily require a church to start a new program! Whew! It basically requires a church to...wait...wait...ready for this? It requires a church to be an accepting community! And it also requires mature Christians (character, consistency, love, wisdom) to volunteer in programs initiated by the courts and prisons! It also requires Christians to volunteer in organizations that partner with jails and community correction institutions. But it doesn't mean a church has to start a new small group, a new Bible study, a new series of classes.

Relationships: Connecting. Empowering. Listening. Being Present. Accepting. Inspiring. Praying.

We all know that Jesus Christ is the one with the power, the ability, the capability to change lives. And we also know that we are the hands and feet of Christ - we are the ones that Christ works through to change lives. We don't change lives, Jesus does that - but he works through our lives, our words, our actions, our decisions, our character, our consistency, our love, our wisdom.

If we want to make our neighborhood a better place to live, we need to keep letting Jesus work in us and through us - in this case, in the lives of families who are part of the courts and prisons. Individuals and families who are part of our neighborhood.... who are part of our church.

** This is info sent by Stan Pflueger via email of some info he presented Sunday Evening.
1. What percentage of the offenders sent to prison return to the community?


2. What Country in the world has the highest documented rate of incarceration?

United States (751/100,000)
Russia is second (627/100,000).

The median incarceration rate for all nations is 125/100,000.
Other nations: England (151/100,000), Germany (88/100,000) and Japan (63/100,000)

3. How many people in the United States are currently incarcerated in local jails and prisons?

Approximately 2.4 Million

4. How much does it cost for an individual to be:
in prison ($55.00/day or 20,000 per year)
in jail ($40.00/day or 14,600/year)
on community supervision ($15.00/per day, most of which is paid by the offender)

5. What percentage of individuals who go to prison are re-arrested within 3 years of their release?


6. If an offender is sentenced to a ten-year prison sentence, how much time are they likely to serve in Indiana?

A maximum of five years is likely with good time credit, and the time in prison could be adjusted down even more if the offender completes programs in prison like substance abuse, GED and others.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

You May Call Me Moses...

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy,
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy,
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray,
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
~ Bob Dylan

What kind of difference do you want to make in the world? 

It's easy for us to entertain dreams for what kind of difference we want to make in the world, but it's not easy to figure out what to do in order to make that dream a reality. Or, we may know what to do, but we lack the courage to do what we know we ought to do.

For Lent we are wandering through the Exodus story, a way for us to prepare for the Resurrection story. Moses is central to the story of death and freedom. So, if we take some time to get to know Moses better, we'll get some helpful insights into the heart of the Exodus story, of the Resurrection story, and our own story.

If we buy into Bob Dylan's song, you've accepted the reality: you're gonna have to serve somebody. No matter who you are, no matter what kind of name you've made for yourself, you gotta serve somebody. The question is: who are you serving? And the one you are serving - the one who is "over" you - what have the promised to do with you, for you, and through you? When God called Moses to serve him, he promised to make a difference in the world through him. Not bad terms of service.

But, when Moses was presented with a way to make a difference in the world... he declined. When God made the terms clear, Moses declined. When God promised that he shall overcome, Moses declined. When God promised that he would be with him every step of the way, Moses declined. Moses wanted his people to be free from slavery, but he didn't think he was the man for the job. But God did. 

God needs you. God needs you to be a Moses. God works through people to make a difference in the world. God needed Moses to lead Israel out of slavery, and God needs you today. People are still enslaved today. They need someone from the outside to reach in and rescue them, help set them free.

Know this: God is preparing you now to be part of his rescue plan in the world. Moses didn't know he was being prepared for EIGHTY years - but once he accepted the challenge, it became obvious how God had been at work in his life for a long time. You don't need to know right now what God is preparing you for. But when the challenge comes, when the call comes - whether to do something small or big in the world - know that you have been prepared for it.

Whatever God calls you to do - little or large - it will be a task that still requires God to make it happen. Yet... you are indispensable - and you must use all the wisdom and courage you've been given to help make it happen. You may not think you are indispensable - you may see all your flaws, all your sins, all your shortcomings as signs that you are not the man or woman for the job. But... if God is prompting you to take action, the prompt signifies that God sees in you enough to help make the difference in the world we need.

Jesus was Moses to his world. The Resurrection was God's sign that Jesus was indeed the Rescuer sent from God - that the crucifixion was not a sign of God's disapproval. The cross ended up becoming a sign of Exodus! Someday you too will be resurrected... if you want to, if you went along with God's plan to make a difference in the world. The Resurrection will be God's sign that you indeed were a Rescuer sent from God, Jesus' hands and feet in the world.

If you read through Exodus chapters three and four, you'll discover a delightful and provocative interchange between God and Moses. Take some minutes to mull through the dialogue, and consider what God is calling you to do. If you care about something, if you've told yourself that somebody ought to do something about that "thing", that is God's prompt to do something. Let him inform what to do next.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Ideas & Seeds

Ideas are powerful, much like little seeds. Apple tree seeds, oak tree seeds, huckleberrry seeds, okra seeds...

Here are some ideas that have gotten planted inside me this past summer. Spring is coming...

Some of us feel curiously charged by the volatile conditions...rough patches force new sources of courage and character. The best thing you can bring to a crisis is a filled up you: refreshed, Spirit-filled, God-connected.
The kindest form of management is the truth. 

All too often our churches are not magnetic, catalytic or embracing. They could be vibrant, resilient, and adaptive.
The world is changing exponentially fast, the world is becoming more turbulent faster than churches are becoming more resilient.
Entropy applies to everything. The future is not unknowable; it is unpalatable. Humility is not just a virtue, it is about survival. Be as unconventional as God needs us to be.

Leadership is a journey, take your own path, own way, own time. Not every reader is a leader, but every leader is a reader. Leadership can be lonely. If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Who the communicator is matters as much as what is said.

In the midst of change, focus on the bright spots! Look for what is working. Shrink the change. With big problems, look for small solutions. In tough times people are skittish and lazy.

A sermon is provocation, loaded language, warning. It is sub-version: there is another story. It is a reminder: the way things are is NOT how God had in mind. A sermon opens you up to new possibilities. It can be misinterpreted, yet revolutionary.
A sermon, then, is the continuing insistence that through the resurrection of Jesus a whole new world is bursting forth and everybody everywhere can be part of it.
A sermon, then, is about helping people see this creation with their own eyes of what God is doing. 
A sermon, then, brings hope rooted not in escape but engagement, not in evacuation but in reclamation, not in leaving but in staying and overcoming.
A sermon, then, is never surprised when grace, beauty, meaning, order, compassion, truth and love show up in all sorts of unexpected people and places because it always has been God's world, it is God's world, and it will always be God's world.

A revolution seeks to change the whole structure; an insurrection lives that change now until the revolution is complete. We need substantial change, not just intellectual. Mother Teresa was violent - her compassion wrecked the Hindu caste system of India.

Images create a shared experience, but words unleash the imagination.